Diversity and inclusion is a priority across all industries, and insurance is no different. In this series, we have examined the state of diversity among insurers operating in Europe through the lens of gender equality, particularly in fostering leadership in the industry. In previous posts in the series, we identified key research findings on the positive impact of gender equality in industry leadership. We also noted some key cases in which European insurers are championing equality through active targets and in-house mentorship programs. I was privileged to speak to several female leaders in the industry and hear their views on the insurance industry’s progress from their perspective. In this article and the next, I will share some of their key insights on how far we have come in promoting gender equality, and what we need to focus on in the future.
The insurance industry has improved, but still needs to work on representation
Most women interviewed acknowledged that gender equality in the insurance industry has improved in recent years, primarily through targeted in-house programs. Allison Cone, Accenture Senior Manager, Marketing, Insurance South (NA) believes that this intentional action is steering the industry in the right direction, “I think the industry is certainly a laggard compared to other categories. However, there has been positive momentum over the last 5 years that has accelerated a correction in the industry that was much needed.”
In certain European countries, the data looks positive. María José Álvarez. Innovation, Marketing and Development Director at Grupo Catalana Occidente says, “The data provided by UNESPA (Unión Española de Entidades Aseguradoras y Reaseguradoras) shows that insurance companies have made great strides in this matter. Female employment in the Spanish insurance sector, according to UNESPA, has increased fivefold over the last three decades, and women currently represent more than 50% of the workforce in insurance companies in Spain. Furthermore, their presence is increasing in all areas and professional categories. However, we still have a long way to go, and we must continue promoting measures that encourage greater representation of women in leadership positions through the setting of objectives, as well as giving them greater visibility.”
Leaders from Zurich and AXA confirmed their companies’ commitment to nurturing female leaders. Nuria Fernández, AXA says, “We have made explicit efforts to increase the number of women in top functions. AXA has progressed from 9% in 2009 to 36% women in our Global Leadership Network (GLN) by end 2021. Women holding 37% of CEO roles in that GLN group. Nonetheless, our ambition is to reach gender parity, this means going to 50% of top leadership positions held by women in 2023.”
Marga Gabarró Olivet, Zurich confirmed the industry’s commitment to gender equality, but noted that the percentage of female leaders in the industry remains low, “We are seeing most of the international and domestic insurance companies, global and regional brokers and many other stakeholders in the industry publicly committing to sustainability programs, which usually include actions related to diversity and inclusion as well as gender equality. Having said this, it is also clear that as in most of the industries there is still a big gap to close in terms of women in leadership roles, equal pay or transparency in D&I among other things. In Spain for example we have seen the number of women in executive roles growing significantly, but female CEOs are still only the 13% of these positions in the industry.”
While female leadership has been our focus for the series, Katrien Buys Director of Strategy, Innovation & Sustainability at Grupo Ageas Portugal made the valid point that Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) is a far-reaching priority that should be extended to have maximum impact, “D&I strategies, commitments and practices with focuses on gender equality and disability employment tend to be the most common due to compliance focus. Most D&I strategies have an internal focus and pursue diversity and inclusion among their employees. Few companies go beyond this scope and address other stakeholders such as example, their clients. D&I strategies, commitments and practices focused on race, ethnicity or sexual orientation and gender identity are rare.”
Cara Morton, Group CEO of Cover-More, agreed, saying, “As a whole, the industry is improving but has a long way to go. Not just around gender, but with regard to diversity in all forms.”
Diversity benefits the insurance industry across the board
At a product and service level, insurers need to ensure that the teams building their offerings represent those that they are serving. Cara Morton said, “Diversity brings different perspectives. If the same people use the same lens you get the same output. In insurance, like many products, 50% of the customers are women.”
From a commercial perspective, Nuria Fernández also notes, “Increasing women’s participation in the labour force will also increase women’s willingness to invest in security and protection for their families, which is especially relevant for the insurance industry. Thus, having an egalitarian society boosts economic growth and generates additional insurance premiums.”
As we discussed in the previous blogs, numerous research studies have also shown that creating a diverse workplace environment can make organizations more innovative and higher performing.
Carmen del Campo Elvira of Mutua Madrileña echoes the research, saying, “As more diverse is a company, more complex will be the evaluation and analysis capabilities with impacts in terms of profitability and long-term sustainability. In fact, many studies correlate positively gender-diverse senior leadership with better performance.”
Katrien Buys emphasises the impact of diversity in the workplace, saying, “More inclusive teams experience better teamwork and an increase in employees’ feelings of inclusion translates into an increase in perceived team performance (17%), decision making quality (20%) and team collaboration (29%)”
“People who work in an inclusive environment feel empowered to be themselves, are more engaged, more efficient and happier. They are not afraid of sharing new ideas and perspectives, resulting in more creative and innovative collective problem-solving. Therefore, equality is just fundamental for the future success of our industry as it is for our society. And equality refers not only to gender but also to generational diversity, cultural diversity and sexual orientation or gender identity or expression,” Marga Gabarró Olivet concludes.
As we have discovered across this series, diversity and inclusion and gender equality in leadership is a priority that requires focus and intentional action. In the final article in this series, I will share the insights from female insurance leaders on why insurance is a fulfilling career for women, and what practical steps they believe should be taken to drive an equitable industry.