Highlighting high level females in Ontario’s broker channel, who better to kick off our series than Cowan President Janet Peddigrew? Joining the brokerage in June 2019, Janet leads a team of 500 people and looks for balance between personal and professional. With a successful and inspiring career in her pocket, there’s a lot to learn from this high-powered insurance leader.
WHERE DID YOUR CAREER PATH BEGIN AND WHAT ADVICE HAS HELPED ALONG THE WAY?
I started my career as a customer service rep at BMO in 1984. While it wasn’t my original career plan, I decided early on it was up to me to make the most of the opportunity. I started taking university courses at night, met with individuals in other roles and progressed to more senior positions as they became available.
I received advice early on that if you’re offered a choice in opportunities, always take the job that scares you the most. I’ve followed the advice throughout my career—it’s helped me enhance my capabilities and progress to the executive level quickly. I realized that I love leading people and building teams, and while many of the obstacles I’ve faced have been challenging and complex, I’ve been successful by being a genuine and authentic leader.
WHAT ARE THE TOP THREE THINGS YOU’VE LEARNED?
This pandemic’s been so challenging for so many people in different ways, particularly families with young children at home who couldn’t go to daycare or were homeschooled. We’ve been learning a lot during the past couple of years and are focused on improving our employee experience. Whether it’s adding flexibility to the workday or making meeting times more social to provide a safe space to share challenges, we’re constantly striving to understand how to better support our team. While I believe women have felt the impact more as we instinctively try to balance it all, I know many of our male colleagues have felt the stress too. We use Sprout, a social media platform focused on health, wellness and connections to encourage family activities and outings. It’s such a pleasure to see our team members posting pictures of walks, hikes and family moments.
HOW IS COWAN EMPOWERING ITS FEMALE STAFF?
Never compromise your integrity. It’s the one constant that will always define you no matter what the situation, personal or business.
It’s okay to make mistakes—what’s important is how you recover. I recall one of my roles that came with a lot of challenges. A senior executive would call me to his office to discuss them and would always ask what happened, followed by what are you doing about it.
Take care of yourself, don’t wait for someone else to do it. I had breast cancer five years ago. The experience gave me time to reflect on how I was living my life. I realized I was making excuses not to prioritize my health, saying I was too busy and would get to it later. But our lives will always be busy with work, family, friends—we’re the only ones who can take control. Prioritize yourself and your health always.
HOW IS COWAN HELPING EMPLOYEES WHO HAVE CHILDREN AT HOME WHILE THEY WORK ALONGSIDE THEIR KIDS DURING THE PANDEMIC?
Cowan has strong female role models at every level of the company. It’s one of the reasons I was attracted to the business. I’ve mentored many women over the course of my career, and I always encourage them to use their voices. Speak up, with confidence, and if you’re not feeling confident, fake it until it becomes natural. Every work environment should run a culture that’s respectful of all individuals, and it’s up to leaders to ensure that happens. We can’t look the other way if there’s an inappropriate tone. At Cowan, we try to be thoughtful and disciplined with our talent management process and hiring strategies to ensure we continue to support diversity, which includes women. We engage with local and national women-focused groups and encourage participation from our team members. It’s a journey. While we’ve made a lot of progress, there’s lots to be done.
ANY CAREER ADVICE FOR SOMEONE LOOKING TO LEAD A BROKERAGE?
First of all, I’d recommend insurance as a career—there’s so much opportunity to expand and grow your skillset. I love that we can make a meaningful difference for our clients every day. We give people peace of mind, whether it’s protecting their family, starting their business or helping employees with their benefits and pension. For anyone looking to lead a brokerage or any business, believe in yourself and be open to possibility. During my 38 years working, I can honestly say I didn’t have a straightforward career path—there have been a lot of surprises and opportunities along the way. The role of President at Cowan is an excellent example of unplanned and unexpected outcomes. Moving from the corporate world to lead a Canadian-owned and independent family business with a strong culture built on the strength of our people and our communities has been very rewarding.