We’ve recently written about the underrepresentation of women in the insurance industry and how much of the employment in financial services in general are far from the C-suite (“Let’s Talk Sex and Money”). Now, industry-specific statistics bear this out. A 2012 study undertaken by Saint Joseph’s University Academy of Risk Management and Insurance shows that women hold only 6 percent of top executive positions at insurance and reinsurance companies.
But you couldn’t tell that from the healthy attendance at last week's IICF’s Women in Insurance Global Conference, where 450 insurance women from across the U.S. and eight countries met to share success strategies (I'll be posting more later this week).
The speakers’ list included a healthy mix of industry and non-industry women—and a few men—addressing issues of diversity in the insurance workplace. Speakers included Pattie Sellers, editor of Fortune Magazine; Anne-Marie Slaughter, professor of politics and international affairs at Princeton University; Lori Fouche, former CEO of Fireman’s Fund; Sharon Ludlow, president and CEO of Swiss Re Canada, and Patricia Henry, EVP of ACE Group.
Attendees were primarily higher-level women in the industry, mostly at insurance and reinsurance companies. Yet even among this elite group, the consensus was that women in insurance still have a tough go of it. According to an onsite digital survey conducted at the event, while 65 percent of attendees believed that gender inequality still exists in America, a whopping 82 percent think it’s still a problem in the insurance industry. The biggest issues holding women back, they believe, are lack of C-suite recognition and sponsorship (49 percent), inadequate or inflexible workplace standards (20 percent) and, tellingly, women not promoting themselves more effectively (26 percent).
And although efforts like CEO endorsement, gender forums and mentoring/sponsorship are common methods to promote gender diversity, a majority of respondents—37 percent—said their companies did “none of the above”—pretty shocking, considering
In spite of what appears to be a significant gap in formal diversity programs, what does seem to be working is hands-on mentoring. Ninety percent of respondents said they had participated in formal or informal mentoring, and 88 percent said they had personally benefitted from a personal or professional mentoring relationship.
However, several speakers pointed out that there’s a big difference between mentoring—helping someone learn the ropes—and sponsorship, where someone in a position of power actively helps advance a woman’s career by bringing her name up when high-level positions or board slots need to be filled.
Of course, no one supports “token females” in the boardroom or anywhere else; candidates for any high-level position must be skilled, experienced and fully qualified for the role. But studies (most notably one from 2011 by McKinsey) show that companies with women board members perform better financially. If that isn’t enough of a case for diversity, I don’t know what is.