Despite the creation of the UK government’s Women in Finance Charter in 2016, representation of females in senior financial services roles has only increased by 1% each year, Blanc told delegates

Amanda Blanc, group chief executive of insurer Aviva, believes the insurance industry is ”still not doing enough” to promote the career progression of women into senior financial services roles.

Speaking during her keynote address at an event hosted by the ABI last week (22 November 2022) - the Diversity, equity and inclusion summit: Driving change in our sector - Blanc cited research published by professional services firm Ernst and Young (EY) on 7 November 2022.

This found that although the proportion of women on FTSE 100 boards rose by 40% in the last year, this was primarily driven by the fact that 91% of women on FTSE 100 boards are non-executive directors - in comparison, only nine women on FTSE 100 boards are chief executives.

This data indicates that boards are appointing female non-executive directors to comply with diversity targets, EY suggested.

Blanc said: “We can be as enthusiastic and excited as we like, but unless we start taking the necessary steps to affect change, we are going to be sitting at conferences just like this in 20 years [time] having moved no further forwards.

”It appears we are still not doing enough to allow that talent to come through and if we don’t fix that - and quick - this will rapidly become an existential crisis for many of us.

”I, for one, am not prepared to oversee that eventuality. So let’s do something about it.”

The ABI’s conference coincided with the trade association launching a new blueprint to improve diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) across the insurance and long-term savings industry.

State of play

Blanc additionally used her keynote address to discuss the scale of the DEI problem in insurance.

She continued: “Gender has had more focus than any other aspect of diversity over the last decade. So you would expect to see a huge amount of progress on that, right? Wrong.”

This work on gender diversity includes the creation of the Women in Finance Charter, which was launched by HM Treasury in March 2016 to address gender diversity in financial services. In March 2021, Blanc was appointed the UK government’s Women in Finance champion.

She added: “[Since the creation of the Women in Finance Charter,] the representation of women in senior management roles in financial services has increased by just 1% every year. In 2021, we saw a 0% increase.

“That is the state of play with gender diversity. So, you can imagine how bad it is for other characteristics – ethnicity, disability, sexual orientation and socioeconomic background. If we get any slower, we will start to go backwards. We quite simply don’t have anywhere near enough women at the top.”

Blanc also noted that because of other rising issues gaining prominence, such as climate change and economic uncertainty, gender equality is being pushed down the priority list.

“We cannot let that happen because achieving genuine equality – where all the talent is at our disposal - is the only way that any business is going to survive what the world is throwing at us,” she continued.

For Blanc, although the insurance industry is “really good at talking about improving diversity, equity and inclusion”, the “strategic imperative and structure to support this tangible change” is still missing.