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Women of Western breaking the bias in the workplace

Women of Western breaking the bias in the workplace

Avelia Stewart, Diversity and Inclusion Lead with Western, spoke with Natalie Ayotte, CEO, HED Insurance Broker, in celebration of this year's International Women's Day on March 8.

The 2022 International Women's Day theme is Break the Bias. Breaking the bias acknowledges that, individually, we are all responsible for our thoughts and actions, but we can all strive to work together to break the bias in our communities, our workplaces and beyond.

Q: What does this mean to you, Natalie? And how can you help break the bias?

A: Well, that's a very important question, and I thank you for asking me about breaking the bias in our communities and our workplace and beyond.

We all grew up in a society that likes to emphasize certain social differences. We see that in the social networks and media, success and wealth are attributed to certain common characteristics. If we can put aside what gender you are, the religion, intellect or education, we can help break the bias.

Q: What would you say to the younger generation about how to break the bias?

A: Be unique, be yourself. Be authentic. Try not to be scared. It can be scary to be different. Reach out to those that know who you are and are open to your uniqueness. Let them be your guide towards that.

Q: How are you celebrating International Women's Day in your community and even as part of your team?

A: March 8 is a very special celebration for me and my family because it's not only a date to celebrate the International Women's Day, it’s also the same day my grandmother was born in 1917. She was a pioneer in my life for various reasons. She was a very thoughtful, very sincere and wise woman. She inspired me to be like that with my peers, with my friends, other women, and in my relationships. Typically, in my household, we would always have gatherings on International Women’s Day where there was a cocktail hour or we'd have potlucks. It was a special time where we would always speak about women and share the gratitude we have for the women who came before us.

Now, when I look at women who are coming up after me, I usually recognize them by sending them a little token, little notes or emails telling them how special they are and how I want to celebrate that with them. I've often purchased little flowers, little trinkets to just say how grateful I am to be a friend and to be a colleague.

Q: Let’s imagine a gender equal world, a world free of bias and stereotypes and discrimination. For me, that would look like one where differences are valued and celebrated. What does this look like to you and as a leader at Western?

A: If we start thinking more of our uniqueness, this is who I am and this is what makes me who I am, we realize our diversity. It’s embracing the uniqueness and diversity of humankind that will make this world better. And I think that goes for us as an employer.

Western has taken the lead in comparison to many insurance organizations and many organizations in general. I'm actually very proud that we have included a Diversity and Inclusion program. I think that that's a step in the right direction. It's helping leaders and employees understand diversity and to let go of our bias or unconscious ways.

Here’s a personal thing I'd like to share. It’s about recognizing our unconscious bias that can be caused by our upbringing and our comfort zone. When I joined Western, I joined an environment of highly talented salespeople and whether it was unconscious or not, they were all men. They still are to this day, very men oriented. The challenge at Western is how do we work this out? Women have a tough time making it in this environment. I’d like to challenge my colleagues to find a way to work on this.

Why is it so challenging? If we only bring one woman in a group of 20 salespeople, it is going to be challenging and there is probably some form of unconscious bias there that maybe women don’t aspire to that. I would like to see that evolve because once we have a greater balance in this, we will be more diversified and probably just as successful, if not more.

Q: Has there been a time or an example that you can share with us when you have advocated for another woman?

A: If I can answer that in a more general way, I think what's important is that I try to be as authentic as possible. I try as much as possible to always respect the individual that I am. I also lead by example. I very much hope, anyway, that I've never asked anyone to do something that I'm not capable of doing myself.

While I have worked with many women, most of my working environment has been very much with men. I've learned through time that I'll probably never have the same discussions on many things with them other than business-related issues. For example, at meetings where most of the insurance brokers were men, the conversation that I would have would never be about sports. It would be about if you’re married or have children. It’s an unconscious bias to think that we need to have different conversations based on gender.

Always remain who you are. Speak truthfully about your purpose and why you are there. I have been successful by leading this way.

Q: Is there anything else you would like to share with our audience in relation to this year's theme?

A: Accept your imperfections in the eye of the world as your own uniqueness. What the world has decided that is successful has nothing to do about you. Your success is your own definition. When you are true to yourself, you understand your mission and you know where you're going, you will be successful. And I know that's a big ask because the world can be, you know, threatening at times and discouraging.

Aspire to learn from differences. Be curious. I've surrounded myself with so many different types of individuals in my life, and I've grown with that.