Juggling hybrid working and parenting responsibilities can be tricky for any insurtech chief executive, but has the pandemic and subsequent turn to technology shifted the notion that the lowest wage earner must stay home and child rear?
I believe it was Aviva UK’s chief executive Amanda Blanc who, while discussing the pressures on mothers who worked from home, first raised the concern that women could “miss out on opportunities” if they did not return to the office post-pandemic.
The Covid-19 lockdowns accelerated technology’s use in insurance and forced hybrid and remote working to become the norm – but is it now more acceptable to bring your baby to the boardroom?
During the last week of August, Andre Symes, co-chief executive of Genasys, and his wife Nikita Symes, operations manager at Carebit, joined the podcast Parenthood Diaries: The Risky Mix for episode 80, entitled Sharing the Caring.
This episode posed this exact question.
Symes became a first-time father to his son Seb when he was born last year on 22 May. Seb is now 15 months old and Symes told the podcasts’ two hosts that “going to work with a baby is nothing but a normal Tuesday”.
Seb has attended various c-suite executive meetings from his father’s lap and both Symes and his wife share caring responsibilities.
When I caught up with Symes, he told me that most of his team prefer to spend the extra time saved from not commuting while working from home with their kids or partner.
There is also the ongoing societal assumption that the lower wage earner should stay at home to rear the children – that often tends to be the mother.
This is partly due to the ongoing gender pay gap across society. This gap is present in insurance too – for example, broker Marsh revealed that female employees are paid 33.5% less than their male counterparts, according to its snapshot data taken on 5 April 2022.
This pay gap also presents a challenge for the sole breadwinner in a family. Symes recalls the pressures mounting in the run-up to Seb’s birth, having just taken on a joint co-chief executive role with Craig Olivier at the insurtech in July 2021. The pressure, he said, came from not being in a position where he could step back at work.
Symes says: “I am quite passionate about this negative feedback loop, that the lowest wage earner has to say at home and subsequently take a substantial knock to their career.”
Parents that do take substantial time off can face issues when attempting to re-enter the workforce.
Zurich have applied a strategy to flexible working that attempts to tackle these issue. It has been advertising all jobs as part-time, full time or job share opportunities. The insurer has seen the demand for part time jobs jump from 6% to 11% and its female hires double, since its launch in January 2022.
The impacts of the pandemic have clearly somewhat modernised family structures away from the traditional nuclear family by allowing workers more freedom to split childcare more evenly between parents.
All about balance
For Symes, finding a balance between family and work was key.
Balance can be helped with additional childcare, but this is expensive and costs an average of £62.32 a week – according to MoneyHelper.
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Despite this expense, women are only entitled to 52 weeks of statutory maternity leave in the UK.
Pay for this is is not substantial either, with the figure set at 90% of the mother’s weekly earnings for the first six weeks. For the following 33 weeks, mothers are paid £156.66 per week or 90% of their average weekly earnings – whichever is lower.
Paternity leave was introduced in 2003, but pay is set on the same level. Fathers can only take advantage of two weeks of paternity leave, however.
During the pandemic, Zurich implemented fully paid shared parental or carers leave in an attempt to support a balance between family and work.
However it moves forward, the insurance industry must further implement flexible working models to suit parents that hybrid work or risk losing some valuable employees.