The insurance industry landscape
International Women’s Day 2021 is here and we want to highlight some of the great people within Romero Insurance Brokers.
At a time where positivity and upbeat attitudes are more vital than ever, Leeds is showcasing some of their most celebrated women. These include Jane Tomlinson, Kate Granger, Nicola Adams, Sue Ryder and The Barnbow Lasses. Ever increasingly, women are sharing stories, supporting each other and pushing themselves onwards.
Whilst the number of women entering the industry is growing, in most Yorkshire-based companies the outlook is still vastly male-oriented.
The Romero outlook
We are proud to say that our gender diversity currently sits at 55% male and 45% female – a balance that we have achieved by recruiting those we believe are best for the role and from growing our employees through in-house training.
Women also occupy a number of senior roles across the Romero business. We want to recognise some of our excellent women from across the company, and we took the time out to chat to several of them to get their insight. We hope to get a glimpse of what it means to be a woman within this industry, and the advice they want to promote going forwards.
We spoke to Victoria Romero-Trigo (Director), Joanna Pullan (Director), Sue Barson (Associate Director), Helen Tipping (Operations Manager), Sharon Elms (Claims Manager), Mya Tidd (Accounts Assistant), Stacey McGurk (Commercial Department Manager) and asked them a number of questions. These women are a great representation of our company, each differing in experience, job role, age and background.
This is what they had to say:
Tell us why you chose or how you ended up working in insurance?
Victoria: I didn’t actually choose to be in insurance – I started working in the business to support my brother Justin who founded the company. I began in an admin role and the rest is history! I became a director of the business when I was 21 with more responsibilities, and now I am a director of a number of insurance businesses across the group.
Joanna: Like a lot of people I think, I found myself landing in insurance, but after 20 years of working here at Romero, I’ve never looked back. I thoroughly enjoy working in the industry and here as a business.
Sue: To be perfectly honest, I sort of fell into it. I started life working for a tarmac business, which was a very male dominated industry, and when leaving there I had the opportunity to go into insurance through a friend, and it’s one of those things that when you’re in insurance, you seem to stay in insurance. And here I am 35 years later, I love it and I’ve never left!
Helen: Unfortunately, I was made redundant by my previous employer at the age of 24 and was honestly just looking for another job. My sister Sue is Accounts Director at Romero’s and said that that there was a position available in Club Insure as a Marketing Co-ordinator if I would be interested. I had never considered a career in insurance, but I did have a lot of transferable skills that I felt I could bring to the role and I was keen to learn more about a different industry so the rest as they say is history.
Sharon: I came into insurance straight from school, working for a small broker, and I just carried on from there! I kept going and now I wouldn’t change it for the world. I find it so interesting and love what I do.
Mya: I felt like my hunger for knowledge wasn’t being fulfilled enough at my former business. So I reached out, asking if there were any vacancies at Romero, and to my luck there was a role that fit my personality perfectly. I’m now 21 and I’m really enjoying the environment here at Romero.
Stacey: This is a very strange one, as I left school at the age of 16 and completed a NVQ in Business Administration. The placement for work I thought was the Halifax plc (Bank) at Dean Clough in Halifax, but it ended up being Alec Finch Insurance Brokers. As most people say, I fell into working in insurance!
Who has inspired you in your career?
Victoria: My family have inspired me the most. Both my parents worked exceptionally hard, and my brothers and I always had jobs since we were really young and I’ve always looked up to them. We all try to do our best every day and I’m just following in their footsteps.
Joanna: Firstly my Dad, he has always worked hard and had his own business, he showed me that if you believe in yourself and have confidence you can achieve your goals. Also over the last 20 years I have been inspired by many senior people within Romero particularly Justin & Victoria who have pushed me to work hard and in turn I have become an integral part of the company. Working in a winning team is a real inspiration and the encouragement and support you receive from all the team is a real motivation.
Sue: I’d say the people who have inspired me in my career have definitely been the people who I’ve worked for. I’ve had two really stand out line managers, one at my previous employer and now my current boss at Romero, Victoria. And these two people are both ladies. They’ve been inspiring and have been a great support and role model to me, and I’ve always aspired to work to their standards and present myself as well as they do.
Helen: From a work perspective I would say my biggest inspiration has been my line manager, Victoria. Seeing her relentless hard work every day really makes you feel that you can push yourself and achieve bigger things if you just keep going. Don’t give up, don’t look for the easy way out just battle on and reap the rewards.
Sharon: The person that’s inspired me most in my career is Jody, my manager here at Romero. They have inspired me to have confidence in myself, supporting me to know I’m always making the right decision, and to help build me to the place I am at today having complete faith in me. And I aspire to be like them in my work.
Mya: The person I want to be inspires me. I set myself goals that I feel I must achieve because the person I want to be achieves them. It’s a recurring event, but it works perfectly for me to be the best me I can be.
Stacey: I have had some pretty awful managers in the past and also some extremely fair and good ones. My inspiration comes from needing the next challenge to get my teeth into and having a happy balance (i.e. taking things from what I have seen in the past and making them better for everyone). Becoming the manager has brought me out of my comfort zone and I feel a sense of achievement. I also want to see my team thrive and develop to meet their goals.
What do you find most rewarding about your role?
Victoria: Diversity. No day is the same, and being able to set things in motion and seeing the end result. We have the ability as an independent broker to make quick decisions and I have the autonomy to make key decisions for the business and see them develop from start to finish
Joanna: Making the right decision, in my role as Operations Director every day is different and some days can be a challenging but when you make a good decision and your team are happy it feels very rewarding which in turn ensures we achieve fantastic results.
Sue: Working to the best of your ability, and getting positive feedback from the senior team and my staff is so important, alongside having a happy team around me putting out great results is really rewarding.
Helen: The people. I have an amazing team and am really proud of what we have achieved. I love to see people progressing in their own career and really blossoming and being in a position to facilitate this many times over the years is really rewarding. I also enjoy the variety that my role brings, I am always looking for the next project to get my teeth stuck into and my role allows for this which I’m very grateful for.
Sharon: Job satisfaction and providing an excellent service to clients. I like to think I’m approachable for my staff, and knowing my staff are happy in their work and are coping and don’t have any worries, makes me happy in my role. If they have no stresses and strains, then neither do I and that’s a great environment for us all to be in.
Mya: My role is to chase clients to help their cover be finalised. That to me is rewarding, knowing, their assets will now be protected.
Stacey: Seeing people fulfil their potential, or liaising with them to bring an issue to conclusion. From a selfish point of view, my confidence has grown somewhat over the last 6 months or so and I really enjoy what I do.
What did you find as the biggest challenge breaking into a senior role, and what challenges have you faced since achieving it?
Victoria: I’ve never faced any gender discrimination at Romero. We’re a really equal opportunity led business, and the main challenges I face are the ones I put on myself every day to be the best I can. The pressure comes from within to be my best and when we deliver results like we do, growing double digits each year to have the pressure to continue this is quite large but that’s the challenge I thrive on.
Joanna: As I’ve worked through different roles, probably one of the biggest challenges was working in a very male oriented environment when I was exec-ing, but fortunately because Romero has always been really supportive, and challenged me to progress and grow, they’ve driven me to be in this senior role because of my achievements and I’m really grateful for that and enjoy the challenge. Now I sit on the board with many male directors and I feel confident that I can hold my own, there are some challenging times but I am always up for a challenge and the feeling of success and achievement helps to motivate and focus me in my decisions
Sue: I was really lucky, in that I was approached to go into my senior position and given the opportunity to step up, but once I got into the role, that’s when the hard work starts. Demonstrating that you’re the right person for the role and performing, but I am really grateful that I had the opportunity from someone who had faith in me to do it. Since I’ve been at Romero, I’ve been taken seriously from the very beginning. You sometimes have it in the back of your mind the concern that people might not take you as seriously because you’re a woman, but I’ve never experienced that here and I’ve always had full support from the directors, right through to my own line manager and my team. I’ve never felt prejudiced against here and being a woman isn’t a stigma at Romero.
Helen: I feel fortunate that my progression into a senior role was a very organic one. I started as a Marketing Co-ordinator for new clients and after three years I was offered the role of Business Support Manager, managing a small admin team. A couple of years later I then progressed into the role of Operations Manager which was a very big leap for me, building my team into the 30 strong individuals that it is today. I had always worked hard and made it known that I was keen to progress within the company and fortunately this was recognised and I was given the opportunity.
Sharon: The biggest challenges I’ve found in the past is gaining respect from other team members. As you start junior and work up as I did, it can be hard to build and maintain respect. Whilst this applies to both men and women, there are some people I’ve come across in my past that are more difficult to win around because I’m a woman. But thankfully, these occasions are few and far between, and by working hard and being open and honest, I think we’ve been able to overcome that and I’m pleased to say now here at Romero I don’t experience this as a challenge. It’s traditionally a man’s industry, so it can be a challenge for the ‘old guard’ to accept a woman in the position I’m in, but I think I’ve been able to overcome this and earn their respect. Since being at Romero though, I haven’t had any issues related to being a woman. I’ve had the backing of my line manager, and people across the business and I feel like I’ve not had the challenges that some women face in other places. I’m lucky that this is a great place to work.
Stacey: My own confidence was a stumbling block and my biggest challenge was believing in myself that I could actually carry out a role of being a manager. I became the Commercial Department Manager – Halifax back in August 2020 and the challenge since then has been having a team working remotely and ensuring they are all well and happy whilst working our way through the COVID pandemic.
Do you think there are any stereotypes about women in senior roles, and what effect do you think this has on women aspiring to reach them?
Victoria: Generally I think the stereotype is positive, in that women are doers, get things done and are organised. Certainly the women in senior roles in our business are all these things and so much more.
Joanna: There possibly are – but talking about Romero I don’t feel there’s any gender difference. Men and women are both equally encouraged to do well, it all depends on your work ethic. If you’re motivated and want to succeed, that’s what’s important, not your gender. Historically, I think the industry has been known as a bit of a man’s world, but times are changing now and I think that’s the case with businesses on the whole. Women are pulling through and achieving those senior positions.
Sue: I think sometimes the stereotype is that women have to be really hard to survive, but I don’t think that’s necessarily the case. I think you should just be yourself, and if you’re a dedicated, hardworking person I think you will get to where you want to be, without needing to be a typical stereotype. I don’t think that should come into it, and I certainly know that that’s not something I or my female colleagues around me have had to worry about here at Romero.
Helen: I think in the wider work place there probably are but having been at Club Insure since I was 24 it’s not something that I’ve experienced personally. Across the Romero group there are many women in senior roles so it’s always felt normal to me and certainly something that I felt was achievable from the start. Had I not felt that then I wouldn’t be here.
Sharon: I’ve thankfully never really come across any stereotypes in the places I’ve worked or the people I’ve worked with, so I think that is a real positive that hopefully these stereotypes are becoming a thing of the past!
Stacey: I think there is some stigma about ‘women in power’ and I think women feel like they have to prove themselves more in a working environment than men. This may put some women off pushing themselves forward. I think times have changed over the past 20 odd years I have worked in insurance and you do see a lot more women in senior roles within this industry than you did in the past. I think that’s an achievement in itself and more women should feel empowered to achieve a senior role.
What are the most effective ways to counteract the negative/hateful stereotypes of women in authority, especially in the workplace?
Joanna: Just ignore it! I think this is a thing of the past so really isn’t something you should give any thought to or worry about, just work hard and you should be given the opportunities you deserve.
Helen: Positive stories can help to counteract the negative but equally I believe that gender just shouldn’t be an issue in this day and age, good or bad. I, personally, have never really considered it; I’m just a human being like anybody else. I believe my success is based on far more than gender and I would encourage other women to believe the same and just believe in themselves, certainly don’t use other people’s preconceptions on gender as an excuse.
Stacey: I think someone needs to be themselves in whatever shape this takes and people should be taken on their own merit and what they have already achieved.
How important is it for women to lift each other up and support each other, and what does it mean to you?
Victoria: It’s very important, but I think it’s not just about women. It’s about everybody male or female. We’re all equal and part of the same team here and all support each other. You’ve got to all work towards a common goal and that unity is what I think is most important.
Joanna: It is really important for women to support each other. The advantage we have here is there are quite a lot of women in senior roles so there’s always a referral point if you need it. Women do well supporting each other, particularly when the industry can be male oriented, so it is encouraging that you have the comfort of other women to refer to if necessary when decisions are being made.
Sue: I do, but it’s always been a very natural thing in our environment. It already happens and we do all support each other. It’s not forced, it just is something that naturally happens and that’s the way it should be. I’m very comfortable that we all support each other not necessarily just because we’re ladies, but because we all are working towards the same thing, and help each other as best we can.
Helen: I feel it’s important for everyone to feel support, not just women. Perhaps if I worked for a company who I felt were less equal then this would resonate more strongly with me. But at Romero, we have culture where everyone is supported and encouraged and this is why it’s such a nice place to be.
Sharon: I think women are very different to men in their roles. I think women can be more approachable and sympathetic to other women. It’s nice to have people around you who you can be open with, and who can be open with you to support each other. Whether people have work or personal issues, it’s important that they can speak to someone who can understand them and their point of view, which makes it easier to help resolve those issues and I think as a woman supporting other women I can see the benefit of this. Being able to talk to someone who has been through the same thing as you is really powerful and makes it easier to help.
Mya: Uplifting women is what I love to see on social media and I would like to see it more on a daily basis. Women and men endure a lot in their lives and sometimes they need encouragement from both friends and strangers. Personally, I get more from strangers because they see a different picture, but that’s just me, and I can see how others value and cherish the support of their friends. It’s all about how it makes us feel and if it makes you feel good then we should spread that feeling.
Stacey: I think its highly important to lift each other up. Sometimes this is not just women, but many women thrive when someone tells you “You can do it!” I love to support other women and hold them up, this is in my nature (in and outside the office) as well as just being a manager.
What progress have you seen on gender equality in your life and work?
Joanna: I really don’t feel there is any difference now with gender and equality – especially in our company, there are many successful women & men in leadership/management roles.
Helen: I’m lucky that I’ve only had two employers in my career and both of those businesses have had a high percentage of women in senior roles; so for me personally I haven’t seen much change. I also have a lot of successful women in my family who perhaps instilled in me from an early age that gender wasn’t a barrier.
Mya: We have come far and each decade we have seemed to progress and it has led to who we are today. In my life I have not seen much change but I would love to see some more in the future.
Stacey: Well, I started working in 1998 and I can’t remember any women in a senior role at that point, more senior roles were taken by men. As seen over the years, this has progressed over time, where you generally see men and women in similar roles.
On International Women’s Day, what would you like to say to young women from any field who are thinking about their careers?
Victoria: Don’t think that you have to go down the traditional route of university. I personally didn’t, and came into insurance straight out of college. I always wanted to be a barrister, and by working, that enabled me to do my degree in law part-time, but actually by the end of my degree I realised I didn’t want to be a barrister any longer, and saw that what I was doing was what I really loved. So don’t just think that the conventional way is always the right way. Get into work early, and figure out what you really want to do, and if you want to go on to do qualifications, perhaps do it later in life when you truly know what you want to do.
Joanna: What I would say is don’t rule anything out. There’s nothing that can’t be achieved. Be 100% confident in yourself and give everything you do 100% effort, and the sky’s your limit. You can do whatever you put your mind to, so be confident enough to do that. Don’t feel you’re on your own. You’re not isolated – there’s always someone you can turn to for advice. Here at Romero women are thought of equally to men, so take that and be confident and you’re bound to succeed.
Sue: It’s difficult when you’re young to know what you really want to do, so it’s important to keep an open mind, and if you do make a decision that isn’t for you, don’t be afraid to change your mind and go down a different career path. But at the end of the day, old fashioned values count for everything. Dedication, hard work, timekeeping, and just making sure you’re doing something you really want to do. It shouldn’t come into it whether you’re a woman or not. Whether you want to be in insurance, an engineer, a firefighter or any other career, nothing should hold you back. Just go for it!
Helen: You need to be happy. You spend so much of your life working you can’t afford to be unhappy in your workplace. Equally keep an open mind, if you are just venturing into a new career just feel that the sky’s the limit and aim high. The first role you take might not be what you want to do for the rest of the life but look beyond that and if the company you work for is supportive then work hard, prove yourself, don’t give up and you will be rewarded.
Sharon: I’ve actually recently had a conversation with a young woman coming in to our industry, and I just told her to have confidence in herself, work hard and if you put your mind to it, you can be the best you can be in the industry. But it’s as simple as be dedicated to working hard, expand your knowledge and always learn, and if you continue to do that, you’ll grow as a person and achieve.
Mya: If you want to work somewhere then do it, apply for the job, study and work hard! You only live once so you need to enjoy your work because that is where you will spend roughly 4,821 days of it.
Stacey: I started as an Office Junior and have worked very hard along the way in the broking environments I have worked in. I would say to any person, especially young women that they need to put in their 100%, stand out from the crowd, ask questions and never stop learning. Maintain your confidence and do not let this be torn down by anyone/anything. Keep striving towards what you want to achieve and ensure that this is facilitated by your manager(s) within your 121’s etc. Be prepared to take on board constructive criticism as this helps you to change your ways slightly and achieve your goals quicker.
And what’s the most important piece of advice you’d give to women thinking of entering the industry of insurance?
Victoria: Be prepared for hard work. Keep developing yourself and don’t be afraid to speak up and question others even if they are in senior positions. I think it helps people to question the way we do things and constantly evolve.
Joanna: My advice would be try to do all you can to succeed. There are no barriers and no reasons why you can’t achieve your goals. If you work hard and are confident in what you do, the sky’s the limit and you can achieve what you want to achieve.
Sue: I’d just say go into the career of your choice. Work hard, be dedicated and hopefully achieve equal pay which I’m glad to see is more widely in the spotlight at the moment. But ultimately, just go for it, because you’re worth it.
Helen: Go for it. There are so many different roles within the industry from administration and handling to more client facing roles such as account execs there is bound to be a role that suits your strengths and personality, I don’t think people realise how diverse the roles within a brokerage can be. Insurance is also a complex subject so you need to be prepared to start with the basics and learn on the job, we’ve all been there.
Sharon: The best piece of advice I can give is work hard, be confident, and strive to be the best you can be. And if you do that you’ll go far. Have faith in yourself that you can do it, and if you do that you will succeed in the industry.
Mya: I’ve never even thought of joining an insurance background before because I listened to everyone else’s opinion. But after working here for longer than a year I can confirm they were 100% incorrect; this is the best work environment I have ever been in and I everyday enjoy coming into work. To me that is a good sign and how the industry should really be perceived.
Stacey: You may have some of the more traditional aspects to insurance that you did see a long time ago, however times have changed and if you look across all broking environments, you will see many more women in senior roles. I would say within Romero, the managers seem to all be women! We are highly motivated and want what is best for our teams and the business.
Finally, give us your International Women’s Day message!
Victoria: Don’t feel you’re on your own. You’re not isolated – there’s always someone you can turn to for advice. Be confident and you’re bound to succeed.
Joanna: Work hard, believe in yourself, be confident and you will succeed.
Helen: Just aim to be the best that can be in whatever you decide to do. The satisfaction you will gain from doing this is worth all the hard work.
Mya: I believe all women now have the opportunities and vehicles to drive their future where they want it to go. Its on you to get you where you want to be.
Stacey: Just by being yourself, being 100% committed to what you want to achieve and being prepared to work hard is the basic recipe for success within a working and personal environment. I have been recently promoted to a Commercial Manager and this is what I have been striving for over the last few years. I was approached to step up to this, which shows I have given my best and it has been noticed. Continue on your journey with your head held high, do not be afraid to ask questions and be seen. You can reach your potential!