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Let’s Talk: Michael Ruesch on XL Catlin’s Young Women’s Mentoring Program in Switzerland

Let’s Talk: Michael Ruesch on XL Catlin’s Young Women’s Mentoring Program in Switzerland

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March 8th is International Women’s Day, a global event that “celebrates the social, economic, cultural and political achievement of women.” To mark the occasion and in support of XL Catlin's global Diversity & Inclusion strategy, XL Catlin in Switzerland will kick off a new initiative – the Young Women’s Mentoring Program – in conjunction with Plan International Switzerland. Michael Ruesch, Country Manager, Switzerland, talks about the aims of the mentoring program and how both mentors and mentees can benefit.

Why a mentoring program?

Because offering a helping hand to someone making the transition from university to the business world can be tremendously helpful – on both sides.

A mentor can help inspire a mentee to embrace possibilities that otherwise might have felt out-of-reach. Serving as a mentor is also a good way to nurture and support the next generation of leaders; that’s personally satisfying as well as a substantial investment in the future.

That’s been my experience. When I started my career, there were a few senior managers who took an interest in me, and I benefitted enormously from their feedback; much of their advice and counsel continues to resonate, and I still go back to them regularly!

For a lot of my peers, that’s not uncommon. My colleague Hala Long, for example, who runs XL Catlin’s MENA energy desk in Dubai recently wrote about her experiences as a female business executive in the Middle East and noted how fortunate she was to have some “
strong mentors” early in her career.

Now I have the opportunity to return the favour. Although this particular initiative targets young women and I won’t be one of the mentors, I’m gratified that XL Catlin in Switzerland can provide a helping hand to young Swiss women at a crucial stage in their lives.

Why young women?

Because young women starting out in business in Switzerland face even greater obstacles.

There are, unfortunately, some longstanding biases toward the abilities of women, especially in industry sectors like insurance which historically have been controlled by men.

And investing in girls and young women is no longer just the right thing; it is also the smart thing to do. A growing
body of research shows, for example, that firms with a high level of diversity, including gender parity, “… out-innovate and out-perform others.”

Where did the idea for this initiative come from?

We have been supporting
Plan International Switzerland financially for a few years. And that’s good. However, I also firmly believe that it’s important for firms like ours to become more engaged locally. We need to do our part – on the ground – in supporting local institutions in ways that benefit our people, communities and the environment. I’m glad we have backing at a corporate level to put resources behind efforts like this.

 

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We hope that individual mentors and mentees will continue to support each other over the course of their respective careers.

 

When we discussed with Plan International what that might look like, they shared with us some research they had conducted with the University of St. Gallen.

The study found that as Swiss girls today move from primary school to secondary school and then on to university or an apprenticeship, their confidence and self-esteem often drop. They perceive that the deck is stacked against women and that Swiss companies still operate with traditional models and expectations.

Our management team found this sobering, and we were all struck with the idea that it doesn’t have to be so. Young women today should embrace their entry into the business world with confidence, poise and resilience.

That’s how we came up with the concept for a program where experienced and accomplished women working for XL Catlin in Switzerland offer a helping hand to young women at the start of their careers.

What are the goals of the program?

The most important is to help
young women develop greater confidence and self-esteem so they can have aspirations that aren’t constrained by traditional models or expectations. Our mentors are all successful business women – and worthy role models; they can aid mentees in building self-assurance, and show how it is possible for women to thrive in business, even in “traditional” industries like insurance.

Another is to
provide mentees with access to professional women they wouldn’t ordinarily have a chance to meet, and in an environment that promotes frank, open discussions on the range of challenges women face, including balancing family and career.

The third is to
assist young women in learning how to be leaders. For most of us, leadership is a skill we learn and develop through practice and experience. So the mentors will guide mentees in recognizing the qualities needed to be a leader – like ethics, empathy,  influence, integrity and team-building – and aid them in developing these characteristics.

The last is to
support mentees’ continued growth and development. Our mentors will offer feedback on different career options and input on how to manage specific situations for maximum impact.

How will the program work?

The mentees are local college students who are about to embark on different career paths. Plan International worked with the University of Zürich and several career services agencies within the Canton of Zürich to recruit them.

The mentors are women with a track record of accomplishment in a traditional industry. They are also senior/middle managers with strong communications and interpersonal skills, and most importantly, they all have a sincere interest in supporting gender equality.

The mentors and mentees are expected to meet individually about once a month over the next year. Each pair will decide how often to get together and the structure of the sessions. We’re also providing some tools to help them make their meetings as useful as possible.

We have also planned seven group events to complement and reinforce the individual meetings. These include sessions on body language and confidence building, a networking workshop, and a “speed dating” event where the mentees take part in mock interviews.

Because we intend to extend the program in the future to more mentors and mentees within XL Catlin, we will survey the participants at the beginning, middle and end of the program to measure and evaluate its impact. That will help us draw on the lessons learned in this pilot.

Finally, although XL Catlin’s involvement with this set of participants will end next year, we hope that individual mentors and mentees will continue to support each other over the course of their respective careers. As I mentioned, I know from personal experience the value that an ongoing mentoring relationship can have for both parties.

How will mentors and mentees benefit from this program?


Mentors should derive multiple benefits from this program. First and foremost is the personal satisfaction that comes from helping a young woman build confidence and enhance her capabilities. And that satisfaction is often reinforced as a mentor observes her mentee’s progress over the years.

For mentees, getting supportive and objective guidance from someone who’s “been there, done that” should be extremely valuable; I know it was for me when I was at that stage.

Last question. What advice do you have for young people – women and men – just starting their careers?

The things I regularly emphasize are:

Be open to anything that is going on around you.

Listen.

L
earn as much as you can.

Be prepared to work hard.

Embrace change.

Be authentic.

About Plan International

Plan International is an independent development and humanitarian organisation that advances children’s rights and equality for girls. We strive for a just world, working together with children, young people, our supporters and partners.

As a leader in the global movement for girls’ rights, our ambition is to take action so that girls learn, lead, decide and thrive. Education and acquiring skills to succeed in life are cornerstones of children’s human rights and crucial for girls’ empowerment. Building on our experience in education and skills development, the Mentoring Program for Young Women will build skills for life and work.

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