When I conjure up the image of what actuaries were to me when I first entered the pensions industry, I see middle-aged white men playing golf.
I began my actuarial career as the only woman in an all-male team, so it was glaringly obvious from day one that the profession had a lot of work to do to catch up with the world. I was very mindful of being the only woman in the team – I made a conscious effort to push myself forward, and I made sure my voice was heard. I’m thankful that I have never been made to feel less valuable than any male colleague, and I do wonder if there have been times where I’ve actually benefitted from some overcompensation. I was also fortunate that our leadership at the time was made up mainly of women, so I had powerful figures to look up to whom I could see progressing. I am lucky to have had strong female role models in my life, but only recently have I realised how influential they have been.
I believe that visibility is vital – we’ve got to be seen to have a seat at the table – and this is true for all forms of diversity.
A lot has changed over the ten years that I’ve been in the industry and I believe we have experienced a huge cultural awakening where we recognise the value of real diversity. My personal experience is around gender equality and I believe change needs to happen early, while girls are still at school. Being an actuary is a heavily maths-based role and we still see difficulties in encouraging young female students to study maths. I love the idea of STEMinism – getting more women into Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths - and I think schools need to find ways make these subjects appeal to girls in a positive way.
I’m also keen to dispel the myth that a university degree is essential for an actuarial career.
Over the past few years, we have recruited apprentices after completing their A-levels, and these colleagues are as capable and talented as any graduate.
The pool of candidates we see for our apprenticeships also appears to be more racially, culturally and socially diverse. Buying into these different ways of recruiting is key to creating diversity.
What I like about the actuarial profession is the breadth of opportunity – you could go into any field that works with numbers and risk: insurance, or finance, or even online gaming! Plus, the work in my field is varied, I get to work with lots of different people, and our pensions world is changing and evolving all the time.
Thankfully, whilst the profession still has plenty more to do, if I was asked now what I think of when I think of an actuary, I look at my colleagues, now diverse in age, identity and race, and only one word comes to mind – talented.
This article was featured in Pensions Aspects magazine February 2021 edition.
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