Women in leadership - Olive Gaughan, Actuarial Director

To mark International Women’s Day 2023, we feature some of our female team in leadership roles. This article features Olive Gaughan, who shares some of her achievements and challenges.

Tell us a little bit about you and your career.

I come from rural (and very beautiful) Co.Waterford. I’ve always loved learning, and in school, I really enjoyed a broad range of subjects from art to maths to Irish, so after school, I did a B.Ed. Degree in Education and Maths. I spent one year as a primary school teacher in Carrick on Suir, Co.Tipperary, and then moved to Dublin to pursue an actuarial career. 

Over the last 30 years, I’ve mostly worked as an actuary within Insurance companies, including Lifetime Assurance (a Bank of Ireland entity), Canada Life, Hibernian/Aviva and Prudential International. In 2018, I moved to Mazars to work with the insurance sector from a consultancy perspective. I lead the actuarial services practice in Mazars.

My career has been incredibly varied over the years, with many opportunities to learn and grow, and I’ve been fortunate to work with many very talented people. 

Is there anyone that inspires you in your career? 
Over my career, there have been many. To name a few who inspire me currently: Brid Horan and Julie O’Neill for the impact they are having on the Boards of some of Ireland’s top companies; Amanda Le Blanc for her leadership within Aviva and how she has dealt with some outdated attitudes towards women; and the founders of Reitigh Software Ltd, for their vision and drive and the success they’ve made of their business.

What does International Women’s Day mean to you?

It makes me think about the world into which my mum was born (the 1930s), the career opportunities my generation of women had that hers didn’t, and the world of work my daughters are now entering. I see it as a day to reflect on the immense progress and to open our minds to continued advancement in this area.

I also see it as a day to reflect on those who have helped us to get to where we are and to acknowledge them in some way.

The theme for IWD 2023 is #EmbraceEquality. Can you share any challenges or barriers that you have encountered in your career to date and how you overcame them?

I’ve been fortunate in choosing an actuarial career. I’ve always felt that progress and success were largely based on merit rather than contacts, gender, etc.   

Entering into a male dominated career can be intimidating as a woman.  When I became an Appointed Actuary, I knew that men were certainly in the majority at this level of the profession in Ireland. When participating in industry fora and professional groups, I needed to push myself outside of my comfort zone and speak up, get involved, and “Lean In” to use the expression associated with Sheryl Sandberg. Over time the profession has become more diverse in many ways.

As a woman with a young family, I made choices that included working part-time for a many years. I moved laterally for a few years before moving back onto the career ladder. Those choices undoubtedly impacted my opportunities to move up the career ladder at the time, but it was a choice that I wanted to make and was fortunate to be able to make. However, the experiences I gained during those years were important in the context of my future career opportunities.

Looking back, I think I made good choices and would be very open-minded towards having people on my team with a range of flexible arrangements.  Generally speaking, if someone is happy with their work-life balance, they will give their best. 

How have you built confidence and/or resilience in your career? Do you have any practical tips you can share?

Confidence and resilience have grown from a firm foundation of knowledge and expertise through accumulating a wide range of experiences over my career.  It’s important to reflect on your experiences, acknowledge the successes and challenges/failures, and understand the “why” of those experiences.  

I am naturally positive and optimistic and enjoy a challenge. These attributes have contributed to my resilience. Developing professionally supportive relationships in the workplace and within my professional body (the Society of Actuaries in Ireland) has also been a factor.

Why do you think diversity in the workplace is so important?

I think it’s important to emphasise diversity in all realms. Diversity brings together different strengths and ways of thinking, which drive creativity, innovation, better decision-making and problem-solving, and a better understanding of the needs and perspectives of our clients and their customers. Diversity also challenges us to recognise our internal biases and to become better people. Diversity enriches all of our lives.  

Can you share any advice you would give to someone who is developing their career?

Be authentic. Don’t try to be someone else. Help others in the workplace and be kind. Learn as much as possible and be as open to learning. Get as much and as varied an experience as possible, especially in the first decade of your career. After that, you will need to be more strategic. What role would you like to get into, and what types of experience would help you to get there? 

Don’t stay in one place too long. But stay long enough. People tend to move quickly these days, while they are still on the learning curve and haven’t delivered their best yet. And so, they will not be remembered as well as they might have been.