Meet Sophiya Adam
15 July 2021
15 July 2021
Society of Insurance Broking
Interview with Sophiya Adam (DIP CII), Corporate Account Handler at PIB Insurance Brokers and Careers Officer of the Insurance Institute of Bradford, who discusses her experiences working in the insurance profession and how she hopes to use her mental health experiences to influence positive change in the sector.
Hello Sophiya and thanks for speaking to us at the Society of Insurance Broking. First of all, could you tell us a bit about yourself? Where did you grow up and what was it like?
I come from Yorkshire, a place called Bradford, one of the richest cities in terms of culture and diversity. I’m proud to be a part of a community which hosts cultures from all over the world. I can get a Halwa Puri for breakfast, falafel and hummus for lunch, chow mein for tea and sernik cheesecake for supper if I wanted - all a mile away from my home and it makes me happy. I have a mutli-cultural family and there isn’t a festival that my friends and family don’t take part in. Diwali, Christmas, Hanukkah, Eid, Holi and so many more.
I speak lots of languages and understand many cultures. This has always been something that I’ve taken for granted as I thought it was normal growing up.
Meeting new people from different backgrounds has been interesting - it’s helped me understand people and their diverse needs. It’s also helped me engage with them better and contributed to my emotional intelligence.
Being able to include others into conversations or activities where there are language or cultural differences has never been an issue for me. I’ve always appreciated people from all walks of life.
As you can imagine growing up in a diverse community and home, I found the insurance sector a little strange. For example, asking people to pronounce my name right has been a challenge. My name is pronounced ‘So-Fire’ but it is often mispronounced as I’ve often been called Sofia, Sapphire, Sophia though I know isn’t done intentionally.
As somebody who is used to socialising with a diverse range of individuals, I have found that people from Black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds are not represented in the sector as well as they could be. So I’m keen to help raise awareness of this. For example, through open forums – sometimes, it is the difficult conversations that can turn out to be the most enlightening.
How did you get into the insurance profession?
I graduated in Law from Salford University in 2017.
I started working at the motor retention team at DLG. My manager there was encouraging and really supported me to do well as a successful motor retention specialist. When I decided to move onto a brokerage, I wanted to build on my ability to understand clients’ needs and empathise with them.
I was at TL Dallas up until very recently. I loved the opportunities presented and I did everything I could to gain my qualifications. The team there were fantastic and very supportive of my ambitions. When I look back at my time at Dallas I will always remember my time there fondly.
Most recently I’ve joined PIB Insurance Brokers which is part of PIB Group. Although I have only been here a short space of time, I feel that the Group is a good fit for me, as it encourages diversity actively and encourages individuals to progress.
Are you involved in any other networks?
I feel younger people are reluctant to join the insurance sector. That’s why I have joined the Insurance Institute of Bradford as the careers officer and I'm keen to encourage young people to join the profession. I believe that our sector is able to cater for everyone's career needs. There are a range of opportunities available and in return, they bring a range of skills that come from a society that is diverse.
iCAN (Insurance Cultural Awareness Network) is another organisation that is promoting multi-cultural inclusion through the sector, and I feel that more insurers and brokers could be supporting the network.
What sort of impact has the past 18 months had on you?
During lockdown I faced particularly difficult circumstances with my mental health. It was a difficult time and I needed therapy. I reached out to The Samaritans and spoke about my difficulties. I was referred to a local charity called MyWellbeing College where I was paired with a therapist who specialises in dialectical behavioural therapy.
I also had a few private appointments with a psychologist who diagnosed me with ‘borderline personality traits’. I learned that there is a difference between traits and a disorder. A disorder of a condition means that it affects more than one aspect of your life. As borderline personality only affects one part of my life, it is considered a ‘trait’ and not a disorder.
Whether one aspect or many aspects of your life are affected, mental health is a serious issue. Many of us will be familiar with the statistic that one in four people will suffer from mental health issues, but personally I feel there is more that can be done to help raise understanding of this.
That is a huge amount of people. Why is it still so taboo and why don’t we talk about it as much as we should? Why are we still scared to reach out to people? Why are people still afraid of the stigma? I hope that by sharing my story, I can help others who can relate to it and don’t feel that the need to suffer in silence. It is not something to be afraid of or be ashamed of, which is why I care about sharing my experience. I believe talking about mental health allows a safe space for others, so I hope that I can contribute towards that.
How did you first approach the subject of your own mental health with your employer?
Approaching the subject of mental health is not easy. I find it easier to write emails rather than to speak to somebody in person or speak to somebody over the phone with a subject of this kind. So, I emailed my mentor and the HR team at my employer at the time to explain how I was feeling and the support I felt would help.
It was difficult. I needed some time off during the week, but I didn’t want it to be seen as a sign that I was ‘slacking’ when I wasn’t. So I was conscious about making my time up even though my employers never expected this from me. I pride myself for my great work ethic, and I never want my condition to get in the way of my career.
When I started at the PIB, I was open with my condition with my line manager and the company also has many support tools available.
What sort of support have you had from your employer?
I feel I can share what is going on with my line manager, and support is always there. I work hard and I ensure that I work to the best of my ability and I demonstrate this. My condition has never hindered my work, even at the lowest parts of my life. It has been difficult, but my job gives me stability and allows me to focus on something I’m good at. I enjoy completing challenging tasks and getting good results. My condition isn’t something that needs a reaction, it just needs some understanding.
How easy has it been to be open about it with other managers and colleagues?
My condition doesn’t often come up in conversation. However if I’m asked about it I’m open about it. If I feel I do want to talk, I know who to contact. I’m also looking forward to participating in a new D&I forum.
What sort of resources have you found useful?
For me dialectical behavioral therapy was useful, and being given a diagnosis has also been helpful as my family and friends are very supportive which really makes a difference. I find that being able to call the Samaritans is a good for me too if ever I’m needing instant support from those that have experience. Therapy is still ongoing - there is no medication or fix, and this is a life-long condition.
Are there any gap areas that you feel need more of a focus?
There is still a feeling of stigma that is attached with mental health, not just in insurance but in wider society too. We should be open to talking about it so that nobody has to suffer in silence.
Has working from home over the past year impacted your mental health?
I don’t think working from home impacted my mental health as such, as I have always taken the time out to call colleagues even if it’s only for a quick chat. Borderline is something that is inherent, and it would have been a matter of something triggering it for it to be apparent. Did working from home speed up the diagnosis and therapy? Yes, possibly. But I would have had to go through the very same experiences at some point whether or not we were in lockdown. Though I must admit that it happened a lot sooner in my opinion but that’s not to say that this is a bad realisation. I have now obtained the help I would have needed sooner or later.
Similarly, how will returning to the office feel?
I’m now back working from the office and I’m very happy to be. I like routine and structure, as well as the flexibility to work from home when I need to.
What do you think other employers should know and should do to recognise these challenges?
The only advice I can give employers is to employ good managers that understand people and care about their people. If they are supportive and approachable, that’s a great start for teams to come and talk to them if they need to. Companies can also provide development programmes to assist managers and employees on being aware of and maintaining good mental health, along with a wealth of useful support materials.
What are you hoping to do in the future?
I’m passionate about promoting wellbeing, diversity, and inclusion across the sector. I want to work with like-minded people to create a community within insurance that embodies the CII’s values.
I’m keen to complete my ACII which I’m halfway through and it has been going well so far. I want to continue to advance, and also move on to the IRM Risk management courses so I can work towards being a qualified broker as well as a qualified risk manager to offer a unique, quality experience for clients.
This document is believed to be accurate but is not intended as a basis of knowledge upon which advice can be given. Neither the author (personal or corporate), the CII group, local institute or Society, or any of the officers or employees of those organisations accept any responsibility for any loss occasioned to any person acting or refraining from action as a result of the data or opinions included in this material. Opinions expressed are those of the author or authors and not necessarily those of the CII group, local institutes, or Societies.