By Melissa J. Anderson (New York City)
One key element in career advancement, according to Toni Mohammed, Client Manager at Marsh Inc., is being assertive about your goals. “I would advise young women to not be afraid to ask for what you want, work hard, keep pushing, and be patient.”
The other, she said, is building relationships. “This industry has a lot to offer. It’s also a very small world, so leveraging your networks early on will help you get to where you want to be.”
“I like to say I’m a child of insurance,” she said with a laugh, explaining that her mother worked in the industry for 25 years in Trinidad. “I kind of grew up in the industry.”
Born and raised in Trinidad and Tobago, Mohammed came to the United States on a scholarship, and went on to study math and actuarial science at Howard University. After completing actuarial internships at CIGNA, Nationwide, and Deloitte, she realized she wanted more client interaction, and took a position as an insurance broker at Marsh in Washington DC. As part of the firm’s Risk Analyst program, she developed a keen interest in Multinational, and within months of attending training in Atlanta, Georgia, she started working for the Multinational Client Practice as an International Property and Casualty broker.
Now Mohammed is a team leader and Multinational Advisor at Marsh, and co-leader of Pride@Marsh (the company’s LGBT affinity group). Mohammed has also become a sort of Middle East insurance expert. She recounts one of her proudest achievements as her work in this area.
“One of my defense clients had an auto fleet in Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon and other Middle East countries where certain local coverages were contractually needed. You can imagine in this economy it was a great challenge getting insurers to even offer these coverages, much less consider the aggregation risk concerns and cost,” she explained. “Fortunately with the expansive Marsh network and partners in London and the Middle East, I was able to find a solution for our client.”
“But I really have two jobs,” she continued. “My day job and my ‘gay’ job.”
“My day job of advising clients on what’s going on with international insurance and trends that can affect them is very exciting. Sharing knowledge with my teams and being part of a dynamic environment means that I’m always on my toes to see what works, how to improve, and how to change,” she explained.
“Balancing compliance with international regulations and cost analysis for international insurance programs are of key interest to me. With increased global scrutiny and the poor economy, there is greater tax activity by local governments when there is non-compliance with the insurance regulations. In some instances there are also hefty fines and penalties, including imprisonment, that our clients may be exposed to, so helping to explain international insurance regulations is key.”
“In my ‘gay’ job,” she continued, “we are also on the verge of change. With my co-leader Cris Castillo-Brizard, we have re-energized the LGBT group at Marsh called Pride@Marsh. We are getting involved in community and education. We are creating ties to business in ways that have never been done before. I am very proud the Marsh leadership is behind us and continues to do the right thing.”
Importance of Networking
Mohammed has been part of Pride@Marsh for three years. “We’ve had different agendas over the years – we started off just trying to get people to participate, but now we’re much more stable. We’re getting a lot more visibility within the company.”
In fact, she said, one of the most important lessons she has learned through her career is the value of networking. “I wish I had known that leveraging my networks at an early stage in my career would help me develop key leadership skills,” she said.
“The challenge at the early career stage is typically first understanding the business, or in my case, the technical areas. That is vital to the job, but one trait that I admired in my male colleagues was to dedicate time to leverage networks outside of their immediate area. It not only helps take advantage of opportunities to add value on a larger scale, but inevitably pushes us into the big picture.”
She added, “Insurance is a very small world and it still amazes me how interconnected we are.”
Women in Insurance
Mohammed says the key challenge she has encountered as a woman in her industry is connecting with her male coworkers socially. “Instead of happy hours, I have found balancing networking with more educational events to be more enjoyable and worth my time,” she said.
Otherwise, she continued, while insurance has been a historically male-dominated field, she finds Marsh, and the professional services in general, to be more open to women today. She explained, “In the US, Marsh has two women’s organizations: Women Internal Network (WIN) and Women Executive Business to Business (WEBB). These networks are focused on helping senior women build relationships with women clients and prospects. I work very closely with the leaders of this group on a personal and professional level. In the UK, our ERG is called Women@Marsh. Our sister company Mercer also has a women’s network and when possible we share resources and events.”
Additionally, Mohammed continued, she has appreciated the level of support her coworkers have shown her and her LGBT coworkers.
“As a lesbian I have been very fortunate to be welcomed at Marsh. My gay flag is at my desk, and even my colleagues show their support and fly their flags as well. Of course I am very lucky to be in a diverse city within the company, New York, and DC prior to that.”
In Her Personal Time
Outside the office, Mohammed makes time to visit her family. “I enjoy traveling to my home country Trinidad and Tobago where my mother and a couple of sisters reside. The best time of year is obviously Carnival!”
She continued, “Other than traveling, I love animals and volunteer with a local animal shelter. My favorite things to do are scrapbooking and watching movies. And I’m looking forward to having my favorite pastry, scones, while I’m in London in June!”