An interview with Margot de Villiers, head of marine and executive surveyor, major and complex loss, Australia; Aliette Fenton-Sharp, claims underwriting director, UK; and Elizabeth Gill, marine general manager, Malaysia
May 18 is International Day for Women in Maritime, a celebration of women working in the traditionally male-dominated seafaring industries. It was established to promote recruitment and sustained retention of women in the maritime sector, raise the profile of women in maritime, and shine a light on gender inequities.
To honor International Day for Women in Maritime, we’re showcasing the accomplishments and wisdom of three talented women from Sedgwick’s global marine and transportation business, which comprises more than 200 expert surveyors across 65 countries.
Margot de Villiers
When de Villiers began working as an office manager for a marine surveying firm in South Africa nearly 25 years ago, she had no intention of pursuing a career in insurance. But after taking some basic courses to learn about the field, she found herself studying project management, training under two respected marine experts, and earning a diploma in marine surveying. Since relocating to Australia in 2016, she’s earned two more professional certifications. “One thing led to another,” de Villiers said.
“I take pride in how far I’ve come,” she said. “These achievements took many long hours on ships, continuing education to improve my knowledge and months spent away from my family. I consider myself lucky to have a job where I can oversee the discharge of heavy, oversized lifts from a vessel one day and inspect the damage to someone’s belongings the next.”
De Villiers conducts assessments to quantify insurance claims related to transit incidents — everything from spoiled meat in inadequately refrigerated containers to an overturned truck carrying grain or alcoholic beverages. “The hardest claims to handle are the ones involving the destruction of personal belongings — treasures like baby books, wedding albums and vacation photos that cannot be replaced,” de Villiers said. “We can’t always recover these items from the wreckage, but there is satisfaction in helping families receive fair settlements for their losses.”
Additionally, she oversees a team of Australia-based marine specialists. “I am proud to offer my experience to train and develop the next generation of marine surveyors,” de Villiers said. “There are countless opportunities available for women in the maritime sector. It may be challenging at times, and you may find yourself being the only woman in the room, in a ship’s office or delivering a presentation. My advice is to stand strong, be bold, and make your voice heard.”
Fenton-Sharp took a roundabout path to her current role overseeing Sedgwick’s London-based claims underwriting team, which supports managing general agents (MGAs), syndicates and company markets by handling global losses in fine art, specie, cargo, property, construction and liability. A Cuban American by background, she’s lived in Miami, Caracas and Madrid and holds an associate degree in liberal arts, a bachelor’s in art history, an MBA and a graduate diploma in law. “I thrive on education,” she said. “When I hear about girls having trouble staying in school due to various societal challenges, it makes me incredibly sad. I never take my education for granted.”
However, the path may have been laid out in front of her all along. Fenton-Sharp’s mother worked in insurance, though she did not expect to follow in her footsteps. “My mother is my greatest role model, so it was probably my destiny,” she said. “I’ve embraced it. After all, as Cokie Roberts famously wrote, ‘We are our mothers’ daughters.’”
Among her most memorable experiences from her 25-year career in marine insurance was being involved in the sale of an important painting at a noted international auction house following an insurance total loss. “My boss at the time, the broker and the lawyer who supported me with the venture were all women,” she fondly recalled. “It’s so important to build strong relationships in the London insurance market.”
Fenton-Sharp’s best advice for women interested in opportunities in the maritime sector: “Find your niche,” she said. “But most importantly, do what you love.”
Gill joined Sedgwick earlier this year to assume leadership of our growing marine and transportation practice in Malaysia. She brings to the role an impressive 43 years of experience handling marine insurance claims and cargo surveying, including many major and complex losses. Gill is a renowned thought leader in the Asian marine market, having trained insurers, brokers, the Chinese Chamber of Commerce, the Federation of Malaysian Manufacturers and many warehouse and logistics services providers. In the announcement of her appointment, Sedgwick’s international chief client officer and CEO for Asia called her “an industry icon with a wealth of experience in marine cargo and liability.”
Gill has devoted her career to making a meaningful difference for the people and businesses she serves. Whether it’s detecting fraudulent claim activity based on a forged bill of lading or determining why harmful condensation accumulated in a shipping container, she brings her extensive knowledge and spirit of dedication to every loss.
“The work is challenging, both mentally and physically,” Gill said. “But we as women have proven that working in the maritime sector can be a rewarding career path for us. I became a marine surveyor at the age of 21, and I am still going strong working in the same industry. Perseverance leads to success.”