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For International Women’s Day, Zurich employees add up progress on gender equity

March 6, 2020

Zurich supports #EachForEqual by sharing conversations and actions that have helped drive diversity and inclusion.

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Zurich employees strike the #EachforEqual pose after a Women’s Innovation Network panel discussion.

Seemingly small things can help shape a woman’s career. For Jocelyn Jopa, a key encounter came after she joined Zurich North America in 2011 and was assigned to a team whose leader was generous with her time, relationships and encouragement.

“She shares her network with me as if it were my own, coaching me on how to develop those relationships beyond just one coffee chat,” said Jopa, who started as a Claims Professional. “She asks the right questions when we meet to make sure I'm aligned on my goals and the value I bring to Zurich.”

Both Jopa and that leader, Dawn Hiestand, have since progressed into other roles. Hiestand is Chief Operating Officer for Zurich’s Alternative Markets business, and Jopa went on to become a Project Leader and now Manager for Claims Legal Bill Review as well as Executive Director of Zurich’s employee-led Women’s Innovation Network (WIN). Jopa credits Hiestand for inspiring her to pursue a leadership role with WIN, and Jopa still counts Hiestand as a close ally even though they work in different business units.

Interactions like these help drive the kind of progress that people around the world celebrate on International Women’s Day, which is March 8. It’s a day when the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women are noted and the annual call to action is sounded for accelerating gender parity.

A sign of support

Zurich is committed to fostering a culture where everyone can reach their full potential, which is why many Zurich employees have joined in the #EachForEqual campaign for International Women’s Day. The campaign encourages people to “actively choose to challenge stereotypes, fight bias, broaden perceptions, improve situations and celebrate women’s achievements. Collectively, each one of us can help create a gender-equal world.” #EachforEqual posts on social media show people forming an “equal” sign with their arms to signify their support.

Working together for the good of all can create change. Zurich’s efforts have led to a number of achievements and recognitions for its work. Those points of progress include:

  • Equitable pay for equivalent work: Pay is reviewed to ensure that Zurich employees performing equivalent work are earning equitable salaries, regardless of gender.
  • FlexWork@Zurich: Flexible working arrangements empower employees to do their best work while balancing other priorities in their lives.
  • Enhanced family leave: Paid leave is available to employees who become a new parent, regardless of gender. Paid family leave also is available to care for a family member with a serious health condition.

A ‘broken rung’ on the career ladder

Still, there’s more work to do in every organization. The 2019 Women in the Workplace study from McKinsey & Co., for example, showed women’s representation at the most senior levels of management is increasing. But while women accounted for 48% of entry-level hires in companies in 2019, they accounted for only 38% of first-level managers. McKinsey refers to this as “the broken rung” on the ladder: For every 100 men promoted and hired to manager, only 72 women are promoted and hired. With more women lingering at the entry level, women, particularly women of color, are underrepresented at every leadership level of corporate America, according to the McKinsey study.

“This causes an imbalance in the talent pipeline for all organizations, affecting their future organizational leadership,” said Zurich North America’s Chief Human Resources Officer Laura Rock. “We need to ensure we have the culture and support system necessary to inspire and enable growth and to remove any barriers that could exist for talented women and people of color to grow, succeed and reach their full potential.”

Actions Zurich is taking include offering its new Inclusion for Success program, beginning this April, to recognize and overcome unconscious bias, as well as expanding Zurich’s Apprenticeship Program in the United States to help reduce barriers to opportunity for a diverse pool of talent.

Resolving to build ”a presence”

Zurich’s employee resource groups such as WIN continue to foster diversity and inclusion and support the kind of career growth that Jopa and Hiestand have experienced at Zurich. WIN presented a Career Journey panel discussion for International Women’s Day, moderated by Teresa Logue, Head of Manager Capability Development and also Head of WIN.

One panelist, Jill Lankin, Senior Vice President and General Counsel for Zurich Canada, spoke of a missed career goal when she was an attorney with a previous employer. Reflecting on the possible reasons, she realized her long hours and workplace friendships weren’t enough to raise her profile. Throughout the years, she had allowed herself to be excluded from important client meetings and networking opportunities.

“In my next role I decided I was going to be a presence. If I call someone twice, I don’t say, well, they didn’t call me back. I go stand at their desk. Everyone loves when the General Counsel stands at their desk,” she said to audience laughter.

Stasi Bobo-Ligon, a Zurich Global Relationship Leader in Chicago, spoke of summoning the courage to seek regular, honest feedback and be authentic at work.

“One fear I had and worked through is how will I be perceived, the black woman sitting at the table, and whether to subscribe to a certain way of dressing and communicating,” she said. “I had to decide I would be my authentic self. I can defend my authentic self; I can’t defend being something I’m not.”

Marissa Jennings, a Zurich Business Development Leader in Atlanta, spoke of being tapped on the shoulder to apply for a role she didn’t feel ready for — and getting it. She quickly sought reverse mentoring from a team member to help close gaps in certain technical skills.

“It wasn’t the easiest role,” she said, “but it was one of the greatest learning experiences for me.”

One lesson from it? “If you’re hiring for a position, continue to think of people who may be a fit for a stretch role,” Jennings said, “and help other people through that career progression.”