IWD Blog: A breakthrough is needed in leadership roles for women in insurance

International Womens Day

This year’s International Women’s Day campaign, #ChooseToChallenge, is focused on tackling gender equality and promoting a more inclusive world, says Vicky Wills, chief technology officer of Zego.

When we think about diversity in the workplace tackling gender equality and promoting a more inclusive world are two crucial factors industries and businesses up and down the country should take action on. Particularly those who are still dragging their heels in terms of driving gender balance in senior roles.

When it comes to the insurance industry, team structures are too often still like their systems – outdated, slow to change and in some cases lacking in innovation. Male dominance has long been a reality and women are still very much underrepresented in leadership positions, with certain workplace cultures and working practices even deterring female candidates from going for senior roles in the first place. Despite women filling 57% of  entry-level positions in insurance, only 27% are C-Suite, meaning the vast majority of men are still the ones to report into the CEO or sit on a board. This figure worsens for women of colour in insurance, with only 12% holding entry-level roles, and a shocking 3% with direct-reporting positions to the CEO.

While a lot of time and effort is already going into addressing diversity and attracting female talent in insurance, there are not huge amounts of results. To see a real change requires a larger amount of investment by companies over a longer-period of time to address progression, promotion and development. There are no quick fixes.

Improved initiatives

Insurers, first and foremost, need to recognise that a breakthrough is yet to happen. They then need to consider new and improved initiatives to empower women to strive for leadership roles and equip them with the skills in order to do so. This includes offering additional training and mentorship programmes, identifying gaps in teams where new talent is needed and most importantly, as we recover from a global pandemic, implementing flexible working and the right ‘care packages.’

It is a well-known fact that women who take time off for maternity leave are less likely to progress than their male counterpart – only 27.8% of women are in full-time work three years after childbirth, compared to 90% of new fathers. It goes beyond just retaining female talent, it is about drawing women back to the industry (if they do leave for a short period of time), providing them with the right tools to develop to a senior role and supporting them adequately throughout. 

A number of insurtechs are beginning to flourish as young and innovative businesses in the space, and they are replicating their agility across teams with clear diversity strategies which seek to draw on all talents globally. Their success is testament to the fact that diverse teams make better decisions and ultimately out-perform non-diverse teams on business performance indicators. Not only this, but those in the top quartile for gender diversity are likely to have greater financial returns.   

There is some short-term hope that we are moving in the right direction, but far more needs to be done. The breakthrough in women holding a significant proportion of these leadership roles will drive a significant cultural change that is needed in the insurance industry. That little extra investment and dedicated effort could yield far more sustainable results across organisations, which would mark the arrival of real systemic change. Just a month after the 30% Club announced that all-male boards are now eradicated in FTSE 350 companies, with three times more board positions filled by women than a decade ago, we see light at the end of the tunnel for an industry renowned for being stuck in the past.

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