Empowering Women in Leadership: Aventum’s Commitment to Inclusion

As we celebrate International Women’s Day this year, with the theme ‘Inspire Inclusion’, we take more pride than ever in showcasing some of the remarkable journeys of female leaders within our business.

We sat down with Karen Cant, Group Head of People Partners, and Suzie Bazire, Senior Partner and Chief Operations Officer, to discuss their experiences, challenges and triumphs as women in leadership roles here at Aventum Group.

Aventum: What challenges have you faced as a woman in your field?

Suzie: I joined the insurance industry at a time when I was the only female in the office, alongside the secretary, although my colleagues have usually treated me being female as no barrier to progress. However, I do know that I have been excluded from business trips and client meetings because I’m a woman.

Karen: My main challenge as a female in the predominantly male market, has been to earn my seat at the table and have a voice. I always try to demonstrate that I respect the experience, knowledge and position of all employees and I’m not here to judge.

Suzie: I have also been asked when I was intending to have children in interviews and when I’ve talked about events like IWD, I have been asked why I think it’s OK to say that women are better than men which is very much a wrongful interpretation of the event.

Aventum: How do you maintain a work-life balance in a demanding profession?

Karen: Work-life balance is hard. I have a family, a puppy and a very busy role within Aventum. I have a supportive husband, team and manager which makes life a lot easier.

It is important to prioritise and manage the expectations of others and yourself. Use your support network and remember to say ‘no’ from time to time.

Suzie: It’s challenging and I don’t think I am fully there yet. I try to ensure I take time for myself - I try to not skip exercise classes and make sure I see my family and friends. I enjoy reading and doing puzzles and quizzes too.

It’s challenging to not let work encroach on personal time but I am getting better with setting boundaries - which is something we don’t talk about enough.

Aventum: Can you share a moment in your career you are proud of?

Suzie: I won two awards for my grades while studying ACII and passing my FCII a few years later was a big achievement on top of a busy day job. The dissertation I wrote for my FCII was also used as the basis of an article in the CII Journal.

Karen: I left school and moved out of home at 16. I am incredibly proud to have achieved my MCIPD (Masters Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development) qualification in 2007 and graduated in my chosen field of expertise at the age of 30, whilst working full time, with a family.

Aventum: With this year’s IWD theme ‘Inspire Inclusion’, can you share a personal experience where you have witnessed the power of inclusion in action?

Karen: I genuinely believe I witness this regularly at Aventum. All employees matter, as do their views, ideas and input into the ongoing success of the business.

An example of being an inclusive colleague is seeing value in other people’s time and understanding the impact of your time on others - communicating effectively and keeping to promises all help drive an inclusive culture.

Aventum: What role do you see men playing in championing and supporting the advancement of women in our industry?

Karen: Our male colleagues must continue to be our allies. By being vocal champions, promoting women’s development and leadership, listening to women’s experiences, educating themselves on the issues and serving as mentors, men can actively contribute to a more equitable workplace.

Education and understanding of gender inequalities are key to creating an environment where everyone can thrive.

Suzie: Men are crucial to ensuring gender parity and I believe the best way they can do this is to ask themselves when they make a decision about a woman, ‘would I be happy with this being applied to my sister or daughter?’. If not, then they should reconsider.

That said, men are not the only barrier. The women at Aventum are all supportive but that is not always the case and we should look to those around us rather than seeing them as a threat.

Aventum: Can you share a pivotal moment of experience in your career that shaped who you are today?

Karen: In 2017, I was made redundant due to a company restructuring and downscaling. This was a pivotal moment in my life as I chose to take the situation as an opportunity to move to a fully London-based role on a fixed contract.

I thought I would see where my career took me, and I haven’t looked back. I always try to look forward and seek the solution, not focus on the problem.

Suzie: I remember telling my dad when I was 21, that I had been for an interview for a support role and he asked me why I wanted that role and not the boss role instead. I didn’t go out from then on with the aim of being the boss, but it made me question my choices.

Aventum: Have you ever faced self-doubt or imposter syndrome in your career and if so, how did you overcome it?

Karen: Absolutely, at work and home! Life can be one big balancing act. I am fortunate to be surrounded by a great team, family and friends, but it is important to be your own biggest supporter.

You must remember what you have achieved and what you can achieve. Life is about what you can do - it’s a journey, not a destination.

Suzie: I believe that regardless how senior you are, this still comes up and is something I regularly discuss with friends. Interestingly, we all experience it despite being senior in our fields. I try to remember what I have done in my career, what I can do and lean on those around me who I know have my back.

Aventum: Can you discuss a time you made a difficult decision that ultimately led to your growth or development?

Suzie: Every time I have left a job, it has been a big decision. My last job was especially hard to leave as I joined the team when it had just gone through a contentious merger. With my boss, we got things working like a well-oiled machine and I had employed over half of the team by the time I left.

It was a difficult job with lots of responsibility and involvement in projects. When I left to join Aventum Group, I realised I had experience in so many areas, which I wouldn’t have appreciated as much, had I not gone through those testing times before.

Karen: 2023 was already a busy year for me - moving house and getting married - but I also decided to join Aventum. Leaving my previous employer was a big gamble. I put a lot of pressure on myself but I knew it was the right time to embrace a new opportunity.

Here, I am supported and encouraged to continue to develop, learn and be innovative. This has reignited my passion for HR. The future is out there and I am on my way!

Aventum: Have you ever encountered barriers in your career progression and how did you navigate them?

Karen: One of the biggest barriers is that HR teams are often very small and there is not always the vertical progression that you may see in other areas.

For me, it’s about the breadth and depth of the role, learning academically and developing soft skills. How else can I enhance my skills and knowledge without having to worry about my job title?

Suzie: When I started my career, the team I joined was made mostly of people from very high social classes or very wealthy people. This is not where I come from and I was overlooked for any type of inclusion or promotion.

I tried to prove myself by working every hour there was and I think I was respected but ultimately left this role as the environment was not going to change and I was not progressing. Ultimately you can’t win them all!

Aventum: What role has mentorship played in your journey?

Karen: A previous manager taught me so much. They supported and encouraged me with full autonomy in my role, providing coaching and support where needed, believing in me and respecting me. We had a mutually supportive relationship and respected each other’s areas of expertise and how we could work as a team.

Leadership versus management is the key - a true leader will work with you to create the vision, figure out the direction, decide on the specific steps and support you to see it through.

Suzie: I have had one formal male mentor, an ex-CEO who was fantastic and helped me challenge what I was doing and why. I also have another senior woman who is now a good friend and I look up to her as a role model to aspire to and still regularly seek advice from her. I also now increasingly look to my fellow peers across Aventum and try to learn from them in a less structured way.

Aventum: Reflecting on your journey, what advice would you give to your younger self or women within the business?

Karen: To be your own biggest supporter. Champion ‘you’. Use the additional support around you to learn and grow. Ask for advice, support, guidance and feedback.

Suzie: Back yourself and if you are not appreciated, move on. I spent too long waiting to be recognised and did not ask for what I wanted.

Karen: Remember, it is OK to not be OK. Communication is the key to all solutions. Sometimes, the greatest journey is a single step. Be kind to yourself.

Suzie: If you want it, ask for it. The worst you can be told is no.