Angela Ellis-Dunn reviews her career - and the perception that insurance is a man's world

There was much talk at the Biba Conference about Biba and the CII working together to make the insurance industry more attractive to the right type of candidates.

We are all too well aware that the public's negative perception of our industry hinders us in the battle for talent.

But do we need to drill down even further and consider whether there remains a perceived 'glass ceiling' associated with the industry, which has traditionally been seen as male-dominated?

If so, then in building our reputation as a whole to attract bright graduates, we must also be clear that insurance represents an exciting career choice for young women, with opportunities to progress to senior management positions within dynamic organisations.

Things have most definitely changed for the better since, at the age of 18, I fell into an insurance career. During my gap year, I applied for a professional trainee position with a major composite.

My time as a professional trainee introduced me to the different sectors of insurance and upon completion, I chose commercial underwriting. Having planned only to stay for a year, I was hooked and remained with this composite for the next eight years.

During this time it was expected that a professional qualification be undertaken and I was encouraged and supported to achieve the Associateship of the CII.

This background stood me in good stead when an opportunity arose for me to apply for a position as a trainee loss adjuster.

This was now the mid-1980s, when women in the loss adjusting profession were very few. Considered neither a glamorous nor particularly attractive role for a woman, it was predominately male dominated and still referred to as a 'gentleman's profession'.

Undeterred, I thrived in the environment and enjoyed the freedom, variety and challenge that loss adjusting offered.

I also enjoyed the huge opportunities achieved by becoming an Associate of the Chartered Institute of Loss Adjusting (Cila).

At the time, those women who chose loss adjusting needed to have a comparatively thick skin, as you might be the only woman at institute dinners or functions and indeed in the office itself.

To be taken seriously and to ensure career development, my professional qualification was essential and this also helped my day-to-day handling of claims. Over the next seven years I learnt my craft well and achieved Fellowship of the CII and Cila.

In the early 1990s the loss adjusting market was entering a difficult time.

In 1992 I joined Ashworth Mairs Group as a technical manager and was then given the opportunity to become involved in a client liaison role.

This type of role had previously been the domain of only the most senior members of my previous employers, all of whom were men.

My current role as unit partner for client relations embraces management of various key accounts and a team of relations managers and marketing support staff from a varied background.

I hit the 'glass ceiling' during the earlier years of my career and it was a mixture of tenacity, resilience, commitment to succeed and a determination to equip myself with ever more professional qualifications that helped me to break through.

Nowadays, I am pleased to say that I increasingly encounter women in senior roles at brokers, insurers and loss adjusters too, with Ashworth Mairs a prime example.

Raising the profil
But we still have a chance to do more and, in doing so, can carve an effective niche for our industry in the battle for talent.

We can raise the profile of our industry and organisations so that we become a natural choice, not only for the bright male graduates, but female alike.

In attracting bright young women to our industry today, it is therefore vital that we educate them on the varied and stimulating career choices available and show them real career progression opportunities.

We also need to continue with the commitment that exists in supporting them to reach their full potential.

To all those young women who have already decided to make their career in insurance - congratulations and enjoy. In my experience, you won't look back.

Just be sure to choose an organisation that is forward-thinking, provides a comprehensive training and development path and for whom the glass ceiling is merely a structural component of a building, rather than any hindrance to career development. IT

' Angela Ellis-Dunn is unit partner, client relations, at Ashworth Mairs Group

Is the 'glass ceiling' holding women back in insurance
Amanda Blanc, Groupama distribution and customer service director, gives her view

Is there a glass ceiling for women working in insurance?
While this will always be a rather obvious concern in what is a male dominated business, in reality I have never experienced any barriers to professional progression.

Frankly, as long as I was considered good enough to do the job the opportunity was there.

The fact is that there are already plenty of good examples of highly successful women holding down some of the most demanding positions within the industry.

Given the quality of some of the women coming through, that number is likely to grow.

The issue for me is not whether a job candidate is male or female, it is about whether they have the talent, experience and expertise to do it.

Should more be done to encourage women into the industry
From what I can see today, the proportion of women in insurance is growing and we are seeing more and more moving into positions of influence and seniority.

Certainly this is the case within Groupama, where we are very fortunate to have a significant number of successful and highly professional women right across our business.

Clearly such individuals are good role models for aspirational women.

Their examples illustrate clearly what can be achieved with a lot of drive, hard work and commitment.

Do you think more needs to be done to encourage women into the insurance business?
Not specifically. But we have a problem attracting young talent - of whatever gender. Perhaps this is the area to focus on.

Should positive discrimination be pursued by insurance companies to ensure more women are promoted within the industry

Certainly not. I personally don't think that we have a problem. Being a woman has never held me back.

If you're good enough and want it badly enough, the opportunities for progression are already there - whether you are male or female.