Supporting women’s leadership in insurance is both an ethical and strategic priority. Still, as the studies we presented in the previous blog in this series show, the industry still has a long way to go. The path of women’s leadership must be created at all levels of the insurance workforce and promoted by a comprehensive culture of gender equality. Leaders in Europe’s insurance sector are already taking significant steps to drive women’s leadership by setting goals to reduce pay gaps, eliminate distortions in recruitment and drive measurable results from C level and across the organization. Let’s take a deeper look at how current research ranks insurance in terms of gender equality, and what leading insurance companies in the region are doing to make this a priority.
With a broader view of the industry
The latest report for the European Women on Boards (EWOB) Gender Diversity Index published in January 2022 evaluated the gender diversity of 668 listed European companies. Only two insurance companies ̵1; Tryg (Denmark; 15) and Admiral (UK, 17) – were ranked among the top 20 companies. Tryg was also ranked 8thth in companies with the highest absolute proportion of women in senior positions. At 33 in the overall ranking, Zurich was ranked as one of the top three insurers.
The report emphasizes that in Europe, the board layer with the highest participation of women leaders at board level, while the participation in the executive layers of companies’ decision-making is significantly lower. From July and August 2021, the study found that the representation of women in the C-suite was only 15 percent compared to 35 percent on the board. In addition, only seven companies had both a female CEO and a female CFO or COO, including the UK financial and insurance company NatWest and the Austrian insurance company Vienna Insurance Group (VIG)
In this respect, the insurance performs comparatively better than other sectors. Swiss Re research on gender diversity in the insurance industry found that in 2019 globally, the proportion of women in management positions at C-level was 23 percent, 10 percent of the CEOs, but just over 8 percent of the companies’ boards.
However, as these figures suggest, the representation of women in senior positions in insurance continues to be low and, despite recent advances, women continue to be significantly under-represented in business leadership and decision-making positions.
Forge a way forward
In its report, Swiss Re recommends that insurers set measurable gender-specific employment and promotion goals and build an explicit talent pipeline for women in all parts of the business.
Establishing a rule-based balanced formal recruitment process for responsibilities is a first step in balancing the senior workforce, while helping to combat and eliminate conscious and unconscious bias in recruitment, the tendency to hire people with similar backgrounds and perspectives, and when applies to gender, to favor men over women.
Addressing recruitment issues, however, is only one starting point. Spencer Stuart, a consulting company in HR and employment services, in his research report Increasing gender diversity in insurance leadership also emphasizes the importance of signaling the value of gender diversity from the top. A strong message of support from leadership, especially male leaders, can result in increased diversity throughout the business.
But gender diversity leadership is not just about voting support or strategic goals. Spencer Stuart recommends that it be set as a practical, ongoing responsibility. Leaders must sponsor women’s career development and companies must reward them for doing so.
The report also states that the nature of the role is also important. Opportunities must be promoted for women to enter “turning point roles”, which increase their knowledge of the business, give them the opportunity to work across disciplines and increase their access to and visibility with top executives in the company. This can be a key factor in reducing traditional dropouts and enabling women to organically enter top leadership roles.
In practice: what the industry does
Leading insurance companies are already working to promote a work environment that gives women fair opportunities to advance in their careers.
On the recruitment side, Zurich in the UK provides fair recruitment training for all recruitment managers and requires them to follow fair recruitment policies. Various employment panels are also being sought. By 2022, MAPFRE has achieved gender equality (+55% female employees) with 41 percent of the responsibilities assigned to women, and as a next step, as part of its strategic plan for 2022-24, Mapfre has committed to reducing the gender pay gap. AXA also demands gender equality in recruitment processes. For each senior position, for example, it is required that there is at least one man and one woman among the nominated candidates. And for stronger responsibility, team diversity and gender balance are now a common goal for all AXA’s unit managers.
Insurers also strive to provide work arrangements that suit people’s varying contexts and life situations. For example, Zurich UK has launched flexible work programs and has made all vacancies available part-time, part-time or full-time. As a result, the company has seen an increase of 25 percent in the number of women applying for jobs at all levels of the business. The company has also committed to having 40 percent female representation in senior executives by the end of 2023 and the management team has clear goals for running activities that will achieve this goal.
Chubb is an example of an insurer that nurtures talent at all levels of the business. It has introduced a series of accelerator programs aimed at women in every career stage. These programs include interactive sessions that offer networking strategies and tips for developing a rewarding mentoring relationship for women in early careers, all the way to programs that promote departmental and geographic relationships for middle-aged women, and a sponsorship program that connects executive sponsors with highly talented women to mentor and prepare them to lead.
AXA promotes talent by running sponsorship programs that replicate across its units, with a specific focus on increasing the representation of women in sales and distribution sectors as well as among its top management networks (top 250 leaders). In these programs, each participating female leader has the opportunity to be sponsored by a member of the Group Management Committee or a partner. The company has also set a goal of achieving gender equality among its global leadership network by 2023.
And when it comes to gender pay gaps, Zurich is globally conducting an ongoing analysis of equal pay for equal work to ensure that gender is not a factor in terms of pay. The exercise analyzes differences in wages for men and women, including bonuses, on a global level. The results are available to the public and add another layer of responsibility. AXA also monitors unjustified pay gaps between employees who play the same role and is committed to achieving full gender equality by 2023. Mapfre has gone one step further, making the elimination of the gender pay gap one of the strategic core goals in its 2022-24 strategic plan.
Industry analysis shows that there is still work to be done to drive female leadership in insurance. As the cases shown show, insurance companies are taking steps towards a more equal workplace. But what is the experience of female leaders in the industry? In the next article in this series, I will share insights from female top executives in insurance about their views on the state of gender equality and female leadership in their companies.
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Disclaimer: This content is provided for general information purposes only and is not intended to be used in consultation with our professional advisors.