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Addressing the Balance

To mark International Women's Day IFoA Careers Ambassador Aideen Grant talks about her own journey to becoming an actuary, and the increasing amount of ways women are supported in both entering and remaining in the actuarial profession.

When I was younger and was asked “What do you want to be when you grow up?” I found it difficult to decide. I was most disappointed when I realised my dream role of working for Ewing Oil, from the TV soap Dallas, was not a possibility! 

Thinking about values, interests and strengths is important when making a career choice. I was always good at maths and it was a subject I really enjoyed at school. 

When a friend of mine from school suggested actuarial maths I didn’t know what that was. However the more I researched into it the more interested in it I became and so I applied and studied Actuarial Maths and Statistics at Heriot-Watt University. That was the best four years of my life, although I don’t tell my children that.

I graduated in 1998 and qualified as an actuary in 2002. I’ve had several roles during my career: pension consultant; financial reporting actuary; pricing actuary and currently as an actuarial specialist in the pension’s centre of excellence of KPMG’s audit practice. 

Within all these roles I’ve noticed that there is so much more to being an actuary than maths. Communication and presentation skills are necessary to providing suitable advice along with technical ability and creative thinking to enable clients to reach optimal business decisions.

At a recent presentation I gave on the actuarial profession at a primary school I asked the children if they knew what an actuary did. One child raised their hand and said “An actuary uses their maths to help people.”  I loved this response and it’s definitely one of the main reasons I love the career I chose.

As well as a fulfilling career I knew from a relatively young age that I wanted to be a mum. After qualifying I had three children and three periods of maternity leave. I’m sure my boss loved me!  But from a career point of view was it really a break in my development? 

I certainly learned skills as a young mum – patience, time-management and resilience to name but a few. 

I expect this is also the case for other types of temporary absence.  For example carers will learn empathy, diligence and understanding. Think of the strength, endurance and persistence those with disabilities or on long-term sickness leave demonstrate returning and attending work every day. 

I believe that we need to consider people’s achievements at home and at work as part of the recruitment, retention and promotion process in order to achieve a fully diverse and inclusive workplace.

As a full time mother working part time I have made a conscious decision to maintain a healthy work/life balance. 

However my choice to “have it all” comes with sacrifices. I can’t attend every school or extra-curricular activity nor can I jump at every opportunity presented to me in the workplace. 

I’m very fortunate in that I’ve worked in teams that have understood and supported my situation by finding working patterns that have suited us both.  My husband, who is also an actuary (and no we don’t spend our evenings talking about hard sums) has also been very supportive of my career. 

He works extremely hard, but his family are his priority and he has spent his fair share of time at sports days, nativity plays and as general taxi driver. 

I, like others, worry about my daughter not having the same opportunities as my sons in the workplace, but I also worry that my sons won’t have the chance to spend the same amount of time with their children as I have if that is something they want to do.  Why shouldn’t men “have it all” too?

KPMG are committed to improving inclusion, diversity and social equality; both for its people and the communities we serve. 

We have implemented a number of campaigns, including Fairer Futures, which sets out diversity targets through to 2022.  We have thirteen employee networks such as KNOW (KPMG’s Network of Women), the families network and BREATHE (LGBT Network) as well as numerous initiatives such as IT’s Her Future and 360 apprenticeships to help achieve these targets.  It’s such an exciting time, but there’s still so much more to do in this space.

Actuaries should be well equipped to deal with this level of change. 

We are constantly adapting to new legislation, regulation, emerging risks and possible solutions.  Adaptability is also a necessary requirement for parents. Just when you feel you’ve mastered one phase they’re onto their next.  My three are either at or approaching the teenage years, which I’m still trying to understand.  If only there was a mathematical solution for that.

You can find out more about how the IFoA is supporting members returning from career breaks on our Career breaks web page.