Put an end to coffee pot pre-meetings and engage with everyone at the table

Marya Propis (pictured) is a true champion of diversity and inclusion (D&I) in insurance. As a sales and distribution executive at the nation’s largest independent wholesale insurance broker, All Risks Ltd., Propis has gained first-hand confirmation that high-performance teams in the modern insurance workplace need to be comprised of people with diverse skillsets and perspectives.

D&I is something Propis has been talking about for many years. She’s a frequent speaker at industry events on the topics of emerging leadership, talent development, and women in leadership. Her efforts have led to multiple awards and recognitions, including the IICF Global Inclusion Champion Award 2017 and New York City Association of Insurance Women (NYCAIW)’s Insurance Professional of the Year 2019. She has also been recognized in Insurance Business America’s ‘Hot 100’and ‘Elite Women’ lists for her contributions to the industry.

Read next: D&I in insurance has to come from the top

For Propis, who currently serves as SVP and director of distribution & broker partnerships at All Risks, D&I progress in the wider insurance industry has been a bit lukewarm. On the one hand, awareness has certainly increased, but on the other hand, very little meaningful action has resulted in significant progress and change.

“Today, in terms of what company leadership can do, I think it’s less about what they say and more about the way leaders behave on a day-to-day basis,” she said. “Insurance leaders need to elicit as much input from women as they do from men. They need to be as cognisant as possible about the way they approach D&I and the way they elicit equal opportunities and input from a variety of people on their team.

“There’s an old adage that ‘men have their meeting before they actually go into the meeting’. They do it at the coffee pot. In contrast, women show up to the actual meeting with six folders, a long list of to-dos and they’re completely prepared to address all of the topics listed for the meeting. The problem is, the men have already had the pre-meeting and, essentially, the alignment has already been created. Male leaders in the industry need to make a conscious effort to elicit input from women in the workplace, especially because there are fewer women at a management level.”

Read more: There’s “more work to do” in the insurance sector on diversity and inclusion – Inga Beale

Prior to her role at All Risks, Propis worked at AIG for 12 years. She joined the insurer in March 2005 and held successive leadership roles at Lexington and AIG, including: head of broker engagement for AIG’s US Commercial group from March 2016 to December 2017; head of distribution management for AIG’s US & Canada Property Group and Lexington Insurance from April 2013 to March 2016; regional industry practice officer from October 2011 to April 2013; and chief operating officer of Risk Specialists Companies Insurance Agency, Inc. (Lexington’s field operations). As a woman of influence in a leadership position, Propis was awarded AIG‘s Global Women’s Leadership award in 2016.

“One quote I’m particularly fond of is: ‘Men and women have been collaborating successfully for more than five billion years because men pay attention to one set of priorities and women pay attention to a different, but equally important, set of priorities.’ We do that in life and we do that in the workplace,” Propis commented. “One thing I like about where the D&I conversation has gone is that companies are starting to recognize that men and women have very different styles. I think there’s a recognition that high-performing teams in the workplace need to be comprised of diverse skillsets and perspectives.

“That dimension has advanced significantly in recent years, but where the insurance industry still falls down is in the execution piece. I still don’t think we’re doing a good enough job of looking for diverse perspectives and skillsets when we’re choosing people for our teams. If you look at the composition of boards in publicly traded companies in the US, the companies with a higher percentage of women on their boards are more profitable. I wish every company could learn from that example. It’s not just a feel-good thing that we need to do. It will make our respective employers and it will make the insurance industry a better, stronger and more financially viable industry if we turn this awareness into action.”

Marya Propis will be sharing insights on this topic and more at the upcoming Women in Insurance New York on September 17, also road showing in Chicago on September 10, San Francisco on October 03 and London UK on October 10. See further information or book now.

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