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Leading the way: Hollard women set the purple standard

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Success follows when you believe in yourself. Women are becoming “a force” in the insurance industry. and should be “recognised for their contributions, regardless of gender”. Mentorship provides a solid basis for advancement.

These are some words of wisdom from just a few of Hollard Insure’s leading women as we shine the spotlight on our magnificent female trailblazers in different departments this Women’s Month.

Read on to find out what makes these champions of excellence tick, how they create better futures for all in their daily work and why they are integral to our success.

Nicole Giraud White: ‘success follows when you believe in yourself’

Portrait of Nicole Giraud

Nicole Giraud White, Head of Hollard Equipage believes that you have to prove yourself to get anywhere in life – no matter who you are. She joined Hollard in 2005 as a broker and has never looked back. “We all bring something to the table … Some would say women are too emotional, which may be true, but we can multitask like no other!”

She says, “Success follows when you believe in yourself, and life is all about give and take – if you have earned a position, be proud and have gratitude.”

Why did she choose this industry? “It kind of chose me,” she explains. Almost 20 years ago, after working in information technology and even dabbling in hotel management, she joined “a small family brokerage” that grew into a successful business.

One of her career highlights is “being part of the success journey of Equipage becoming a household name, partnered by Hollard from the very beginning”. Equine insurance has changed the equine industry immensely, in that not only high-value horses but also beloved family horses now have access to expensive treatment.

“The bond between horse and rider is like no other – only horsey people will understand that.”

As a former entrepreneur, Giraud White always wondered what it would be like to work for a company – and the “support and complexities of working in a corporate” have been an eye-opener. “I’m still trying to join all the dots, but I so enjoy working in such a big team filled with so much wisdom and support.”

She believes for anyone to be successful in the world of insurance, they have to be passionate, self-motivated, resilient, and honest.

Although she misses the vibrancy of the Hollard campus and needs a face-to-face meeting or a visit to the office every now and then “as a top-up”, she prefers working from home to being in the office. “I feel the team is more connected and productive than ever before.”

A career goal? “Now that I have Hollard fully behind me, I want to grow the business unit [Equipage] into what I’ve always believed it can be.”


Desiree Govindasamy: ‘sharing my skills is a passion’

Desiree Govindasamy, Head of Technical Underwriting

“I’ve learnt that the more I share, the more I grow in wisdom and knowledge. I’ve encouraged all the people I’ve mentored to pass the baton on,” says Desiree Govindasamy, Head of Technical Underwriting, who is in her 16th year at Hollard.

“Sharing my skills, knowledge and wisdom in insurance and reinsurance has become my passion,” she says, noting that she herself has had some “awesome role models” who have helped her on her journey.

“I’ve watched the individuals I’ve mentored growing with confidence and getting recognised for their capabilities. What a privilege and honour this has been!”

After entering the insurance industry “by default” after working in banking, she became passionate about underwriting and started studying insurance. She recalls, “Hollard gave me the opportunity to perform various roles in short-term insurance, which gave me a deep understanding and well-rounded view of insurance.”

She has been empowered through various opportunities during her time at Hollard, working in Internal Audit, as Manager of Group Reinsurance and as General Manager – Corporate Underwriting, before moving into her current role.

“More than anything, Hollard has empowered me through various courses that created a platform for me to mentor numerous individuals, mainly women.”

She believes most women “have high energy levels and are multitaskers”, which tends to increase productivity; hence they are becoming “a force” in the industry.

“These days more women are holding senior positions, even at board level, and this gives younger women a positive sense of the possibilities in our industry.”

In her younger days, Govindasamy was often the only woman attending South African Insurance Association technical meetings. Now, women often lead the discussions in this forum.

The industry still has much work to do when it comes to offering equal opportunities for women, but change is at hand and Hollard is leading the way. Still, she says, more women should be considered for senior positions.

Having lost dear family, friends, and colleagues to COVID-19, and having overcome the disease personally, she has learned during the pandemic to proactively manage her health and to “always let people know how much I value them, as every day is precious and cannot be taken for granted”.

Her career highlights include getting the chance to travel in Africa and internationally, achieving her dream of visiting the Great Wall of China during a business trip to Beijing and travelling to Australia and India for work. She feels satisfied when her team members are happy and perform at their peak.

“I have a picture hanging in my office that states: ‘I do what I love, and I love what I do.’”


Dianne White: ‘face-to-face interactions are still vital’

Portrait of Hollard's Diane White

Dianne White joined Hollard in 2000 after applying to the graduate recruitment programme. Every successive role at the company has been a learning opportunity for her but being appointed as Head of Corporate in 2017 – her current position – was a major highlight.

“Hollard has given me all the support, exposure, learning opportunities and necessary tools to do my job well.”

While the industry is still dominated by men, there has been notable change over the years, she says, and women bring various qualities to the industry. She is, however, very careful not to stereotype what qualities these may be as “every woman will bring with them their own value proposition and unique set of skills”. 

She is encouraged that more women are being appointed in leadership positions and that industry events are focusing on empowering women and providing a platform for them to share experiences.

“Mentorship programmes, even if informal in nature, also provide a solid basis for advancement,” she notes, adding that she was fortunate to have had two mentors who helped her get to where she is today.

White shares her secrets to success: team player, having a positive and can-do attitude, being true to yourself, going the extra mile, using initiative, embracing patience and having a passion for the industry.

Job satisfaction means getting the right opportunities, working with a high-performing team and getting recognition for one’s performance.

If there’s one thing she’s learnt during the pandemic, it is that, despite people having adapted to remote working, “face-to-face interactions and the value they bring are still so vital in our business”.


Daphne Peter: ‘a step in the right direction’

Portrait of Daphne Peter

Daphne Peter, Head of Risk Finance, who joined Hollard in June 2005, says, “I did not choose Hollard; Hollard chose me.”

When she joined the insurance industry 38 years ago, she did not have a clear vision for her professional career or the economic means to further her studies, so she took the first job that was offered to her. Little did she know that this would be the industry to challenge her and create passion for what she does.

She recalls, “Hollard provided me with the confidence and backing to empower myself to use the skills and expertise I acquired during my career to lead, develop, and grow the Alternative Risk Transfer team. I was not given a ‘step up’ – there were no barriers and I had to take that step. That for me speaks to empowerment.”

A highlight of her career was when Hollard started its Corporate offering in 2012. “In the first year, we wrote R10-million in premium and the next year we increased that by over 550%! This showed that Hollard’s management trusted us and allowed us freedom to play in this space. The division has since grown into its own specialist area run by one of the Alternative Risk Team’s alumni, Dianne White.”

Peter believes all people bring with them diverse abilities, experience, and skill, and should be recognised for their contributions, regardless of gender. “Internationally, there is now much greater awareness of the value of diversity and the need for equality – not just for women, but also for those who previously suffered discrimination in the workplace.”

Senior management is still dominated by men, but a fundamental and sustained shift requires up-and-coming women colleagues to build their skills and confidence to be ready to grab the opportunities that arise. “The latest statistics indicate that more than 50% of individuals entering the insurance industry are female; this is a step in the right direction!”

In the short term, her goal is for Hollard’s new cell captive offering, for which she is responsible, to replicate the success of the Corporate team when it first launched. In the longer term, she’s keeping “an open mind for any further opportunities to advance myself and my team”.

“I count myself fortunate to work at Hollard. The environment we work in is truly unique and I am blessed to be part of it. My blood is certainly purple!”

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