In the past, I often found myself reaching out to individuals in my network in search of other Black actuaries in Canada. Our numbers were few, but in recent years, I’ve come to realize that I’m far from alone. There are others who have paved the way for me, and one such trailblazer is Geoffrey Melbourne, FSA, FCIA. I had the privilege of interviewing him and delving into his remarkable professional journey as a Canadian Black actuary. Our conversation is one that deserves to be shared, as it holds the power to inspire countless aspiring actuaries.
Could you please introduce yourself and describe your career journey?
I’m Geoffrey Melbourne, an actuary, partner and the Wealth Canada growth leader at Mercer. I’ve been in this role for about three years, but I’ve been in the industry for a while. I also have other leadership roles in the pension industry and the actuarial profession.
I was born and raised in Jamaica, and I studied at the University of the West Indies, which didn’t have an actuarial program while I was there. However, I majored in mathematics, which had some touchpoints with actuarial science, and I actually became the first lecturer in the university’s new actuarial science program a couple of years later.
Before graduation, I was fortunate to secure a job with R Watson and Sons, an English firm with an office in Jamaica. After many corporate evolutions, it became Willis Towers Watson, and I worked there before joining Mercer. I’ve always had an international outlook, and that’s why I came to Canada in 2003. From there, my career progressed, and here I am.
Given that you started in Jamaica, did you have the opportunity to see other Black actuaries early in your career?
Yes. While the community was small, there were certainly other Black actuaries. The firm I worked for historically fielded expats to run the office in Jamaica, but I had the opportunity to work with Astor Duggan, a Jamaican Black actuary who eventually became my boss and friend. Additionally, there were other practicing Black actuaries in insurance and pensions, notably Daisy Coke who had a stellar reputation as one of the first Caribbean-qualified actuaries. So, there were definitely role models and examples of successful Black actuaries for me.
It’s inspiring to know that there were others who paved the way for you. Now, moving on to the key factors that contributed to your successful career progression, what would you say were the most important factors?
The actuarial path is rigorous, highly technical and has exams that can be difficult. Mastering the technical aspects is important, but it’s just the starting point. Translating that knowledge into the real world, understanding regulatory frameworks and accounting rules, and effectively communicating with clients and stakeholders are crucial.
As you progress in your career, leadership skills become more important. Building and leading teams, facilitating training and progression, and understanding the expectations and desires of different groups are essential for advancement.
Did you always know you wanted to be in a leadership role?
Yes, I would say so. I had good role models within my family, and academically, I always was driven to excel. Working as an actuary in the small environment of Jamaica, I was exposed to corporate and government leaders early on. I didn’t feel any major barriers to progress, and I aspired to make incremental progress in my career.
What can be done to address bias within the workplace to ensure the inclusion of Black actuaries?
Representation matters: The underrepresentation of Black individuals in leadership roles is not due to a lack of potential or aptitude. There are social and cultural barriers that can create obstacles, but it’s important to recognize the talent and potential within the Black community. Organizations should focus on creating opportunities, tapping into the talent pool and providing the necessary support for success.
In the workplace, I would say that people should treat everybody with respect and fairness. It’s important to recognize that everyone is a human being. However, there may be some cultural differences to be aware of, and understanding these, being sensitive to different perspectives and creating an inclusive environment can foster better interactions and collaboration.
Have you encountered or observed any biases in work-related contexts?
I can recall some comments that my accent was difficult to understand after I moved to Canada. Although I speak clearly and try to moderate my speech, it made me wonder if the comments were genuine or conveyed something else. Over time, I have become comfortable in my own skin, and hopefully there’s more awareness and inclusivity in our corporate environment that will temper such biases.
To improve diversity, equity and inclusion outcomes, what can be done to move the needle forward for the Black community?
The increased awareness of diversity and inclusion as mainstream topics is a positive development. Companies, policymakers and other groups in society should recognize the value of stronger representation and can seek guidance from organizations like the Black North Initiative, Black Opportunity Fund and, in the actuarial realm, the International Association of Black Actuaries (IABA), to name a few. Strategies such as diverse candidate slates and interviewers, creating support systems for minority representatives and fostering an inclusive culture can help move the needle forward.
Lastly, with there being several Black leaders within Mercer Canada, does it make a difference for you in terms of motivation and comfort in the workplace?
While it’s not something I consciously think about every day, it’s certainly an aspect of the culture that I appreciate. Seeing other Black and diverse leaders making a positive impact within and outside of Mercer creates a sense of comfort and inclusivity. It’s reassuring to be in an environment that feels welcoming and tolerant.
Statements of fact and opinions expressed herein are those of the individual authors and are not necessarily those of the Society of Actuaries or the respective authors’ employers.
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