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The I.D.E.A - Interview with Sima Ruparelia

2 years ago by Rupa Pithiya
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Black business woman and white business woman recording a conversation

The insurance industry was traditionally a male dominated market, however, though the passage of time the industry has been promoting CHANGE and is reinventing itself with more emphasis on Diversity, Equality and Inclusion.

The Insurance and Actuarial profession now more than ever, receives requests for a “diverse” range of candidates, but what does that mean? Is it to reflect companies’ requirements for a balanced workforce? Has diversity/equality ever existed in the Actuarial Insurance market? Or is it purely a company tick box exercise?

I have been in conversation with Senior Leaders to gain perspective and what the I.D.E.A means to them.

Here is a look back to a conversation I had in August 2021 with Sima Ruparelia:

What is your current role?

Until recently as I was Chief Actuary of UK, EMEA, Global Specialty of Talbot, responsible for circa $11b of premium and $10bn of reserves.

Please share what inclusion, equality and diversity means to you in the workforce?

First and foremost, it is about fairness and there being equal opportunities whatever your race, gender, sexual orientation or any other difference, companies that are prioritising this show they have integrity. Having a diverse workforce is also sound business practice given the improvement in profit that comes from this diversity of thought. It is also about ensuring people are comfortable within the work environment.

Some few years back some of my team mentioned that we should have some events that do not involve drinking to be more inclusive for those teetotal members. From that point on we always had a mix of events. I also considered the need to do things at different times of day for parents and for some religious reasons. This meant a far more inclusive culture within the team.

Did you/do you have a role model in the market, if so, how did it help you? if not would it have been benefiting to you? How?

I did not have a role model in the market. I was fortunate in one of my first jobs in London, I worked in a team with 3 female actuarial leaders and 1 male leader. 2 of the female leaders took me under their wing, mainly by teasing me!! They became lifelong friends that I have always been able to count on. I have also been fortunate to have great male mentors, who have seen my talent and have also accepted me for myself. Having a role model would have been beneficial because it shows you that there is hope, that it is possible to get to senior roles. It would have felt less like I was alone on the journey, that I was the only one that was different.

All sorts of people have a lack of confidence and a lack of belief in themselves, and I think this is particularly acute in people who are considered different. I think it is important for leaders, like myself (in this case an ethnic minority female) to encourage and mentor those with this lack of belief, and to actively support them in their careers. It has been one of the privileges of my career to date, seeing people who I have developed, both from traditional white male backgrounds and from different backgrounds, progress through their careers.

What challenges (if any) did you face when moving up in your career?

I think the General Insurance Actuarial market has become much more diverse in the last 10 years. When I first started out as a junior actuary, there was little diversity, but it did not seem to matter. My promotions tended to be based on your technical abilities. There was some overt racism in the early days, but this has decreased over the years. As I progressed through the ranks, I come across challenges around being different. At my first meetings with senior leaders, I was a bit demure, due to my cultural background that implied deference to older people and men. It took me more time to come out of my shell and let my true personality to come out.

As I progressed into senior roles, I came across the double standards applied to men and women, which has been a challenge to overcome. It has meant that I have had to try to adapt again. I would like the day to come where these double standards disappear and when people can progress as their authentic selves.

Do you think there is enough diversity in the insurance market, why?

Definitely not. There is clearly more work to be done in gender diversity and other areas in the market. It is great that we are talking about it more and more, but I would like to see more action. There is not enough progress. There is not enough thinking out of the box, when filling roles. There are still the traditional ideas of people having certain years of experience and other requirements, which will often restrict the candidate pool given the history.

In your opinion how would you successfully promote The I.D.E.A.

I believe it is key to use as many platforms as possible to promote equal opportunities. At the senior end of the scale, we need to get the rest of the C-suite on board. The profession needs to work on how to promote actuaries within firms. In General Insurance, it feels like the profession takes a back seat to CFOs, CUOS and CROs. Given the skills and knowledge actuaries bring, actuaries should be on a more equal footing. Promoting the actuarial profession will help the diversity of Insurance companies because the profession has a lot of diversity.

What advice would you give to younger self?

Someone once gave me some great advice, to be yourself at work because otherwise you are expending energy trying to be something you are not, energy that could be used in your job. Those that are authentic, put 100% of themselves into work so will have the advantage over you.

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