As we hear so often in this industry, insurance wasn’t my first calling. Less commonly, however, I began my journey in Kenya. After finishing high school education, it’s common for parents in Kenya to encourage their children to take up some qualification to ‘keep busy’ whilst waiting to be enrolled at university. In my case it was no different – my mum thought it would be a good idea for me to enrol on a secretarial course.
Two years later, in the summer of 1997, I landed in the UK. My first shock was how bright it was outside at 5am! With two other students who had landed at the same time, we heard our names being announced over the tannoy, summoning us to the location of our meet and greet contact, to be taken to Buckinghamshire. I began my two-year LLB (Hons) Law Degree at the University of Buckingham then went on to pursue a postgraduate Diploma in Legal Practice (LPC) at the University of De Montfort (Birmingham Campus) in 2000.
I returned to Kenya in 2001 to pursue the necessary conversion qualification over a nine-month period at the Kenya School of Law and attend a three-month pupillage with an Advocate in Nairobi. On successful completion I was admitted onto the roll of advocates of the High Court of Kenya.
A contact I had made in the UK prior to my return to Kenya offered me a six-month placement at an insurance broker in London. This was to be my first step into the insurance vortex! Working between here and Kenya while concurrently establishing the relevant social and professional networks, I signed up with a recruitment agency and this marked the start of my professional journey in City roles within the Financial Services Industry.
There were a fair number of these roles, all unique and each offering different perspectives about the nature of the people and culture within each company. The one that led me to where I am today was initially a two-week temporary executive assistant (EA) cover for Matthew Moore who was the Active Underwriter for the Managing Agency at LSM at the time.
It was my first attempt at an EA role and the agency brief was, ’someone who has worked in an insurance environment before’. Armed with that and a positive ‘can do attitude’ I took on the role. I built brilliant relationships with the executive team, other senior managers and the other EAs and was called upon continuously over a two-year period to cover both personal and professional absences. During my stint as an EA, I had established a rapport with the Compliance team who were within proximity of where I sat in the office. As I was nearing the end of my EA contract, a compliance assistant role came up. Having mentioned my educational background to the Head of Compliance, they approached me, and the rest is history! The role has evolved over the years as have I, and I am now the Compliance Operations Manager.
I was privileged to join Liberty and for my first role to be that of providing support for the Executive team. Working with them and observing their interactions with their direct reports gave me a perception of leaders who were non-hierarchical, inclusive and supportive.
What has been consistent for me so far is the importance of having managers who live and breathe the Liberty values themselves and ensure that every one of us no matter who we are, is seen heard and valued.
Liberty has a number of Inclusion Matters Networks. These employee-led groups celebrate Liberty’s inclusive culture and encourage everybody in the company to develop an awareness of important issues affecting their colleagues. I got involved in the Cultural Awareness Matters network in 2019, and we focus on raising awareness of different cultures, customs, values, and beliefs. The network embodies the spirit of diversity and inclusion by providing a forum for racially, ethnically, linguistically and socio-mobility diverse employees to flourish personally and professionally. These conversations have always taken place in the background, but to me, the network is an opportunity to have conversations in an established forum. Rather than just paying lip service to diversity, equity and inclusion, Liberty genuinely takes it seriously and I am happy to be a part of it.
Training and development are really important. We all have conscious and unconscious biases, and managers at Liberty undergo training to challenge that. In an ever-growing diversified workforce, it is key in managing people to understand their cultural background and how that influences at a really basic level - communication styles, norms and expectations. Recognising and valuing cultural differences fosters an inclusive work environment and promotes a sense of belonging and encourages diverse perspectives and ideas. It is not our differences that divide us, but our inability to recognise, accept and celebrate those differences.
Black History Month
Before living in the UK, I hadn’t acknowledged the fact that a particular month in the year was carved out to highlight and celebrate Black History. My primary and high school history curriculum included learning about slavery, people of African and Caribbean descent and reflecting on the significant contributions that they have made globally.
Consequently, I wrongly assumed that if I name dropped any legend of Afro-Caribbean descent, there wouldn’t be a blank stare coming my way. However, I now realise why it’s important to have a particular month which focuses on raising awareness, to encourage acknowledgement for other things that are not necessarily within people’s immediate view of everyday life. It also helps people to recognise the fact that there are people of Black and ethnic minorities who have done remarkable things or made significant contributions during their lifetimes. These achievements might otherwise be forgotten and yet, they present such a wonderful opportunity to inspire future generations.
Every year, when the Cultural Awareness Matters planning team is organising events celebrating and showcasing the cultural diversity present at Liberty, it promotes important conversations. I often meet colleagues and engage in conversations which leave them wanting to know more, in this case about Black History Month. People often ask how they can get involved and support the network with its other initiatives.
There is room for all of us as members, friends of the network or allies to get actively involved in ensuring that conversations about culture are not left to those who live and breathe it daily. It is more impactful when the advocates for it are those who were not born into it but have a taken a keen interest in increasing their awareness and spreading the word because they acknowledge the fact that ‘strength lies in our differences not our similarities’. If we all embrace this way of thinking, it will mean the next generation just take it in their stride.
Last year's Black History Month theme was “sisterhood”. I have huge respect for all women, particularly the women I see at work who are building successful careers in traditionally male-dominated environments, alongside being mothers, being carers, whatever they do outside of their day jobs. Celebrating sisterhood, means challenging societal norms and stereotypes that limit women’s potential, acknowledging the strength, resilience and achievements and collectively working towards creating a more equitable and inclusive world for all women.
My utopia would be to celebrate each other and highlight whatever is important to us personally and collectively on a frequent basis.