“If not me, who? If not now, when?” This is the question actor Emma Watson posed as she addressed the United Nations in 2014 on behalf of a campaign that she is fronting known as He For She.
Her goal is gender equality and her method is to engage both men and women in the process of female advancement: equality can only be reached if both genders play a part.
Gender parity is crucial for the economy, for society, and also for businesses. In a report last year McKinsey stated that an additional $28trn (£23trn) in global gross domestic product would be added to the global economy by 2025 if women participated in the workforce identically to men. Research by Unilever has shown that women reinvest 90% of their income into their families, compared to 30% to 40% among men.
For business, there are a multitude of studies that show companies with the most women on their boards of directors significantly and consistently outperform those with no female representation. Diversity at a senior level avoids 'group think' and leads to more creativity in problem solving.
We often talk about the threat of disruption within the insurance industry. By encouraging diversity – of gender, race, sexuality and religion – we will better reflect society and our clients, which will make us better able to solve future problems.
And yet the insurance industry as a whole still lags. There are plenty of women joining the industry, but the number of women that continue to the senior ranks is still low. We need to work harder at feeding the pipeline.
There are many laudable initiatives to address this. We've just seen the successful Dive In campaign in London to promote diversity. And recently we saw the Chartered Insurance Institute, together with Insuring Women's Futures, combine with the UN's He For She initiative so that the insurance industry is the first to embrace a sector-wide He For She campaign.
We’ve studied the problem within AIG and found that women’s careers tend to falter for two reasons: lack of career advancement opportunities and lack of work-life balance. This creates a huge blockage and small leak in the pipeline. The blockage is where women remain within the workforce but are not able to progress. The leak is due to the women who find career advancement opportunities elsewhere, or the minority of women who leave the workforce altogether.
We can, however, retain female talent and potentially facilitate their transition from middle to senior management by providing career advancement opportunities and support in achieving work-life balance.
That’s why I’m looking at what we can do at AIG where we’re still far from gender parity at senior levels. As part of a broader plan within the business, and as a first mover in Europe, my ambition is to increase the proportion of women in our leadership pipeline within two years. The leadership pipeline comprises those individuals who have been clearly identified as a future leader and are between one and five years away from a leadership role.
As an industry, we continue to attract new talent but we also need to look into developing existing talent, targeting potential leaders to help them achieve their potential. As a first step I’ve tasked my senior team with embarking on a mentoring programme in order to develop these high-potential women.
We all have to take responsibility for promoting diversity at an individual level. On a personal level, I’ve pledged to mentor youngsters from disadvantaged backgrounds to encourage them to consider financial services and the insurance industry. And I’ve also promised to give a talk to the girls at my daughter’s school - although I’m not sure how pleased she is at this prospect.
And I’ll be asking them: “If not you, who? And if not now, when?”
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