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The importance of diversity of thought for the actuarial profession

Cathy Lyn is an experienced actuary, a former President of the Caribbean Actuarial Association and is passionate about promoting diversity in the actuarial profession.
Written on 09/01/21

She served on The John Robinson team who started informal mini-conferences on Diversity alongside the 2010 Capetown and 2014 Washington DC Congresses. Since then Cathy has continued with a “Diversity of Thought” world series the underlying concept being opening more doors to create more job opportunities for sustainable social and economic development on the programmes for the 2018 Berlin Congress, the 2019 Capetown Colloquium, the 2019 Caribbean Actuarial Association Conference in Curacao, the 2020 Virtual Paris Colloquium up to Episode 9 due for broadcast 13 September this year. Further episodes are in the planning stage. 

In our interview with Cathy Lyn we asked her about her work, her goal to promote diversity, and her aspirations for the future of the actuarial profession.

How did you get involved with the topic of diversity and what are you doing to promote diversity?

The Diversity of Thought webinar and workshop series was started to help actuaries think differently about the ‘actuarial role’, the different ways to expand the reach of the profession and the necessity of increasing diversity and inclusion to help the profession evolve by staying relevant. The series offers insights into promoting inclusion within the profession, building actuarial partnerships, lateral thinking and practical tips for actuaries interested in taking that first bold step.
Each episode is designed to be interactive with the audience and between the panelists so that we give more space for synergy, for sharing different perspectives and for encouraging deeper thinking. Also, when our audience is centric to a certain region, we customize the content to appreciate the local diversity features while the international audience can extrapolate the concepts to their own environment.

Why Diversity of Thought?

Diversity of Thought is a key driver forcing us to look beyond our neat comfort zone to cultivate more opportunities and hence more jobs. It is a way to engage current and prospective actuaries who want to expand their horizons and take their actuarial skills into new areas. As they pursue this passion for doing something different with their skills and carve out new opportunities, the importance of diversity of thought will be reinforced by the increasing need to work effectively in multidisciplinary teams. 


What are the challenges in your work?

I’ll use the Caribbean as an example. I’m sure many other regions in the world will find commonalities as our economic and social environment is not unique. The Caribbean seems to have little problem with awareness of the actuarial profession as the universities offering an actuarial science option are finding enrolment satisfactory. What I have noticed is that there is little awareness of the Caribbean Actuarial Association and the role it can play in their professional development. Through self selection the degree has a chance to put out graduates whose numeracy abilities are above the curve thus fulfilling a desperate need in in many areas to quantify options and costs for decision making. Traditional posts for entry level actuarial staff are miniscule compared with the number of new graduates emerging each year. It is obvious that many have to find jobs elsewhere so here is your chance to join the teams to build capacity in tourism our largest industry, upgrade disaster protection and recovery systems for a region plagued by more intense and frequent , increase pension coverage hurricanes, earthquakes and erupting volcanos, halt environmental degradation and impact of global warming, reduce food spoilage, address adequacy and coverage in pensions, increase healthcare capacity, improve social security benefits, transportation, education and the list is endless. Each item has a financial aspect (many are inter-related) where an actuary can add value to change the space for thousands of Caribbean people to grow, escape the poverty trap and increase the middle class  because there is more fair treatment, order and comfort.

The most difficult barrier are the employers and the public who do not immediately think an “actuary” is the person for the job. We have to work strategically to overcome this mindset. In addition, there are barriers to entering the profession and bias within the actuarial profession. I think associations are beginning to acknowledge and address  these two aspects and future outcomes will show how effective are the strategies.

What is your wish for the future of the actuarial profession in regard of diversity?

I would like to influence actuarial representation in many spheres of life. The daily news regularly broadcasts disasters and systems that underserve the people in this world. We have a global presence and we have a significant role to play in upgrading systems to adequately and sustainably address societal issues and underserved populations such as the informal sector and migrant workers. There is an ever-growing opportunity to reach beyond these traditional fields and help change the modus operandi from reaction to preparedness in dealing with these global concerns. However, our numbers are still concentrated in the financial services as traditionally we started and matured in the insurance sector. This means we are serving the minority of the global population. By no means should we all abandon these established areas, instead we should embrace the idea that the actuarial skillset is transferable and the choice of how they will be applied is determined by the individual actuary. 

  • More opportunities, more jobs, better decisions, better results

This effort is to expand the reach of actuaries. In many regions the development of a country’s infrastructure and positioning for more market share by its main industries needs human capital strong in numeracy with a sympathetic understanding of the environment. Such human capital is anyone with an actuarial background so apply your transferable actuarial skills and take these opportunities. 

  • More partnerships, Less bias, More equity

We are living in a more interdependent world where geographic boundaries reduce in prominence. People with different life experiences are a key ingredient of diversity for strategy and decision making. These partnerships, whether between individuals, organizations, countries etc. will recognize the importance of collaboration for systems being built to meet their objectives. 
Over time we see polarization of wealth, unchecked power and control exploiting certain groups, privilege and fears drive more and more discrimination and instability in society. Only when we start to think inclusively, can we really serve the public/collective interest and strengthen our competitive position by closing the gaps.

  • Parting Thoughts

Jan Kars, IAA 2021 President says our value must be convincing, Suee Chieh IFOA President says we must be relevant to get recognition, Peter Withey, past president of ASSA says Diversity of Thought, brings more insight to decision making and take the message out of the room. Actuaries and non-actuaries together have a significant role to play in developing systems where our skills are useful and relevant to the communities we serve. 
We want the culture of the actuarial profession  to evolve to maintain relevance in known practice areas, to push the boundaries of actuarial work and to have  the courage to explore unknown territory. Please give us your thoughts after reading this interview.

Here you can find the all episodes of the series "The Diversity of Thought".