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Reflections on HeforShe mentoring

Category: Gender Focus, Gender Equality, Association of British Insurers, gender diversity, Insurance, Mentoring, Gender Balance, HeforShe

Gender Focus.

As part of his support for the HeForShe campaign, ABI Director General, Huw Evans, committed to mentoring women in the industry. Now in its second year, ABI’s HeForShe mentoring supports women who are new to the sector and members of our Future Leaders programme. HeforShe is part of the ABI’s inclusion strategy to build a modern and diverse industry. You can find more information about our diversity work here.  Ahead of the second year of mentoring beginning, Huw and one of his first year mentees, Sarah Mantle-Gray, Director of Operational Excellence & Business Agility, RSA, reflect on their experience.  

Has the mentoring programme changed how you work day-to-day?

Huw: Yes, it definitely gave me more of an understanding of how it feels to be an executive in a member firm which is always helpful for my role. In particular, I learned more about the technical challenges of overseeing major systems change at the same time as driving a wider change programme and managing senior expectations 

Sarah: Yes – it definitely helped me think consciously about my leadership style, and about my strengths and development areas. The sessions were a great opportunity for me to explore ideas with Huw, which was especially useful at a time when I was taking on a new functional leadership role. Huw was excellent in helping me test my thinking around challenges I was facing in my role, including taking on substantial people change, leading difficult conversations with my team, and influencing stakeholders.  The sessions gave me a lot of momentum to go and attack those challenges. 

What was your key takeaway from the sessions?

Huw: I got a much better understanding of what an operational executive has to engage with and the pressures of balancing internal governance, team engagement, client service and cost management. It was also interesting to explore which of my previous experiences in politics, banking and at the ABI were useful to put on the table. My other takeaway was admiration for how Sarah does it all! 

Sarah: For me, it was mainly about self-belief. I found it really valuable to share my thinking with someone who was not immersed in my everyday context, and to realise that it was not too far off the mark!  Huw helped me believe in myself as a leader. He also helped me think through a number of practical challenges and questions that I was grappling with at the time, both personally and professionally. 

Was there any shared learning? (e.g. did anything the mentee say change the way that the mentor works or approaches problems?)

Huw: I think a mentor grows in more subtle ways from the sessions, especially as the trust component grows. I learned a lot about what leadership interventions can be helpful - and sometimes, not.  

Sarah: definitely think (and hope!) that Huw got a lot of value from the sessions too. He’s very insightful, and I think he saw the sessions as a time for him to learn too – both from a leadership point of view and in terms of learning about my area (operational excellence) in our industry. 

How has your leadership style changed as a result of the sessions?

Huw: I hope it has helped me listen more and made me more focused on what people at all levels of an organisation need to be able to thrive.  

Sarah: I have certainly taken forward a more reflective approach to things. I will now consciously stop and say ‘let me reflect on that and come back to you’ rather than always jumping to action as a default. I think part of that has been about acknowledging that I don’t always have to have all the answers. Since the sessions, I also try to take time out for my development, whether that’s through meeting other leaders or attending conferences and events. 

Why would you recommend taking on a mentor/mentee role to others? 

Huw: Absolutely. It is an incredible privilege to have the opportunity to engage with someone and (hopefully) help a little at this stage in their career. I have nothing but admiration for Sarah’s talents and look forward to basking in her reflected glory when she is running a large part of the insurance industry in the future! 

Sarah: I passionately believe that mentoring – either as a mentor or as a mentee – is of huge value to any leader, wherever they are at in their career.  I think that the more time that you can spend with other professionals to understand their experience and how they take on challenges allows you to be more well-rounded, versatile and empathetic.  Everyone does things differently, and I think that we should all strive to the best bits of other leaders (and ditch what doesn’t work).   

I’d like to thank Huw for all his time and energy and best of luck to all new mentors and mentees out there. Just go for it! 

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