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Female leadership in insurance – practical next steps

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Female leadership in insurance – practical next steps

In this series, I have been examining the state of female leadership in insurance from a qualitative and quantitative perspective. While the research paints a compelling picture of progress in some areas, female leaders within insurance have also highlighted the change that still needs to take place in the industry. In this final article in the series, we look to the future, and hear from female leaders about how to move the industry forward.  

What are insurance companies doing? 

Many of the women we interviewed agreed that insurance needs to focus on creating a level playing field for women to advance into leadership positions. From the conversation, it is clear that such initiatives are already underway in the industry.  

Nuria Fernández, General Manager at AXA Madrid International Hub, mentions “We have seen that most large insurance companies have already established a foundation with regards to equality and diversity, and put in place various initiatives to promote the advancement of women at various levels of the organization, especially in executive positions. We see more and more insurance industry leaders present at women’s forums and actively sharing their initiatives on social media, and it’s great to see it becoming increasingly relevant to employers and employees.”  

Marga Gabarró Olivet, CFO and COO at Zurich Spain also points out “(the) insurance industry has been advancing in gender equality and I think the basis for a playing field exists. However, speed of change to close the existing gaps needs to be accelerated. This needs external commitments, moving from awareness into action. In Spain, Zurich is one of the founders of REDEWI, which is a sectorial initiative comprising 70% of the insurance companies in the country together with part of the intermediaries and official organizations such as the insurance association Unespa and the Consorcio. REDEWI has set as an objective that 40% of the executive positions in 2023 should be occupied by women. This network has put into place different working groups among insurers to provide programs around training, development, work-life balance and visibility.”  

María José Álvarez. Innovation, Marketing and Development Director at Grupo Catalana Occidente adds,  “we are firmly committed to effective equality of opportunity. As an insurance group, we believe that diversity, equality, and inclusion are not only fundamental rights, but are also competitive advantages for our businesses and a priority strategy in people management and the generation of an inclusive culture that promotes a balance between professional and personal life in all areas”. 

Allison Cone, Accenture Senior Manager, Marketing, Insurance South (NA), agrees: “I think while I’ve seen leadership make positive changes with new appointments, it not near the threshold we might hope at this point.” 

So it is clear that more can be done to accelerate change in insurance. How can insurance companies nurture female employees in the workforce and create a path to leadership?  

Fuelling the pipeline with female talent  

First, we need to start from a pipeline rich with female talent. Female leaders agree there are many reasons to promote a career in insurance amongst women. 

Marga Gabarró Olivet of Zurich emphasises the diverse career paths available in the industry at this moment in time for women at all levels of their careers, “The insurance sector is going through a great transformation journey, which offers hugely interesting opportunities to grow professionally and to work in a community of highly talented people with diverse personal and academic backgrounds.” 

Carrie Lonze, Managing Director in Accenture’s P&C Insurance Consulting Practice says, “Insurance is one of those industries that has an aspect of everything. If you want to do underwriting, risk, or actuary, there are many opportunities. If you’re a relationship person, there is another path within the industry you can choose. With customer expectations at heights we’ve never seen before, there is a place for people who want to exercise their creative brain and offer holistic, personalised protection.”  

“So many dynamics make the Insurance Industry a challenging, fun and exciting place to be –  if you love analytical problem solving, you have countless options, or if you’re more of a relationship person there are key career opportunities as well – and what’s probably the most exciting part is solving for the evolving nature of risk; figuring out how to price & UW risks that didn’t even exist a year ago. With customer expectations and technology changes at heights we’ve never seen before, Insurance is a great place for people who want to exercise their creative brain and offer holistic, personalised protection,” she adds. 

Nuria Fernández, General Manager at AXA Madrid International Hub, agrees: “There is so much room for women advancement in insurance as there are so many different jobs where women can drive their potential. The industry is evolving and offers great opportunities for younger professionals and new fields such as data scientists, marketers, digital, etc., and there is even an opportunity for cross-functional growth. “ 

María José Álvarez of Grupo Catalana Occidente also highlights competitive salaries and flexibility as the two factors that make insurance an interesting industry for women to make a career in: “Working in the insurance industry is highly attractive for several reasons. In the Spanish case, insurance companies provide employment of the highest quality, reflected in contract stability, remuneration, conciliation measures, training plans, social benefits and the commitment to equality and diversity. Moreover, 84% of workers in the insurance industry have a flexible working day, and 97% of them have received a training plan during the year. These are data that demonstrate the commitment of the industry to the promotion of initiatives that result in the greater well-being and satisfaction of its workers.” 

Ultimately, women are needed at the workforce at all levels. Katrien Buys, Director of Strategy, Innovation & Sustainability at Grupo Ageas Portugal Lisboa explains why, “The insurance industry offers many rewarding career opportunities, for all interests and skill levels. Ultimately, an insurance company should reflect the customers it serves, and women are needed in the workforce.” 

Forging the path to leadership for women  

The next step is for companies to foster an environment of inclusive opportunities, where women are able to progress their careers at the same rate as men.  

Katrien Buys comments “as an industry, we need to do more to ensure fair and visible career opportunities for all and women should not feel their gender hinders their career progress. We need to create equity and opportunities for everyone to progress within the company. We can do this by providing clear and equitable pathways to success and putting the right processes, initiatives and a transparent infrastructure (formal and informal) in place to ensure that all employees, men and women, feel supported and included on their career journey. We do have to close the pay gap and install partnerships and programs that address training topics.” 

Allison Cone of Accenture recommends “measures need to combine coaching for top female performers with anti-bias training for executives. To accelerate the narrowing of the gender gap, financial incentives for leaders who increase female representation in their executive teams are also key. It is also important to build female management tracks that are specific and tailored to women within companies and account for the unique needs of a female professional. For example, leaders need to ensure that any life events do not count someone out or regress their careers. 

Finally, management training that brings awareness to some of the systemic patterns of past gender equity that hindered the progress in this area is paramount. Ultimately, companies should recognize that everyone can be a part of the solution and build a foundation that is supportive of female leaders around us. Leaders should be held accountable by setting gender and diversity metrics and goals with a timeline for achievement.  

In conclusion 

As the discussions in this series demonstrates, diversity in the workforce and leveled opportunities would be key for the resilience of an industry that is undergoing a major transformation. 

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