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People & Culture

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New Zurich scholarship honors 2021 APIW Insurance Woman of the Year Kathleen Savio
May 18, 2022

Endowment will provide support to female Illinois State University students aspiring to leadership careers in insurance and risk management.

(L to R) Dawn Hiestand, Kathleen Savio, Barbara Bufkin, Jeanette Kilo-Smith.

Zurich North America is funding a new scholarship aimed at supporting further progress on gender parity in insurance, in collaboration with the Association of Professional Insurance Women (APIW). The scholarship is named in honor of the APIW’s 2021 Insurance Woman of the Year Kathleen Savio, Chief Transformation and People Officer for Zurich Insurance Group and previous CEO of Zurich North America.

For the next five years, Zurich will provide $5,000 a year and Savio will match that amount to provide $10,000 each year to one female student attending the Katie School of Insurance and Risk Management at Illinois State University, which is Savio’s alma mater. The APIW Zurich Kathleen Savio Scholarship is intended to help improve access to opportunities for women in insurance and risk management professions.

The APIW Zurich Kathleen Savio Scholarship was announced at a May 16 event at Zurich North America’s Schaumburg, Illinois headquarters, celebrating Savio’s recognition as the APIW’s 2021 Insurance Woman of the Year. The honor was officially conferred at a ceremony in New York City in April.

The Insurance Woman of the Year Award has been presented since 1976 to female leaders who have made significant contributions to insurance and risk management and who have helped advance the development of women professionals in the field.

“For 30 years, Kathleen has worked tirelessly to make Zurich and the insurance industry better in terms of access for women in risk management,” said Zurich North America CEO Kristof Terryn. “Kathleen may have been the only woman in the room many times in her career, but she works to make sure she isn’t the last. She does the same for others who are underrepresented in this industry. And it is stronger and better for it.”

Research in 2021 by McKinsey & Co. found that 66% of entry-level positions in insurance were held by women, but men became the majority starting at the senior manager level and higher. Black women represented 7% of entry-level insurance positions, the highest among financial services industries, but this percentage fell at higher levels and dropped to zero in the C-suite at the time of the research.1

As part of the May 16 event, Savio joined Barbara Bufkin, APIW President; Dawn Hiestand, Head of Captives and Head of Zurich North America’s Women’s Innovation Network (WIN); and Jeanette Kilo-Smith, Zurich North America’s Head of Diversity, Inclusion, Equity and Belonging (DIEB), for a panel discussion on increasing access to leadership roles within insurance for women and people of color.

Savio noted that workplaces in risk management and across many business sectors are evolving to place greater emphasis on traits many women leaders bring to the working environment.

“Empathy, active listening, team building, new perspectives on change management — all of these aspects offer paths for women to have greater impacts in organizations,” she said.

Bufkin noted that change will accelerate as more women leaders become “P&L ready,” demonstrating the confidence, skills and experience to oversee profit and loss for businesses, as Savio demonstrated as Head of Zurich North America’s Alternative Markets business before her tenure as CEO of Zurich North America.

“As women leaders gain more confidence in their negotiation skills and sense of purpose, they will be more willing to accept challenges before they might otherwise feel they are ready,” Bufkin said. “Accomplished leaders like Kathleen can be critical in networking and mentoring other women leaders to build confidence and develop P&L experience.”

Savio encourages women in insurance to “use your voice, pick your spot and go after it. And make sure you take care of each other and yourself. Find the balance that is so important in our lives so you will have the energy to do the heavy lifting when you need it.”


1. Ellingrud, Kweilin; Krivkovich, Alexis; Nadeau, Marie-Claude; Zucker, Jill. “Closing the gender and race gaps in North American financial services.” McKinsey & Company. 21 October 2021.