This week Women in Banking and Finance caught up with Kerry Crompton, European Legal Director at Assurant.
Assurant is a leading global provider of lifestyle and housing solutions that support, protect and connect major consumer purchases. Assurant partners with some of the world’s most recognisable brands, helping them solve their business challenges.
Kerry talked to us about her current role and the initiatives that have been introduced to advance diversity, equity and inclusion within Assurant.
Kerry, you joined Assurant in 2014 to head up its European legal team. Can you tell us about yourself and your role at Assurant?
I’ve been at Assurant for just over six years now and currently lead the European legal team as European Legal Director. My team consists of nine professionals based in offices across the region. Together we partner with the business to provide legal advice and assistance for Assurant’s European operation in France, Germany, Italy, Spain, the Netherlands and the UK.
I started my career by training at Berg Legal (then Berg & Co) and spent the first three years of my career there as a commercial litigator. I then had the opportunity to move in-house three years after qualifying, where I’ve remained for the last 23 years.
You moved in-house quite early in your career. What was it that appealed to you to make this move?
At the time it wasn’t a conscious decision, more an opportunity that presented itself. In hindsight it was the best move I could have made for myself. I see myself as a businessperson with specialist legal expertise. In my experience, in house lawyers really understand how to support the business they work for, knowing how the company operates as well as the opportunities and risks. Private practice professionals are brilliant and provide great advice and support, yet it is truly advantageous to a business to have someone who understands the business in great depth, who can connect that advice in a pragmatic way to the operations of a business and ensure it’s in line with its risk appetite.
What has your experience of working at Assurant been like?
As a business, Assurant continues to expand and evolve. While we focus on anticipating trends in the mobile device and connected technology industries to ensure we’re developing the right products and services for our clients and their customers, we’re also focused on creating an inclusive culture with diverse teams. Not only does this achieve a great work environment, it also means people perform better, which contributes to improving the overall customer experience.
When I joined Assurant in 2014, it wasn’t unusual for a woman to be in a senior position. And since then, the business has continued to improve its understanding of how to develop, invest in and retain employees that reflect the customers and global markets we serve as we foster a diverse, equitable and inclusive workforce.
We know that a company is only as good as its employees and so there is a need to acknowledge and understand how we can support colleagues who are balancing all of life’s commitments. With the global pandemic we’ve seen that flexible working is now much more common, but that’s just the start. At Assurant, we’ve got a range of programmes in place to improve inclusion and support our employee-centric way of thinking.
Why do you think it’s so important that Assurant has a diverse workforce?
It’s a strategic and business imperative. Having a diverse and inclusive workforce means we can maintain variety of thought, collaboration and challenge. While we have a strong mix of diversity, we’re always looking to further increase our diversification of talent and thinking. After all, we can only represent the diverse needs of our customers if we reflect them by having diverse teams.
We believe that Assurant should reflect the global markets and the customers we serve. To achieve this, our People Organisation has proactively looked at our recruitment procedures, ensuring that we have processes in place to make it fair, open, and as transparent as possible for anyone to apply for one of our roles. One of the ways we’re doing this is by moving away from some of the more traditional job specifications and criteria (such as using gender decoding to omit male dominant language), which can deter people from applying.
What initiatives have been implemented within the business to help women progress?
One of the most important things we’ve done is to listen. We’ve brought women from all levels of the business together to talk about their experience of working at Assurant; appreciating that everyone’s experiences are different and nuanced and that’s really important to understand.
The insights that have been shared through these forums have enabled us to adapt policies to ensure people feel supported to develop their careers at Assurant. We believe it’s essential that job requirements and workplace policies align, so that we ensure there’s an equal playing field for all employees and that we create an environment where people can achieve their career aspirations. With the support of the European senior leadership team, we are focused on embedding our diversity, equity and inclusion goals across the business as an integral part of our culture.
We also have a mentoring programme to support women to achieve more senior positions. We’ve developed career pathways and a succession planning framework which directly facilitates promotions. We’ve seen women senior leaders increase by 8 percent in the European business over the last three years. This commitment is shared globally as reiterated in our recently released Assurant 2021 Social Responsibility Report, as well as this Assurant article.
It’s essential to also ensure that any barriers that would impede women colleagues from wanting to progress or work with an organisation are removed. For example, attracting talented people who are returning to work after a career break with lots of knowledge and experience, or those who would like a more flexible approach to working to suit their circumstances, is a crucial part of employment at Assurant. As a business, we are actively removing those barriers, to allow us to benefit from the diversity of those individuals and what they can bring to our business.
Assurant is also committed to developing its employees. We know that people have different paths and career aspirations, and we want all of our people to feel that they can achieve their full potential. I completed a leadership course in 2020 through Harvard University, and there are many other programmes like this in place.
How do you think the changes the pandemic have brought about to the workplace will affect women in business moving forward?
That’s a big question! The pandemic has affected us all in different ways, and it’s been an unbelievably tough time for a lot of people. We’ve had to incorporate additional responsibilities into our daily lives, such as the care of friends and family and home-schooling.
When it comes to work, I certainly miss the comradery of being in the office. However, I think we can agree that there have been benefits to remote working. In general, people are much more understanding of life commitments and that everyone is a human first and foremost. We all have days when we need to go to the doctor or look after a relative. Being at home has enabled us to fit it in around work. I believe this will continue, and we’ll see a more flexible approach to when and where we work moving forward, which will benefit everyone.
Is there any advice you’d give to a young woman keen to progress in business today?
The rate of progress for women in the workplace has never been faster and we’re in a much better place than even just five years ago. My advice is the same to everyone, take advantage of opportunities, get to know other people in your industry and open your mind to learning. The things you learn in the first few years of your career are hugely formative for professional life and it’s well worth embracing. And then continue to learn and seek out opportunities, while embracing who you are and recognising that you may bring something different, diverse and valuable to the table.
And think about how a company’s culture and values can support you throughout your career, so that regardless of gender, race, age or ethnicity, you can achieve your full potential.