News & Events

Girl talk – The role of women in senior insurance management

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I took my family to a pantomime over the Christmas period. It’s a very British thing. This year’s show was Dick Whittington, a true story about a young man who became Lord Mayor of London in the 14th Century. Nearly 700 years later, in 2013 Fiona Woolf became the 686th Lord Mayor of London, and only the second woman to hold the role since 1189.

It’s not the only new thing to happen in London. The announcement that former Canopius chief Inga Beale was to become the first female chief executive of Lloyd’s of London’s in its 325 year history is another sign of change. Christened the ‘Lutine Belle’ by the local insurance media, it’s an impressive achievement given that before 1972 women were not even allowed to set foot on the floor of Lloyd’s.

At the claims level of the insurance business, the UK based Chartered Institute of Loss Adjusters announced it’s first woman President, Candy Holland, since it was formed in 1942, despite there being only 4% of woman in the senior qualified levels.

It’s a brave man who publicly offers an opinion on the topic of gender, but even so, I wondered about the role of women in insurance in what is still seen as a predominantly male industry. In their report of June 2013, Mending the Gender Gap, PwC indicated that in US insurance carriers, 64% of the total workforce were women, with an almost equal split between the genders at middle manager level.

There’s much less representation at the ‘top table’. The UK-based Association of British Insurers (ABI) in 2011 found that less than a tenth of FTSE 250 board members in the insurance industry are women.

Why is this? According to a survey by McMaster University, women actually run better performing businesses than men. On the other hand, Germany’s Bundesbank, said that following an extensive study a higher proportion of female executives on the bank boards tends to “lead to a more risky conduct of business”. Their explanation, incidentally, was that the other men on the board behaved differently when women are around.

I wonder also about ‘women-only’ insurance products, usually pink and fluffy, often with free handbag cover thrown in. Of course it is clever marketing, but to what extent does it reinforce the female stereotype and affect the careers of otherwise potentially successful women?

At a time when the insurance industry is coming to terms with underwriting which is less gender specific, and more user-based, perhaps a good time to rethink the topic of fairer representation between the sexes in senior insurance management.

To what degree will workforce analytics in the insurance be a factor in this, especially as the ‘Data Revolution’, by definition, creates more transparency? Will analytics ultimately prove to be one of the ‘enablers’ which helps women not only to see more clearly through the ‘glass ceiling’ but increasingly break through it?

At a time when there is a talent shortage, there seems a lot to play for. As one female author Marcy Blochowiak succinctly described it –‘No Glass Ceiling, Just Blue Sky’.

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