As Managing Director of AbbeyAutoline, Julie Gibbons leads a team of 450 experienced staff members at Northern Ireland’s largest insurance brokers.
Julie describes the people of AbbeyAutoline as the backbone of the business with the company placing a strong emphasis on diversity and inclusion.
She said: “People buy from people, so it is important we have the right teams in place throughout our business to ensure we maintain our strong and lasting relationships with customers.”
In recognition of International Women’s Day, Julie discusses the importance of this awareness day and why AbbeyAutoline attaches such importance to diversity in the workplace.
Why is it important to mark International Women’s Day?
While there have been tremendous advancements in gender diversity in the workplace, now is not a time to become complacent. International Women’s Day is an opportunity to pay tribute to the many courageous women who have gone before us who fought for equality. It is also a reminder that we are still on a journey and an awareness day helps focus minds for the days ahead. When you look at the number of male dominated industries and the make-up of some boardrooms it is evident more work needs to be done to achieve better diversity in the workplace.
How important is diversity in the workplace?
There are so many reasons why diversity in the workplace is vitally important. Many studies show how diverse groups and teams lead to better outcomes, better products… with broader deliberations, more opinions, more “emotional intelligence” and alternative ways of approaching scenarios. That is why, as a Group, to show a public declaration of our commitment to championing Diversity and Inclusion, AbbeyAutoline has joined many other progressive organisations in embarking on our journey with Diversity Mark NI, working towards achieving the Diversity Mark.
How important is it to find the perfect work/life balance?
People are our greatest assets, and it is vitally important we look after them and encourage and support them to look after themselves. Success in the workplace shouldn’t be measured by salary and job title, but instead by good mental and physical health, free time and loving what we do. Our people regularly go above and beyond for our customers because they care, so it is important that we show the same loyalty to our staff. A poor work/life balance can lead to increased stress and workplace burnout with negative impacts on mental health. A good work/life balance is central to my vision for the company. Being able to switch off and have a life outside work is important; it was one of our considerations when committing to partnering once again with Ulster Rugby for the exclusive naming rights of their Family Stand.
What advice would you have for women starting out in business?
Work hard at what you love as the reward will come and make sure you enjoy the journey – everything good and bad counts as great experience. It is also important to have self-belief and the confidence not to be intimidated in stressful situations. We know diversity has the capacity to foster innovation, creativity and empathy in ways that homogeneous environments seldom do, so make sure your voice is heard. Your life experience and skills mean that your opinion is valid, and you deserve your place at the table, so have the confidence in yourself to speak out. It’s about being true to yourself and not giving opinions simply to fit in. It’s also important to be a good motivator so staff can buy into the wider aspirations of the company.
Is there an onus on women in business to support each other?
It is in my nature to help people where I can, regardless of their gender. But yes, I believe there is an onus on women to support and lift up other women in business. Although things are improving, we are still in a minority and it is important, especially for women in senior positions, to support other women. I don’t think it is right to approach business life like one big competition, we should all aspire to be the best versions of ourselves, and if it is appropriate, I will certainly help people – after all we are stronger together.
How important has having an inclusive workforce been during the pandemic?
Having team spirit and togetherness was so vital in helping us meet the challenge of coronavirus head on. We had just come through a merger which has made AbbeyAutoline the biggest insurance broker in Northern Ireland but then we were met with the disruption caused by the pandemic. When you consider our expert teams work across such a wide breadth of offering from personal lines through to high end corporate risk, it could have been easy for a dis-connect across the business. By embracing technology and with our people motivated to do their best we continue to see a strong retention rate. Overall, we have been pleased with how we have performed during this challenging period and that is largely down to our people working together, feeling part of the company’s bigger picture and rising to any challenges that came their way.
Many mums, such as yourself, have recently had to adapt to working from home and caring for their children. How do you juggle running a business and a home?
For me personally, it is very important to try to establish a sense of routine and normality and to set out structure for the day ahead. With a busy day job and the demands of two young children, it is currently especially difficult with homeschooling to fit everything we need to do into a day, but one thing I have taken onboard is the value of setting aside time to help with schoolwork, to make lunch or simply to go for a quick walk if I have a spare 10 minutes during the day. Setting yourself boundaries is key, and we should all try to finish our working day on a positive note, acknowledging what we have achieved. In the evening, taking some time to yourself to unwind is paramount in preparing yourself to do it all over again tomorrow. It is of course a challenge for any working mum, but at the end of the day we generally get it all done and fit it all in, so we should have the self-belief that we are strong, and we can do it and stay positive!