Dive In: Marsh UK CEO decries lack of female 'pipeline' for senior roles

Diversity hands up

Marsh UK CEO Chris Lay has decried the lack of a 'pipeline' of women in line for senior roles, urging for flexible working as a possible solution.

In a session hosted at Marsh’s London headquarters, discussion centred around the gender pay gap and encouraging diversity in organisations. Panelists dissected a pipeline problem that often begins with motherhood.

“We don’t have a problem with attracting women into our industry, but we have a problem with women in senior roles,” said Lay.

He added: “It’s not a problem of promoting, it is a problem of seeing people come through their careers.

“We can promote women and we do have very talented women coming through into senior positions. We just don’t have enough. It is the pipeline of talent.”

Lay identified flexible working as a key issue that is keeping women away from senior roles in insurance. At a recent discussion on “smashing stereotypes” with Marsh colleagues, Lay revealed that one had suggested that he ought to set an example by taking on flexible working.

He said: “Someone said Chris, you are the leader, you should go on flexible working to actually set the tone. Now I felt attacked, because I thought well, isn’t that my decision? We had a really good debate about it.

“We are putting a tone out and making sure we have policy grounded so people don’t feel they can’t go through that process of designing what their work pattern could look like. Of course, technology now is such that we’ve got much greater opportunities to enable that to happen.”

PWC insurance leader Jim Bichard agreed that maternity is a factor that affects the pipeline of women. In addition, he suggested that a big part of the problem is the perception that people cannot juggle having a highly successful career and a family.

Bichard said: “When we were first talking about gender balance, just very quickly get onto maternity, that is the major single biggest contributor to our drop off. We have probably a 50/50 male to female ratio when people join our firm, but around about five or six years in there is a major drop off. You can’t ignore the fact that is a big reason for it.”

“The biggest issue for us is people feeling that they can’t have a career and have a family. Because they do not see enough people who have done it successfully and they assume that it can’t be done, because they know how hard they are working now and they think they cant do that if they start a family,” he continued.

Bichard added: “We need to get past the perception as well as the reality. We need to fix all of the components around how you support people. All the networks, all the policies, all the transparency, and also getting people who have done it to say it is possible. And you need people to be able to see that. You can’t believe what you can’t see. That takes some time. It is a massively important part of it, but it is also the perception.

Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government deputy director, Emma Brown agreed that the perception needs to change. In her department, men as well as women take advantage of flexible working for parenting, Brown explained.

She said: “It is about the culture. It is about having the number of people in senior roles that are doing it, so not just one person.”

“Those behaviours you see around often in organisations: people giving comments or making assumptions around ‘you don’t have to work as many hours’. We don’t see that, because there are so many people doing it. What we find as well is that men are doing it as much as women.

“The civil service has that reputation of people being lifers. There are a lot of lifers in there and there are a lot of people that are married in there. So there’s a lot of couples, which is not something I would necessarily recommend as a solution, but it means we have a lot of educated people around how this works. The expectation isn’t that it carries all the responsibility for the female.”

The fourth Dive In festival is taking place between 25-27 September. It has attracted over 10,000 registered attendees, with over 100 events across 27 countries.

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