Creating a culture of gender equality

Supporting female leadership in insurance is both an ethical and strategic priority. Yet, like the studies we featured in the previous blog in this series show, the industry still has some way to go. The path of female leadership must be forged at every level of the insurance workforce and fostered by a comprehensive culture of gender equality. Leaders in Europe’s insurance sector are already taking considerable steps to drive female leadership by setting targets for closing the pay gap, eliminating recruitment biases and driving measurable results from the C-level and across the organization. Let’s take a deeper look at how current research ranks insurance in terms of gender equality, and what leading insurers in the region are doing to make this a priority.

Taking a wider industry view

The latest European Women on Boards’ (EWOB) Gender Diversity Index report published in January 2022 evaluated the gender diversity of 668 publicly traded European companies. Only two insurance companies – Tryg (Denmark; 15) and Admiral (UK, 17) – ranked within the top 20 companies. Tryg also ranked 8th in companies with the highest absolute share of women in leadership positions. At 33 in the overall ranking, Zurich was placed as one of the top three insurers.

The report highlights that in Europe, the governance layer with the highest participation of female leaders is at the board level while participation in executive layers of corporate decision-making is significantly lower. As of July and August 2021, the study found that the representation of women in the C-suite was just 15 percent compared with 35 percent on the board of directors. Furthermore, only seven companies had both a female CEO and a female CFO or COO, including UK’s Financial and Insurance Services company NatWest, and Austria’s insurer Vienna Insurance Group (VIG)

In this respect, Insurance fares comparatively better than other sectors. Swiss Re research on gender diversity in the insurance industry found that globally in 2019 the share of women in C-level executives positions was 23 percent, 10 percent of CEOs, but just over 8 percent of companies’ boards.

However, as these figures suggest, the representation of women in leadership positions in insurance continues to be low and, despite recent progress, women continue to be significantly underrepresented in corporate leadership and decision-making positions.

Forging a way forward

In its report, Swiss Re recommends that insurers set measurable gender-specific hiring and promotion goals and build an explicit talent pipeline for women across all areas of the business.

Establishing a rules-based balanced formal recruiting process for responsibility roles is a first step for balancing the senior workforce, while at the same time it can help to combat and eliminate conscious and unconscious bias in recruitment, the tendency toward hiring people from similar backgrounds and perspectives, and in the case of gender, favouring men over women.

However, addressing recruiting issues is only a starting point. In its research report Increasing Gender Diversity in Insurance Leadership, Spencer Stuart, an HR and employment services consultancy, also emphasises the importance of signalling the value of gender diversity from the top. A strong message of support from leadership, especially male leaders, can result in increased diversity across the business.

But leadership in gender diversity is not just about vocal support or strategic goals. Spencer Stuart recommends that it be set as a hands-on, ongoing responsibility. Leaders need to sponsor the career advancement of women, and companies need to reward them for doing so.

The report also notes that the nature of the role is important too. Opportunities need to be fostered for women to enter ‘turning-point’ roles, that increase their knowledge of the business, give them the opportunity to work across disciplines and increase their access to and visibility with top leaders in the company. This might be a key factor in reducing traditional drop-off points and enabling women to organically move into top leadership roles.

In practice: what the industry is doing

Leading insurers are already working to foster a workplace environment that gives women equitable opportunities to advance in their careers.

On the recruitment side, Zurich in the UK provides fair recruitment training for all hiring managers and requires that they abide by fair recruitment policies. It also strives for diverse hiring panels. In 2022 MAPFRE has achieved gender parity (+55% female employees) with 41 percent of responsibility roles assigned to women and as a next step, as part of its 2022-24 strategic plan, Mapfre has committed to close the gender pay gap. AXA also mandates gender equality in recruitment processes. For example, for each senior position, it requires that there be at least one man and one woman among the shortlisted applicants. And for stronger accountability, diversity in teams and gender balance are now a shared goal of all AXA’s unit CEOs.

Insurers are also striving for accommodating work arrangements that suit people’s varying contexts and life situations. For example, Zurich UK has launched flexible work schemes and has made all vacancies available on a part-time, job-share, or full-time basis. As a result, the company has seen a 25 percent increase in the number of women applying for jobs across all levels of the business. The company is also committed to having 40 percent female representation in the senior management population by the end of 2023 and the executive team have clear objectives to drive activities that will deliver this goal.

Chubb is an example of an insurer nurturing talent across all levels of the business. It has put in place a series of accelerator programs aimed at women at every career stage. These programs include interactive sessions offering networking strategies and tips for developing a rewarding mentorship relationship for early-career women, all the way to programs that foster relationships across departments and geographies for women in mid-senior positions, and a sponsorship program that pairs executive sponsors with highly talented women to mentor and prepares them to lead.

AXA fosters talent by running sponsorship programs that are replicated across its entities, with a specific focus on increasing the representation of women in sales and distribution sectors as well as amongst its top leadership network (top 250 leaders). In these programs, each participating woman leader has the opportunity of being sponsored by a Group Management Committee member or a Partner. The company has also set up a target to reach gender parity among its global leadership network by 2023.

And in terms of the gender pay gap, Zurich globally is driving an ongoing Equal Pay for Equivalent Work analysis to make sure gender is not a factor when it comes to remuneration. The exercise analyses differences in male and female pay rates, including bonuses, at a global level. The results are available to the public, adding another layer of accountability. AXA is also monitoring unjustified pay gaps between employees fulfilling the same role and is committed to reaching full parity by 2023. Mapfre has gone one step further, making the elimination of the gender pay gap one of the core strategic objectives within its 2022-24 strategic plan.

Moving forward

Industry analysis shows that there is still work to be done in driving female leadership in insurance. As the cases featured demonstrate, insurers are taking steps towards a more equal workplace. Yet, what is the experience of female leaders in the industry? In the next article in this series, I will share insights from top female leaders in insurance on their views about the state of gender equality and female leadership in their companies.


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Disclaimer: This content is provided for general information purposes and is not intended to be used in place of consultation with our professional advisors.