In honour of International Women’s Day, we spoke with Narissa Dedhar, FCIA, who has been working in life consulting for over five years and acts as a principal at Oliver Wyman.
Narissa shared her insights on her career as an actuary, diversity in the workplace, and how to attract more women to the actuarial field with the hope that she can inspire and encourage more women to pursue careers in actuarial science.
To start off, would you mind explaining a little bit about your role as an actuary, and what you do for work?
Narissa: I currently work at the Toronto office of Oliver Wyman, which is an international actuarial consulting firm. My role is essentially to help our clients solve problems using actuarial concepts. Our clients can range from insurance companies to banks to reinsurance companies and even legal firms.
Can you share a few of your accomplishments, both within the actuarial field and in the professional space more generally?
Narissa: I think for any actuary, the biggest milestone accomplishment is when you achieve your fellowship with the CIA – which for me was a couple of years ago. More recently, I feel a sense of accomplishment from reaching a point in my career where I’m now seen as an expert in a certain area. Imposter syndrome is real, but when someone acknowledges you professionally, it goes a long way.
Specifically, one memory that stands out to me is when my colleagues at the same level sought my advice on a particular topic. It’s a great feeling when your co-workers start recognizing you as the go-to person in a certain subject area, because it validates your expertise and the hard work you’ve put into your career. This recognition renewed my confidence in my abilities, and I’m grateful for the opportunity to contribute my knowledge and experience to my team.
And why do you think it’s important to celebrate International Women’s Day?
Narissa: It is important for so many reasons, but for me, the biggest one is to show all the girls out there that it is possible for a woman to succeed, even in a field that’s traditionally male dominated.
Have you faced any barriers in your career due to being a woman? If so, how did you overcome them?
Narissa: I’ve been very lucky in my career that I’m in a workplace that promotes diversity of all kinds, including gender. Thankfully I have not had to overcome any barriers due to being a woman, and I hope that this can be true for all women going forward in their careers.
Diversity has been a big topic in the workplace over the past few years. Why do you think diversity in the workplace is so important?
Narissa: Diversity in the workplace is important for a few different reasons, but one I see in action every day is that it leads to diversity in thought. Having a diverse group of people means coming at a problem from multiple angles based on everyone’s own unique experiences and can result in creative and innovative solutions that may not have existed without that diversity. In a consulting firm, this is how we can bring the ultimate value to our clients.
2023’s theme for International Women’s Day is #EmbraceEquity. Do you have any suggestions on how the profession can better achieve equity and become a more inclusive space?
Narissa: Equity differs from equality in that we acknowledge that not all of us start from the same place, and equal treatment is not always the fairest option. We need to make an effort to provide opportunities to those who currently aren’t getting them. For example, it isn’t just being diverse in current hiring practices, but taking a look at those existing practices and expanding them to include a more diverse group in the first place, even if it requires more effort to do so.
So to better diversify the actuarial space and make it more equitable, how can we attract more women to an actuarial career?
Narissa: I’m a big proponent of starting early – we need to get more girls into STEM from an early age. Having said that, for actuarial work specifically, I think having great female role models in visible positions in the industry is a great start.
Beyond that, we need to target women specifically – perhaps actuarial scholarships just for women or having an actuarial job fair as part of International Women’s Day events. Then hopefully over time as the actuarial workforce becomes more balanced, we will no longer need to have any targeted treatment for women, and we will have true equality.
And how do you believe those in the actuarial space (employers and fellow actuaries) can better encourage women already within the space?
Narissa: Unconscious bias is a big contributor to the unequal treatment of women already in the workplace. I think we can encourage women by bringing unconscious biases front and centre to be addressed and making sure that we hold people accountable when they act on such biases.
Beyond that, having support or resource groups for women and their advocates is a great idea. At our office, we have an employee resource group called WOW (“Women of Oliver Wyman”), and while it isn’t actuarial specific, it is a group that advocates for women by promoting awareness and providing support where needed. I’ve met quite a few inspirational female role models through this group.
Finally, what advice can you share for young women thinking about pursuing a career or advancing their career in the actuarial space?
Narissa: Please keep pushing forward – we would love to have you! Sometimes it’s hard to push against societal pressure and barriers you may face, and I can’t say it will always be easy. I’ve been very lucky, but I know others who haven’t been. However, I can say with confidence that unless you try, you definitely won’t succeed.
I believe that any young woman who wants to be an actuary will be able to achieve that goal – and all the women of the CIA now would be happy to help along the way, in any way we can. The next generation of actuaries who will fully embrace gender equality is you!
The opinions expressed in this article reflect those of the interviewee and does not represent an official statement of the CIA.
Based on findings from a focus group of women actuaries from various backgrounds, the CIA released a guide offering strategies to employers to reduce barriers for women in the actuarial profession. Review it to gain valuable insights and actionable steps that will improve the working environment for women and encourage opportunities for their career growth.
I would encourage all young women like to set high goals of what you can accomplish. Research studies have confirmed as reflected online that women-led companies out-perform men-led companies in more ways than just the bottom line. Knowing this should boost your confidence. Organizations conducting Diversity and Inclusion training and applying it internally is good but not good enough. Is the leadership also walking the talk externally? There have been many companies who preached and practiced D&I internally and then unbeknown were contributing funds and supporting political causes that went against all the D&I preaching. While many companies provide women paid maternal leave and also the assurance of ability to return to the job position, many companies unfortunately don’t provide the same opportunity. The government needs to play a role in making it possible for every company to provide this benefit. Finally, every young lady in the workforce should set and pursue high leadership goals. I have high confidence about their success.