• Laura Hay, Leadership |

While I believe that ‘Experience is the best teacher,’ I like the idea of sharing wisdom from those who have gone before, to make the path better for the next generation. Our STEMphasis blog series was developed with the insight and stories from 12 extraordinary KPMG women who have shared invaluable advice, for women at all levels in their career journey.

As we wrapped up our in-depth conversations about their insurance careers, I asked each of them, "If you could tell the next generation of STEM woman one thing, what would it be?"

Go for it, despite doubters:

If you’ve read the previous four chapters of this blog, you won’t be surprised to hear that all of my interviewees urge young women to "Go for it!" both in terms of studying STEM and exploring career outlets in insurance.

"I’d tell young women that a broad STEM education gives you incredible flexibility later in your career, since you gain the skills to pivot in a number of directions," shared Laura Gray, Partner and Head of Actuarial at KPMG in the US. "It’s hard to go wrong and you should be highly employable."

However, alongside this cheery encouragement, my interviewees were clear that women often need to be determined, and believe in themselves, if gender stereotypes or traditional social norms get in the way. "Don’t listen or care about some of the statements you may hear, like ‘Math is not for women," insists Viviane Leflaive, Head of Insurance at KPMG in France.

This advice is highly personal for Jessica Hong, Digital Transformation Director at KPMG China, who at one point abandoned her own science studies due to societal pressures she felt. Reflecting on her path back to STEM, she asserts: “Just don’t look back if you are passionate about STEM. Forge your own path, and, if you don’t see the representation that you want, you need to be that representation. Today you can find more like-minded people and the right support network, because that does help.”

Commenting on Jessica’s struggle, Fiona Chau, Actuarial Partner at KPMG China, interjects, "Definitely choose this field if it’s what you like, and do it for yourself. A career is very much a lifelong journey so you need to find something you are passionate about. There will be obstacles, but if we believe in ourselves and our ability to solve these problems, we can get through them one step at a time."

And it’s never too late:

My panelists are also emphatic that it’s never too late to pursue your passion, or even shift gears. “It’s never too late, because insurance is always looking for people who want to try something different and are willing to put in the effort," says Alissa Ristic, Advisory Managing Director at KPMG in the US. “Today it’s more about building skills if you have the interest and desire to learn."

They add that there are an increasing number of insurance positions that combine STEM attributes, allowing an individual to contribute diverse skills, like user-acceptance testing or data engineering. 

"It’s never too late because new technology is arising every year and we need people who are ready to learn and implement change," says Holly Ou, Partner and Actuarial Lead at KPMG China. Holly points out that she’s seen a number of women return from leaves and successfully pick up the skills to resume their career paths. "If that’s where your passion lies, and if you believe you are a star, you will always shine."

Keep developing skills for career growth:

The other message that came across loud and clear: In an industry where innovation keeps leaping forward, don’t let yourself idle. "We are at the point where everyone should start to sharpen their technology literacy, data and coding knowledge. So run to it, and build the skills to tackle real world problems," says Jeanne Johnson, Principal at KPMG in the US, adding that it is becoming increasingly useful to combine skillsets, like data analytics and graphic design, or business and technology degrees.

That’s certainly my experience. I’ve seen how important it is to build the technical and analytical skills, in addition to developing complementary leadership attributes like communication and people management, so you can be a really impactful professional and powerful leader.

I think Leanne Allen, Partner at KPMG in the UK, really summed it up for the group: "My advice to anyone starting out, is go after every opportunity to try a load of different things. There is so much breadth in STEM and insurance, this will help you find the right place for you.  Keep looking and trying new things until you find what you are passionate about."

So in the genuine words of these dynamic women: Grab those experiences, push past the doubters, and never stop challenging yourself, in the unique intersection of STEM and insurance. 

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