Although the representation of ethnic minorities in senior insurance roles has improved, the industry still has a long way to go 

It was the Black Lives Matter movement in 2020 that initially reopened marketwide discussions around the lack of ethnic minority representation across the insurance sector.

Although attempts have been made to improve ethnic diversity within the industry - for example, insurer Zurich has reported its ethnic minority pay gap figures since 2020 - British Nigerian Oke Eleazu’s appointment in May 2022 to become MGA ManyPets’ UK chief executive highlighted how few senior leaders in insurance have an ethnic minority background.

Upon his appointment, Eleazu said: “I want this to be something that inspires others to do the same. If you can’t see it, you can’t be it.”

This view is shared by Kishan Mangat, co-chair of the Insurance Cultural Awareness Network (Ican) and senior associate at law firm DWF, who has a mixed West Indian and Indian heritage.

She told Insurance Times: “There’s a lack of representation at the top. Those coming into the industry from an ethnic minority background will not be able to see people [like them] in senior roles.

“Ultimately, that does influence your own career progression as you tend to look for people who are similar to you [and who] come from a similar background [to act as a] ‘guiding light’.

“When I started practising law in insurance about nine years ago, I didn’t realise that you could have a very fruitful career in insurance.” 

This lack of ethnic minority representation in the insurance sector is why industry networks such as Ican and the African Caribbean Insurance Network (Acin) were formed, in 2017 and 2018 respectively. 

“I am an advocate for equality, diversity and inclusion in insurance and I am happy to be that. Equally, I believe [representation] is everybody’s problem and that the burden should be shouldered by all,” Mangat added.

When Acin co-founder Junior Garba had the initial idea for his network, alongside fellow co-founder Godwin Sosi, insurance professionals fed back that launching the initiative would be “corporate suicide” because bringing attention to race in this way was broadly viewed as being detrimental for the pair’s careers.

Mangat added that Ican has faced similar criticism, risking becoming “just a token” rather than a vehicle for meaningful change.

Garba, who is black African, noted: “It’s no secret - the industry has lacked adequate levels of representation at all levels.”

Talent attraction

A key issue in promoting ethnically diverse senior leaders is having that initial pipeline of talent within the industry in the first place. Therefore, Ican and Acin have both worked to create recruitment arms (see pass notes) to support the introduction and promotion of more diverse talent.

These kinds of projects are important because historically, the insurance sector has presented itself as a “closed shop” where “everyone knew everyone”, explained Mangat. This was certainly her experience upon joining the industry.

She continued: ”There was an element of nepotism [when I joined the sector]. The industry has recognised that now and is trying to address issues around recruitment practices and bias.”

Garba agreed that ”acculturation” has been an issue in the insurance industry in the past.

“Some minorities might find it hard to settle into the [insurance] industry - this has a negative impact on talent retention, meaning less ethnic minority senior leaders,” he said.

“Also, recruiters have had very little incentives to source diverse talent and provide diverse shortlists because they know that hiring managers would rather hire their non-ethnic minority counterparts.”

Ajay Mistry, co-founder and co-chair of Ican, added that recruitment and talent attraction is central to boosting more ethnically diverse leadership in insurance.

He said: “Every board needs to be reflective of its customer base and we should be striving to recruit future leaders based on the demographic change that is appearing in UK - especially now post-Covid, as geography is no longer [a] barrier to recruitment.”

Clare Lebecq, group chief operating officer at Specialist Risk Group, recommended that insurance firms should get tougher on recruitment partners and look to attract talent from outside the industry, to ensure greater diversity.

She explained: “Be explicit about the fact that you want to see people from outside the industry who are from a more ethnically diverse background and if [recruitment firms] don’t deliver, think about changing partners.

”If you are white, you will see things through white eyes, even if you have taken [the] time to educate yourself about the lived experiences of black, Asian or other ethnical groups.”

The same thinking should be applied when crafting job descriptions, Lebecq continued, especially when these are posted on social media sites such as LinkedIn. Lebecq stressed that it is important that posts reflect a culture of inclusivity.

“We need to get better at drafting our job descriptions so that biases are removed and they are worded in a more inclusive way,” she said.

“It is helpful to ask colleagues from other ethnical backgrounds to review job descriptions and adverts.”

Tackling the ‘glass ceiling’

As well as recruitment practices, promoting ethnic minority staff into leadership roles is also important - often, these employees can be “overlooked”, noted Mistry.

“We have some excellent talent that needs to be nurtured and developed to ensure they become the next round of leaders, but ethnic minorities can often be overlooked,” he explained.

Additionally, Mistry thinks the insurance industry “should be learning from other sectors – banking and global finance, technology [and] professional services” because these markets ”have begun to tackle these issues”.

He continued: ”This means there is often a glass ceiling in insurance, which isn’t often addressed directly - despite good intentions.”

Meanwhile, Garba believes policies seeking to encourage ethnic diversity need “more effective monitoring”. This includes Lloyd’s of London’s June 2020 pledge “that one in three of all new hires should come from ethnic minority backgrounds and [that] 35% of senior leader hires need to be female”.

However, talent retention is just as crucial as recruitment.

Lloyd’s Ethnic diversity in the workplace report, published in October 2020, revealed that out of 923 insurance professionals, 39% of black respondents felt undervalued at work - black and ethnic minority individuals were also found to be twice as likely to feel undervalued than their white counterparts.

Meanwhile, 57% of ethnic minoirty respondents felt that having a senior leader support them with opportunities was motivating.

Garba added: “Talent retention isn’t just down to culture - ensuring managers are checking in with staff is also important.”


Which firms and industry subsectors are leading the way in senior level diversity?

Sarah Murrow, chief executive of UK and Ireland at Allianz Trade, believes trade credit insurance is a diverse marketplace - she believes the insurance subsector offers an “international experience”. Murrow has mixed Armenian, American, German, English and Irish heritage, but she grew up as an expatriate in Singapore.

FloodFlash has diverse talent in senior roles, such as British Nigerian Ola Jacob, who is the MGA’s broker success manager, he is also a member of Ican. The MGA also employs Nyasha Kuwana as its head of product, who has a Zimbabwe heritage.

What are industry networks doing to support senior leader diversity?

Founded in 2017, the Insurance Cultural Awareness Network (Ican) is now a group of 2,500 insurance professionals. The network initially formed to tackle some of the challenges that ethnic minority individuals face when establishing a career in insurance – one being progression into senior roles.

Part of Ican is its recruitment arm IcanConnect, which was developed in July 2020. This is designed to connect sector leaders to discuss key industry issues and best practice.

Alongside IcanConnect, Ican offers mentoring, advice around job opportunities and training sessions. The network also strives to promote industry role models.

The African Caribbean Insurance Network (Acin), meanwhile, was launched in 2018 to boost black and minority ethnic representation in insurance. Lloyd’s boss John Neal has been a long-standing firm advocate of the network.

Acin founded AcinRecruit in September 2020 - this operates like a traditional recruitment agency to provide diverse candidates for insurance positions at all levels.

Are there any other initiatives in place? 

Yahoo Finance’s Empower lists recognise ethnic minority role models and senior leaders. Ajay Mistry, co-founder and co-chair of Ican, has featured on the list for several years running - this year, he was recognised on the Top 100 Future Leaders list.

The UK government’s 2018 Race at Work Charter is another useful tool. This provides a practical framework that aims to tackle ethnic disparities in the workplace. Several insurance firms are signatories, including Chubb, Covéa Insurance, Beazley, Allianz, LV= and the ABI.