’Insurance is an underrated career,’ says UK and Ireland president

Like many, Crawford and Company’s UK and Ireland president Lisa Bartlett “fell” into the world of insurance after leaving school unsure of what career she wanted to pursue around 30 years ago.

It did not take her “very long to realise”, however, that insurance could offer a “really fulfilling career” and since stepping into it, she has “never looked back [nor] contemplated leaving”.

Now, Bartlett’s ambition is to use her experience of progressing up the insurance ranks to address the talent shortage gap in the industry. 

According to figures published by Aviva last year (3 May 2022) for the insurer’s Broker Barometermore than half (53%) of brokers revealed that a vacancy had been open for four months or more.

The data was taken from a survey of 220 professional brokers across the UK, conducted on behalf of Aviva by Censuswide Research between March and April 2022.

“Insurance is an underrated career,” says Bartlett, who spoke exclusively to Insurance Times.

“It’s [not] held in the same regard as some of the other professions and that is absolutely a source of frustration to me.

“I don’t know too many professions where you can have the diversity of roles that you can get within insurance – you can find something that not only fits your skillset, but also you can have fun with and that’s really important.”

Bartlett has worked at Crawford for around four years after starting at the firm as chief client officer for the UK and Ireland in June 2019.

From 1 November 2023, she assumed the dual role of chief operating officer of international operations alongside her responsibilities as president.

She also sits on the board of trustees at The Insurance Charities and prior to joining Crawford, she held several roles at large insurance firms – including serving as Axa UK’s North regional director, client sales and service leader at Willis Group and sales and marketing director at Towergate Insurance Brokers.

Bartlett’s journey has not been easy, however, and her goal is to focus on inclusion as she looks to help a wider cohort of people gain access to the industry.

‘Am I ready for this?’

Speaking about her own experience, Bartlett said that “it was harder in the early days”.

“Starting out as a woman all those years ago was incredibly tough,” she said.

“I was told I wouldn’t amount to anything because guys didn’t want to deal with women and women didn’t like football and golf and [so on], but it taught me a few early lessons.

“[I thought] ’I’ll just be better. I’ll just work harder’.”

Bartlett shares that when she became Crawford’s firm’s first female UK president, she was “just finding her feet and probably landed at a time when I wasn’t completely convinced I was ready for the job”.

“So I was wrestling with [the thought of] – ’am I ready for this?’” she says.

Bartlett explains that soon after her appointment, she was faced with her “first surge” – consisting of claims arising from storms Ciara, Dennis and Jorge during February and March 2020, which saw masses of homes evacuated from flood damage. Then, the Covid-19 pandemic hit.

However, after ticking such challenges off the list, she realised that “those tests really benefited me and allowed me to put large changes in the business and put my own stamp on it”.

“So, all those early doubts disappeared,” she adds.

Supporting women

Today, as president, Bartlett looks after 1,400 people and explains her role is about “leadership” and “creating the right culture”.

Moves she has made includes making appointments to turn the business’ leadership team into a 50-50 gender split. However, she clarified that she doesn’t believe in “promoting women for women’s sake”.

“I’m a strong believer that you should support women, give them the opportunity and deal with female issues, but it’s got to be about merit too,” she says, adding that her plan is about creating the “environment to support women because they have different challenges”.

Earlier in November 2023, for example, KPMG insurance partner Huw Evans highlighted the insurance industry has a “particular problem with women not returning to the sector after they have children”.

Bartlett explains that she believes the problem stems from a “legacy of presenteeism culture” as employees often need to be in the office nine to five, which “doesn’t naturally fit around child caring responsibilities”.

She also feels that flexible working legislation has not “led the change in the insurance industry that it could have”.

However, she acknowledges the pandemic has “left some positives for the working environment”, in terms of more agile and smarter working.

Parental leave

Discussing her own experience as a mother, Bartlett says that her employers had been supportive. She opted to take paternity leave plus flexible working so she could balance her work and home life, rather than maternity leave, which would have meant stepping away from her career for a longer period.

“I adopted my children, so I did it differently,” she says.

“It was in the days when flexible working wasn’t really a thing, so I just asked for the paternity that they would give to a guy. I took my holidays, I came back a day, a week and sometimes brought the kids into work with me.

“It’s about actually what is appropriate in those circumstances? What does the business need? What does the woman need? And being a bit pragmatic about it.”

As a result, Bartlett chose to introduce enhanced parental leave and launch a new working policy at Crawford.

“Whether a woman wants to work shorter hours or four days a week, whatever those requests are, you have to have an employer that’s actually going to welcome that,” she says.

“Confidence is a massive thing – after a woman has taken a break to have family it can sometimes be daunting.

“That’s where employers can really come into their own in terms of providing that support, having those conversations and creating an environment where a woman can go and do a secondment, a test role or a contract role because it’s my experience that women returners have so much more to offer.”

Considering her strategic ambitions for the rest of this year and 2024, Barlett says that she would like to “build” on the “really good foundation [set] in 2023”.

As part of this, she explains that Crawford’s UK arm will be “going great guns” on inclusion. Bartlett says early year careers is where the business has “still got some work to do” and pushing the social mobility agenda will be the “shift”.

“It’s about being an inclusive environment for all,” she says.