Amanda Blanc once told me off, as a journalist, for relying on her and others to call out sexism. Well Amanda, here you go. I hope this helps.
My former colleague, Rosie Quigley, blogged about sexism being alive and well in the industry in early 2017. She joined Post a year before my career in insurance journalism began. At the time, she was able to reel off a number of experiences that showed just how hard it can be to be a woman – particularly a young woman – working on the fringes of insurance.
I am sad to say that I am not surprised, but somewhat shocked by my own experiences, to report that things haven’t changed.
Since joining an insurance publication roughly a year ago, and then moving to Post a few months later, I too have seen that sexism is still truly here.
Whether it’s my own experiences, or others’ accounts, I have been sickened by the levels of depravity that some people in this industry see as acceptable.
My most recent experience was the worst I have come across.
While attending a conference that required a hotel stay I was sexually assaulted. Sexual assault can be taken to mean many things. In this context, I was touched – or rather aggressively groped from behind – by an attendee who worked for an insurance company.
Following this incident, having moved away from the perpetrator, I was later followed into a lift and all the way up to my floor by another attendee as I tried to return to my room. He stopped short of touching, but it took at least 10 ‘no’s’ and several iterations of me telling him I was already happily partnered up for him to get the message.
Yes, like the men attending, I had a few drinks. Yes, I was happily talking to delegates. Again, like the men at the conference. Should this mean that I was ripe for some kind of fling or free to be touched at will? Absolutely not.
Sadly, knowing this might be a possibility (on leaving to go on the work trip, my boyfriend of several years had warned me to be careful: “men can be pigs,” he cautioned), I had taken my best efforts not to ‘doll up’ so as to not attract attention. I had also made sure that I was always with a group of people and, another key consideration for any woman travelling alone, with another member of the ‘fairer sex’.
Women should not have to do this. And unfortunately, it proved not to be enough.
The organisation that held the event was mortified by what happened – I reported it immediately – and has launched a full investigation. I am not naming it, because I do not want to tar it with the same brush. Thankfully, its employees were respectful, but I should not have to feel grateful that some men have behaved.
What should have been an exciting and rewarding trip turned into a nightmare. Once the investigation began, I became anxious about being spotted and recognised. What if one of the men involved sought retribution? One knew which floor I was staying on…
I did not want to leave and lose out on content, particularly as a rival publication was attending. That would have felt like a defeat. But equally I felt I had to hide. The next morning, at a press breakfast roundtable with its CEO, I felt unable to ask my prepared questions, still shaken from the night before.
I wore a cap and a big baggy jumper to events and removed my glasses to avoid being spotted.
I felt unable to attend a party the next night in case I was recognised, or in case it happened again.
No woman should feel that way.
I am sharing this experience, because I can. I am terrified and furious that there may be other women (and men) out there who do not have this opportunity to speak out. Instead, they may be stuck inside their organisations and too scared for their careers to do something about it. How could you blame them for being afraid to stand up in a heavily male-dominated industry?
When that middle-aged man touched me (and it was forceful) I was able to ask him what he thought he was doing. He was surprised by my reaction, leading me to wonder if he has done it to many others. I was able to get away and tell someone without it impeding on my job prospects. Not everybody can do that.
This is not the first time that I have experienced sexist behaviour in this industry. Nor do I expect it will be the last.
On a previous trip, two underwriters likened me and a reporter from another title to “prostitutes”. Once a visiting insurtech CEO got a little too drunk and a little too ‘handsy’ at an event.
Another associate involved in the industry recently decided to give me a casual pat on the bum while saying goodbye. He had done this before, to someone else I know. She told me at the time and I had hoped very much that she was mistaken, which perhaps says something about the way that I too view women who speak out.
I’m not the only one. I have heard stories. How about the married-with-kids broker CEO who sent salacious messages to a professional he dealt with? Or the journalist who went to a lunch meeting in a hotel to find herself aghast that there was a room key and an expectant man waiting for her? Is this alright?
Sexism is not limited to sexual behaviour.
I was once asked by a male journalist if the reason I got stories was “because of your tits”.
I have heard from one male professional that men within the industry were eagerly awaiting Amanda Blanc’s entry to Zurich [as Europe, Middle East and Africa CEO], because she and Tulsi Naidu [UK CEO] were two women who would “get their claws out”.
Former Lloyd’s CEO Inga Beale recently revealed that she received sexist and homophobic abuse when she began in the position, according to reports.
None of the examples above are acceptable behaviour.
Sometimes I think back to my earliest foray into the world of insurance, when I attended a conference in 2017. Nothing explicit happened, but I remember feeling uneasy as young women strutted their stuff on the dance floor and older men leered over from a VIP area in one of the many after parties.
One might have hoped that in a post-#metoo time, these sorts of actions and comments would have stopped. We have seen film producer Harvey Weinstein revealed to be the monster he is. We have seen actor Kevin Spacey exposed for the way he treated young men. We have seen women and men speak out about the huge obstacles they can face in their careers and how horrifying it is to be on the receiving end of sexism and lewd behaviour. And yet, here we are.
So insurance, if you are serious about gender parity – and it has been shown that this is not only fair, but good for business – then sort yourself out. It might just be a few bad apples, but how far do they fall from the tree?
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