’Women don’t know how to take [certain] comments because they can’t help but think ‘would they have said that if I was a man?’, says lead client advisor

Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the former associate justice of the US Supreme Court, famously asserted that “women belong in all places where decisions are being made – it shouldn’t be that women are the exception”.

While most would agree with Ginsburg’s sentiments, the insurance industry as a collective seems to be falling short in incorporating women’s perspectives at the highest levels.

Figures published by specialist employment law firm GQ Littler last month (18 December 2023) identified that, of the 431 chief executive roles in the insurance sector, only 29 were filled by women.

The research also found that women represented just 16% of chief financial officers in the insurance sector – or 63 out of 390, while less than 11% of chairpersons are women, or 43 out of 407.

The lack of women in senior positions across the industry prompts a question – are women heard when they speak about their career aspirations?

As an example, Florence Dennis, lead client advisor at broker Partners& and chairwoman of the East Midlands Biba committee, shared her personal experience exclusively with Insurance Times.

She recalled a conversation about her career aspirations and five year career plan with a particular “connection” during which she was asked: “Don’t you think you’re aiming a bit high?”

She explained: “It took me back and I thought ‘woah, okay’, but within a few seconds it empowered me to prove them wrong. I knew that they did not know me, what I currently do or my position at Partners&.

“I was very confident that it had no reflection on me as a person or my career aspirations.

“[However], I’ve spoken to a number of women in the insurance industry and there have been too many instances where women don’t know how to take [certain] comments because they can’t help but think ‘would they have said that if I was a man?’

“There is no guarantee that is what they meant. However, it is all too often [that women face these comments].”

Speaking exclusively to Insurance Times, Simon Waller, executive chair of JBA Risk Management, noted that “sexism in the wider insurance market – and society – is still an issue”.

Waller added: “[However], providing equality of pay and opportunity is a key step in addressing traditional sexist attitudes and in dispelling sexist stereotypes.

“At JBA Risk Management, we find that women often bring a different perspective or approach – they can apply a different type of emotional intelligence and view situations differently.

“A lack of diversity leads to poorer, more bullish and less nuanced decision-making processes. After all, different perspectives bring different ideas and [different] ways to look the world, [which] are invaluable in forming a good business strategy.”

Dennis added: “There needs to be an equal split because everyone has different views. It is important on the diversity, equity and inclusion front to have equal representation from all walks or backgrounds.”

Pay gaps

Echoing Waller’s sentiments, Ajay Mistry, cofounder of the Insurance Cultural Awareness Network (Ican), noted that equal pay has remained a “critical issue” within the industry as it continues to “grapple with achieving parity”.

“There is a growing expectation among employees for tangible action in this domain, not just discussions or reports.”

PWC defines the gender pay gap as “a measure of the percentage difference in the average hourly pay of men and women”.

Its most recent index report, published on 7 March 2023, revealed that the UK’s gender pay gap across all sectors widened by 2.4 percentage points to 14.44% in 2021 – four times the average increase recorded across the surveyed countries.

The findings were based on a survey of 22,000 women across 33 countries involved in the intergovernmental Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

However, Mistry noted that “the legal mandate on Gender Pay Gap reporting has been a significant driver” in discussions surrounding inclusivity and career advancement.

Compulsory Gender Pay Gap reporting, introduced in the UK in April 2017, mandates companies with 250 or more employees to disclose information regarding gender pay disparities within their workforce.

Companies are required to calculate and report mean and median gender pay gaps, provide details on the distribution of men and women across different pay quartiles, disclose information on bonuses and submit the data to a government website, while also publishing it on their own site.

Mistry further explained: “This requirement has brought the issue of equitable compensation to the forefront of corporate consciousness.

“It’s no longer just an HR concern, but a topic of boardroom discussions, highlighting the importance of inclusivity in compensation and career progression.”

Advocacy of leaders

Mistry also noted that the vocal “advocacy of leaders such as Amanda Blanc are significant steps towards addressing [the disparity of equal pay and opportunities for women]”.

Giving evidence at the parliamentary inquiry Sexism in the City last year (13 December 2023), Aviva chief executive Amanda Blanc noted that the pay gap and progression for women “needs to be treated just like any other business issue”.

She added: “If it was, we would get better outcomes”.

During the parliamentary inquiry, MPs queried representatives from advocacy groups and industry bodies to gather their perspectives on whether there had been improvements in representation and culture within the financial services sector since 2018.

Blanc, who was appointed chief executive officer of Aviva in July 2020 and was also named the Women in Finance charter champion by the Treasury in 2022, continued to explain that the data from Women in Finance showed that, since March 2021, “the percentage of women in senior roles has moved from 33% to 35%”.

She said: ”Aviva, for example, has 40% women in senior management. We have 46% women on our [executive committee] and 42% on our board.

“Too often, in many aspects of life, everybody is looking for a silver bullet to fix what is clearly a difficult problem.

”The issue here is that, clearly, there is not a pipeline of women who are coming through to senior management roles.”

Launched in 2016, the government’s Women in Finance Charter is a voluntary agreement committing firms to gender diversity targets. Over 400 City institutions, including Aviva, the Bank of England, London Stock Exchange, the fund manager BlackRock and the banks Morgan Stanley, Santander and Monzo, as well as the building society Nationwide, have signed up to it.

“We have to systematically look at all the component parts of what needs to be addressed, whether that is in recruitment, in the way we retain and promote women, in the culture and the behaviour or in the way that we then measure it,” said Blanc.