International women’s day series: An interview with Tara Foley, CEO at AXA UK Retail
International women’s day series: An interview with Tara Foley, CEO at AXA UK Retail
In an effort to help drive change in the insruance industry and to provide inspiration to all future leaders, we have interviewed some of the most senior figures who are speaking at Insurtech Insights Europe 2022.
Why do you think it is important to celebrate International Women’s Day?

At AXA UK&I, we celebrate women and their achievements all year round. When it comes to International Women’s Day, we use the time to reflect on the progress we’ve made towards equality and set our sights on where to go next.
Women are key to our transformation as a business. They are our customers, our employees and our leaders. So, we work hard to ensure that every woman at AXA UK&I is supported to reach their full potential and are valued for their commitment.

Have you faced any barriers in your career? If so, how did you overcome them?

Yes, I have faced barriers. You need to be resilient to overcome them. There will be lots of knocks and setbacks, but you’ve got to dust yourself off and get back in the ring.

What are you most proud of achieving?

I am fortunate enough to have many things I am proud of, but I think the standout is being able to support people as they develop and build their careers. I’ve had the privilege of being a positive part of colleagues’ career journeys many times and I always feel a sense of pride when I see them go on to achieve great things.

Who is your role model and why?

I have many people who have inspired me over the years – from my mother and children to leaders I have worked with. They all inspire me for different reasons, but the factor that makes them stand out is they force me to evolve and grow even when it is uncomfortable.

What advice would you give to women pursuing entrepreneurship or a senior leadership role?

It’s essential to be very organised and structured. The industry is fast-paced and demanding, so it’s crucial that you know how to structure your day and prioritise. You also need a very good support team around you, which is something I am lucky to have myself.

It’s also important to have flexibility and courage – you’ve got to be willing to adapt and tackle roles and work that take you outside your comfort zone.

Additionally, I have found it very useful to have mentors and coaches over the course of my career. It really helps to step out of your day-to-day and talk with someone who isn’t invested in you from a family or organisational perspective. Having someone who is impartial, who you can brainstorm ideas with, and get guidance from, can be invaluable. I feel I’ve been given breaks and had brilliant advice that has helped me on my path and it’s something that I’ve tried to give back to others.
Finally, as you progress into leadership roles, you should always be conscious of your own leadership style and continuously work on enhancing your skills in this area.

Why do you think diversity in the workplace is so important?

As a female leader this is an area that I am incredibly passionate about. A diverse workforce helps organisations more effectively meet diverse market and customer needs. It also helps attract the most talented people, fosters internal morale and employee engagement and enhances employee wellbeing.

Employing individuals who are all similar in their experiences, cultures and backgrounds narrows the growth and success of a business. According to a report by McKinsey, companies in the top quartile for racial/ethnic diversity and gender diversity are 35% and 15%, respectively, more likely to have above average financial returns.

This is why diversity and inclusion (D&I) are incredibly important, both to me personally but also to AXA as a whole, and we were particularly proud to have been recognised as one of The Times Top 50 Employers for Women last year.

What is the most important message you want to send out to young women thinking about their careers?
The world is changing and diversity is a key challenge for every boardroom around the world. So, don’t be put off – if the opportunity is there grab it or create that opportunity yourself.

Finally, how do you feel about the state of diversity in the insurance industry – what can the industry do to improve on this?

I think the insurance industry has made some really positive changes to become an attractive place for women to work and thrive. However, it’s important for the industry not to rest on its laurels and to continue working to attract, retain and develop female employees.

Setting the tone at the top, being accountable and having diversity at a senior level is crucial. Female representation on our Management Committee is 44% and the percentage of women in executive roles across AXA UK&I is 41%, up 9.3% since 2020. To keep D&I high on the agenda, the Management Committee has quarterly D&I updates and regular coaching, including 1-2-1 sessions from thought leaders. We want AXA to be a place where people thrive in a diverse culture and where everyone can educate themselves and have open and constructive discussions.

For the insurance industry more broadly, by championing diversity and inclusion it can continue to innovate and further strive towards being an industry of choice for the best candidates.

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