It’s no wonder that Inga had humble aspirations following a bumpy start as a trainee underwriter. She recalled that, “I fell into insurance after studying mathematics… I just got hooked and I never looked back.” This, despite the male-dominated culture she experienced at her first job with a British reinsurer, working in an open-concept office alongside 34 men.
Unfortunately, while Inga adopted some of the “very male behaviors,” to fit in with the lads, she learned that she had not been accepted as an equal. One Monday morning, Inga found her desk wrapped in posters of bikini-clad woman – decorations from a recent Caribbean-themed office party. Mortified by the insulting prank, Inga immediately left the office and told them, “I wasn’t going to work in insurance ever again.”
Even after she returned to the industry a year later, Inga admits that she maintained an, “I’m just not good enough” mindset when offered new assignments. “I was like many women who I still see today. Somebody has to really persuade them that they’re good enough, since they don’t think they have all the skills.”
After taking a week-long ‘assertiveness for women’ course to build her self-confidence, Inga began to accept the scariest assignments: “I saw how men around me got all the amazing opportunities while I kept my head down and did all the work. Women are often overlooked because others have an unconscious bias about our career goals, so we have to speak up and let people know what we want.”
Inga also developed a knack for confronting the bad behaviors that can fester in a workplace, including the subtle, exclusive cliques that can form around board room tables. In a previous leadership role, she convened an offsite meeting of her executive committee to address a culture clash that persisted between old guard and newly-hired executives.
She recounts how, “I planned a role-play exercise in which everyone was asked to act out their rivals’ point-of-view. Everyone cringed, but I said, ‘No, we’re going to act out the scene and confront the elephant in the room.’ By helping people realize how others saw them, we broke down the barriers on a very serious issue, while having a bit of fun.”