11 of the 100 companies in this year’s Sunday Times Hiscox Tech Track 100 are run, or more than 20% owned, by female entrepreneurs. We’d like to see this number grow. Kate Markham, Managing Director of Hiscox UK Direct, explains what Hiscox is doing to promote gender equality in its business, and why mentoring can be a powerful influence for women looking to progress their careers…

When I joined Hiscox in 2012, I was one of four women in the Hiscox UK leadership team (out of 11), whereas I had always been the only woman at senior level in my previous telecoms career. Of course  this four out of 11 figure isn’t representative of the insurance world. If you scan broadly across the insurance trade press, then the industry does appear to be very male-dominated.

Technology levels the playing field
We’re still a long way from gender parity but the growth in both technology-based and technology-enabled jobs is making it easier for women to find greater equality because it levels the playing field. The old networking-dominated industries where everything went on after work made it very difficult for many women, particularly if you were a working mother.

Technology and the ability to work anywhere and at any time came at the right time for me as a young mother because it fitted around everything I had to do. The tech industry takes that to the next level because – by definition – it is at the cutting edge of all those enabling technologies that make work more flexible and more doable.

By itself though, technology is not enough. You have to give women the confidence and the courage to put themselves forward. Their own networks in the workplace can play a key role here.

Don’t let others make assumptions about you
What I’ve learnt in recent years is that, as a woman, people can make assumptions about you – how hard you will want to work, and what job you might want to do when you come back from maternity leave for example, and assumptions are very difficult to unpick once they’ve been made.

When I returned from maternity leave I took on a global role, much to the surprise of everyone around me. They assumed I would prefer something based entirely in the UK. It’s a classic example of people meaning well but making assumptions about what you might want to do. Having investigated the nature of the travel involved, I found that one day trip a week – albeit a long day – was something that I felt would work for me professionally and personally. This decision enabled me to say yes to a really exciting part of the business.

So you have to be alert to such assumptions and tackle them head on. If you’re clear about what you want then be open about it. Regardless of gender, when you are transparent about what you want, you can help stop people from making any career-limiting assumptions. The more you can communicate what you’re after to others, the better.

Active mentoring
Of course, such behaviour needs confidence and one of the barriers some women face is a lack of confidence in their abilities. Many women come to me saying  they’re keen to progress and tell me the types of roles they’d like to progress into. Then they show me a job description’s list of key attributes and the experience required and they’ll point out that they don’t have certain requirements on that list. I haven’t had many of those same conversations with men. I think we can help solve that confidence issue through active mentoring. If people know they want to head in a particular direction, we can work with them and support them over a period of time to make sure they pick up the requisite skills to go on to a role they aspire to in the future.

Women in leadership
Our mission with our Women in Leadership initiative is to help put women on an equal footing and give them the confidence they need to fulfil their ambitions. We believe that being successful at Hiscox should be based purely on talent, personal values and effort.

As well as providing a peer group of support, our working group tackles issues such as ‘how to be authentic’ and the role that mentoring can play in advancing your career. We also share career stories of women who have progressed successfully within Hiscox, as often people draw inspiration from learning how others have made things work.

Creating support groups
I have seen peer support groups work really well with Women in Leadership, where we have formed small groups of women across Hiscox who don’t work together in the same business divisions. One of those young women was thinking of going for a promotion. She called the others in her group for advice and they talked her through the job application, pointing out where she’d demonstrated certain skills. It gave her the necessary preparation and confidence to help her nail the interview and get the job. Had she just gone in without that support, I think she would have probably talked herself out of the role at interview.

Ensuring women fulfil their ambition
I do think mentoring complements an established line manager relationship. It offers women access to support, coaching, mentoring or sometimes a great role model to aspire to. Ultimately for me it can play a critical part in ensuring that women fulfil their ambition – whatever that ambition may be.

Find out more about some current female leaders in tech on our Tech Track 100 hub