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Mentorship in the actuarial space

Even the most qualified actuaries didn’t enter the workforce already holding complex skills. They were taught, guided, and shaped through experience and learning opportunities. Much of this learning can come through technical and educational courses, but new actuaries also benefit from working with someone who can nurture their abilities, share knowledge, and provide counsel and direction – a mentor.

Mentorship or sponsorship?

Mentorship can be as simple as a single interaction, but it is most effective as an ongoing relationship in which a senior or more knowledgeable employee takes on the position of mentor for someone new or more junior. A mentor helps a newer colleague build skills and acclimatize to their work environment and career. As can be expected from this definition of the role, most mentors work with younger colleagues who were recently students or recently participated in a formal training program.

The lines between mentorship and sponsorship are often blurred, but there are some important differences. Rather than just guiding new employees, sponsors actively train their protégés for career advancement, advocate for and promote them to an audience, and connect them to other professionals to assist in building their network. Sponsorship benefits any employee, but it is of particular benefit for under-represented groups – like women and persons of colour – as a crucial way to overcome inequality and reduce barriers.

Why mentor a new actuary?

Mentorship is a key step to building stronger employees in any profession, and actuaries are no exception. Actuaries are skilled professionals working toward the financial well-being of society and helping manage significant organizational risks in a rapidly changing world. Learning from experienced mentors is the best way for new actuaries to gain the real-life skills they need to confront these new and existing challenges. It is also the best opportunity to help reinforce the profession’s commitment to the public interest in the next generation of actuaries.

For experienced actuaries, the opportunity to help develop new recruits offers professional growth in leadership, communication, and listening skills. Mentors get to demonstrate their skills as a leader and build their reputation among peers and supervisors while strengthening their organization by forging interpersonal relationships.

In addition, mentors who are working closely with new actuaries get to hear their thoughts on the current standing of the profession as they navigate their work, offering a fresh perspective from someone new to the industry. It is an excellent way for senior leaders to clarify concerns and address knowledge gaps that may not otherwise be seen.

The CIA has launched new educational pathways that provide innovative, flexible, and accessible options for candidates with diverse backgrounds and career goals. With new actuaries joining the profession from more varied backgrounds and communities, the role of mentorship has never been more important. They are looking to employers and peers to build the supports they need for success in their actuarial journey.

Promoting actuarial mentorship in universities 

In 2016, new CIA members were surveyed on how the Institute could expand its presence and attract new talent. The results indicated a need for increased connection with university groups and opportunities to find volunteer roles for new members.

After surveying representatives of actuarial departments and student clubs at universities across Canada about mentorship programs, the CIA’s New Members Advisory Group (NMAG) determined that a university mentorship program was a clear opportunity to fulfil both goals: outreach to university actuarial students and roles for new CIA members.

The CIA launched a university mentorship program in 2021, a collaboration between the NMAG and student actuarial clubs to supply content and provide equipped mentors from the CIA’s pool of new members. A specialized toolkit was made available to university students in their third and fourth years.

Having been on both sides of the mentorship relationship, the value is clear. Making connections to those in your profession, be they senior or junior, increases your network and your perspectives.

Talia Pankewycz, FCIA and mentor in the 2021 university mentorship program

Mentorship in the industry

In 2021, the CIA hosted a focus group of women actuaries to better understand the main biases and barriers facing women in the actuarial profession. A key challenge they identified is that women actuaries lack senior mentors and sponsors, as there is a scarcity of senior women actuaries who are able to provide insight into gender-specific barriers and biases that women face in the field.

Those who do have mentors often find themselves receiving unhelpful or unsuited advice. While some women had been formally paired with a professional mentor, few of them found such formal pairings helpful, often receiving advice that was incompatible with their style of work or interpersonal interaction.

In response, the CIA released a report, Women in the Actuarial Profession, highlighting a specific call to action relating to mentorship/sponsorship and encouraging organizations to put in place a program to help women – and all new recruits – find the support they need in their new careers.

Volunteering at the CIA is another opportunity to take on a role as either mentor or mentee by sharing your experience with peers or learning from more experienced members on committees or other groups. Many members have shared that they have been positively shaped by their peers through volunteer roles. Reach out to the CIA’s Volunteer Services Team to learn more.

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