When Team GB hockey Olympic gold medalists Helen and Kate Richardson-Walsh rocked up to the Willis Towers Watson building in the City of London yesterday, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I was worried I would be star-struck and lost for words.
I watched the powerhouse couple win gold at the Olympics for Team GB during what has to be one of the best performances I’ve ever seen. So when they arrived to give a talk in the auditorium to various women’s groups from the UK Insurance market for a photo call we had arranged, I felt a bit nervous.
Right image: Myself, Sarah Mortimer (centre), and Mairi Mallon (right) pictured with Helen and Kate outside the Lloyd’s building
But no need. They dived into their bags and pulled out a sports sock each – and in the socks was a gold medal for each of them, slightly tarnished and worn after thousands of fans and schoolchildren have been given the chance to touch the sought-after medals. It was symbolic of how down-to-earth they both seemed.
The women had flown in from the Netherlands to speak in a talk on the eve of International Women’s Day. Rein4ce was helping promote the event, organized by a medley of diversity and inclusion groups in the UK insurance market, and was aimed at helping the insurance market with this very same diversity and inclusion. Sometimes this job has some real perks, and for myself, CEO Mairi Mallon, and account director Sarah Mortimer, getting a chance to meet Olympic gold medalists was certainly one of them! (See picture below).
Is there diversity in the London insurance market?
From the outside, it is difficult to understand just how un-diverse the London insurance market is and the challenges each and every woman in that auditorium would have had to face working in a such a male-dominated world.
The two women hockey players may not have been the most obvious choice for a room of insurance people, but Helen and Kate are not ordinary women. The couple shot to fame in the Olympics, capturing the hearts of the nation when they won gold medals for Team GB.
Rein4ce boss lady Mairi – a woman who could spot an insurance chief executive out from 200 yards away and who admits she would make the world’s worst paparazzi – had to Google them to make sure she knew who they were. So faced with the challenge of promoting the event, we had to find a link between hockey and insurance. Enter stage left Sarah, Rein4ce’s very own hockey nerd, who explained that hockey can teach us about the importance of investing in your team.
Fast forward to yesterday’s International Women’s Day pre-event at the Willis Towers Watson Auditorium. It was not me but our usually articulate Sarah who did the fangirling. Her only words during the whole afternoon were ‘I really like watching you play hockey’ (said with a grin and a red face). Nice one Sarah! The second and most interesting part about them was just how human they were (see sports socks from earlier).
The event itself was empowering, motivating and awe-inspiring. Listening to these two elite athletes tell us about their ups and downs and sharing with us their pearls of wisdom was an honour. The event had 390 attendees – including some men – but the majority were women. I don’t think the Willis Auditorium has ever had so many females on their seats. The noise was incredible, and the fan base huge.
One of the most wonderful things about the event was the vulnerability that was expressed by all in the room in what was an extremely interactive talk about teamwork and working practices. There was a lot of talk about the difference between men and women, with many believing that such an open conversation of strengths and weaknesses would not happen among a group of men. Then a very valid point was made by a male member who said that the problem isn’t that men can’t express themselves, but rather that they haven’t been given the language to do so. They are not told that it is “okay to cry”.
It was that wonderful sentiment – along with many others – that truly resonated with me. But the one of the key messages that will stay with me is that you have to give people the language of inclusion if we as a market and, on a bigger scale as a society, are ever going to progress.
Kate made a very important point when discussing the vocabulary that the women’s GB hockey team created for themselves, when she said that team culture, resilience and diversity are vital for team success. To me, this means it’s not about men/women as gender, but more about us as a collective group of workers – diversity means age, religion, disability, a whole gamut of things – and personalities. Different types of people, from sociable to leaders to introverts, are all needed to make a team work. And we have understand ourselves and others in order to harness the power of that diversity.
I leave you with one final thought that should be taken with you far beyond that one event and this single day in a year – and it is totally stolen from Helen and the team. “Words matter. Be the difference, Create history. Inspire the future.”