Gender diversity and inclusivity are increasingly singled out by business and thought leaders in the insurance and reinsurance industries as key performance differentiators. “Firms that implement diversity and inclusivity programmes have better outcomes in terms of profitability thanks to the innovation and richness of ideas that diverse workforces bring to the table,” says Yolanda Skei, recently appointed Chief Operating Officer (COO) at Munich Re of Africa (MRoA).
Skei started her 18-year journey at MRoA as a claims consultant, before occupying varied roles as claims team leader, head of life claims, executive assistant (EA) to the CEO, and COO designate. Of all these roles, the experience gained in the EA position stands out as being the most underestimated. “This was an opportunity to be close to issues that are of paramount importance to the CEO and the company, including projects and strategic planning,” says Skei.
Much has been written about the challenges that women face in a male-dominated insurance industry. According to Skei, the issue can only be addressed if companies prioritise gender diversity. “Companies must show intent in achieving gender diversity and should build this intent into their goals and vision,” she says. Munich Re Group has formalised efforts to appoint more women in leadership positions at the senior management, executive and board levels. “The group has made women empowerment a truly global initiative and has conducted an in-depth analysis of women in leadership positions, worldwide,” says Skei. This includes setting gender ambition goals to achieve gender equity and parity within defined time frames.
This means that women who are driven, motivated and purposeful have every chance of reaching the top of their preferred fields. Skei’s advice to women who want to rise up the ranks through their careers to be proactive and put in the maximum effort to succeed. “Women need to put their hands up and really ‘go for it’ when opportunities arise for new projects or training, or when new, exciting positions are advertised in the group,” she says. She adds that Munich Re of Africa stands ready to support women who make their aspirations known through mentorship and support programmes.
Leaders must be dynamic and flexible in order to accommodate the many challenges they encounter in their leadership roles. Skei’s high-level approach to leadership is to adopt a purpose-driven, visionary management style while setting high-performance standards for herself and her team. “We must be very clear about our purpose and provide the coaching and support to the team in order to achieve our strategic goals together, which is a big part of our purpose statement at Munich Re,” she says.
Skei, who is a loving mother of three boys, is familiar with the challenges of juggling work and personal life. She says that workplaces should be sensitised to the unique challenges women face and introduce measures to assist them. This requirement extends to the remote work environment. Working from home has presented opportunities for many women to achieve a better work/life balance, but there are some who have really struggled. Companies can support remote workers by offering the necessary flexibility in working hours to empower them.
Skei thanked her colleagues for their support throughout her career and especially during her time as COO designate. “I have an amazingly competent team of managers who are specialists in their respective fields and are truly committed to what they do,” she concludes. “I have much to learn from my colleagues and see this learning as an important part of the journey”.
About Munich Re of Africa
Munich Reinsurance Company of Africa Limited commenced operations in Johannesburg in 1968 and celebrated 50 years on the continent in 2018. A new business strategy for Africa was put in place from 2015 to focus skills and expertise in one central hub, based in Johannesburg. Munich Re was active on the continent pre-1968 under the Munich Re brand, operated out of Munich, Germany.
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