International Women’s Day, celebrated on March 8, is an opportunity to imagine a world that is more diverse, equal and inclusive. The latest statistics indicate that the insurance industry is making progress, having reached a balanced workforce in some countries [¹]. But women still advance less than men to decision-making positions. I think this is a constant issue that we need to investigate and address. It is well documented that advancing women to leadership roles can help organizations become more innovative and perform better. In this series, I will give a snapshot of female leadership in the insurance industry in Europe and speak to the female leaders who are redefining the status quo.
Women̵7;s leadership representation in insurance – where Europe stands
In its latest Gender Diversity Index report, the European Women on Boards (EWOB), a non-profit consortium of organizations advocating a gender balance on corporate boards and top management in Europe, ranked financial services and insurance represented by others in the sector. However, the study finds that the difference between sectors is not as significant as that between countries, which illustrates that the issue of gender equality in leadership is more influenced by cultural and idiosyncratic reasons than by the characteristics of an economic sector alone.
In its study from February 2021, Swiss Reshow shows that although the insurance industry has made progress over the past decade, women are still significantly underrepresented in senior positions. Based on a sample of about 400 insurance companies and 29 reinsurance companies from the world’s 12 largest insurance markets that account for 71% of global insurance premiums, the study found that women accounted for only about a quarter of the (re) insurance companies’ leading roles, 10% of CEOs and 8% of board members globally. 
Nationwide, the study shows that advanced markets tend to have more gender-varying C-suites, with an average of 30% women in senior positions at C-level, compared with 13% in emerging markets. In Europe, France had the highest proportion of women in senior positions, with 41% – which also tops the global rankings, followed by Italy (26%), the United Kingdom (24%) and Germany (19%). These figures are significantly lower when looking at the proportion of women as CEO or as Chairman of the Board.
The study also found that the proportion of women in senior positions is still much lower than the proportion of women in the total workforce in the industrial sector.
Create a culture of equality
Accenture’s report When she rises, we all rise 2018 identified 40 personal and cultural factors that are statistically important in influencing women’s advancement in the workplace, and span conditions that promote diverse leadership that sets, shares and measures gender equality goals openly (leadership); family-friendly policies and practices that support both sexes and are open-minded when it comes to attracting and retaining people (Action); and an environment that trusts employees, respects individuals and offers the freedom to be creative and to train and work flexibly (Empowerment). The research found that in organizations where these factors are more common, women are 35% more likely to advance to managerial level and beyond, and almost four times more likely to advance to higher manager / director level and beyond. The presence of these factors also proved to be significant in reducing the pay gap.
Gender equality affects performance
Giving women equal opportunities is a matter of principle but is also an intelligent strategic game. Research shows that creating a versatile work environment can make organizations more innovative and performing.
Swiss Re research found that a higher proportion of women in senior positions in (re) insurance companies correlate with higher corporate profitability. Data in the study showed that (re) insurance companies with the highest proportion of women as managers or board members exceeded those with the lowest proportion of managers by 3-4 percentage points in ROE. This finding was in line with other financial service sectors and with previous studies that show that gender diversity is also positively correlated with both profitability and value creation. Through Swiss Re’s panel data regression analysis, the study also found that an increase of 10% in the proportion of women in the C-suite or board is associated with 1-2 percentage points higher ROE performance than the industry average and adding at least one woman to a comprehensive C-suite or board is associated with a 3-5 percentage point increase in ROE above the industry average.
Accentures Equality = Innovation report 2019 also found that a culture of gender equality is a powerful multiplier of innovation and growth. The research showed that employees’ thinking about innovation is six times higher in the most equal cultures than in the least equal. In fact, for every 10% improvement in cultural factors, innovation thinking increases by 10.6%. This change is supported by all pillars of a gender equality culture, but the empowerment factors are the ones that have the greatest impact. Accentures The Hidden Value of Culture Makers research from 2020 also found that those organizations that are more committed to building more egalitarian cultures report that their sales are twice as high and their profits are three times higher than those behind the curve.
Culture begins with leadership
Accenture’s research from 2018 showed that there are almost three times more women on the fast track – women who usually reach managerial level within five years and lead their female peer group in terms of advancement in the workplace – in organizations with at least one female senior leader (23%) than in organizations where all senior leaders are men (8%). In addition, the study found that women can advance to leadership positions more quickly in organizations where leadership factors are more common.
However, there is still a gap between what the C-suite and the employers think about the working environment in their companies versus the perception of the employees. Accenture’s 2020 study showed that while two-thirds of managers (68%) feel that they create empowering environments – where employees can be themselves, raise concerns and renew themselves without fear of failure – only one-third (36%) of employees with. Other studies have shown that feeling more included can increase productivity while the ambition to achieve leadership is important for advancing in an organization. [³]
European leaders must focus on opinion gaps and create environments where women are supported in exercising leadership roles.
While some insurance companies in Europe are taking action to address gender inequality in top management, there are still areas where female representation must be pursued. In this series, I will explore insights from female insurance executives and explore how the insurance industry needs to move forward to support women advancing their careers in insurance.
 Millions of women mentor women in insurance initiatives
 Swiss Re Institute (February 2021) – Gender diversity in the reinsurance industry: for a sustainable future
 Jim Harter and Annamarie Mann – The Right Culture: Not Just About Employee Satisfaction – Gallup (April 2017)
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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.