8 March 2023

Female CRO perspectives on gender diversity

International Women's Day marks an opportune moment for female chief risk officers to discuss their views on the state of gender diversity in the insurance sector. Ronan McCaughey explains

Insurers worldwide recognise that creating a culture of gender diversity and supporting female leadership is a business, ethical and regulatory priority.

Not only is diversity of thought is essential to good risk management, but it is also imperative that insurers reflect the world in which they operate.

Progress is being made, but everyone in the insurance business knows much more remains to be done to create equality in roles and remuneration.

Sheldon Mills, executive director for consumers and competition at the UK's Financial Conduct Authority has highlighted the need for progress, citing talent and diversity research from the Association of British Insurers in 2021. This found women accounted for 55% of new industry joiners, but just 24% of executives in the insurance industry.

It is also recognised that gender diversity is part of an larger conversation on diversity, inclusion and equity.

Zoe ShapiroInsuranceERM interviewed seven female risk experts, most of whom are chief risk officers (CROs) to get their views and experiences in a male-dominated sector. The experts are based at major insurers across the UK, Europe and the US.

Most CROs said it is becoming easier for women to hold senior positions at insurers. Torunn Biller White, CRO at Norwegian marine insurer Gard, cites more awareness and more open discussion around the topics of diversity and gender balance in the industry now.

Nevertheless, Zoe Shapiro, CRO for the open division at UK life insurer Phoenix Group, says there are still too few women and ethnic minorities in commercial and sales roles at insurers – "and this is important as these are often the roles that lead to CEOs".

At UK mutual OneFamily, CRO Philippa Herz makes the point that while her experience has not been of a consistently male-dominated environment, she has perceived that women have had more to prove in terms of demonstrating their competence, rather than it being assumed at the outset.

A lot also depends on the workplace culture that can vary significantly across companies. Sarah Williams, CRO of US life insurer Guardian Life, says: "Good cultures are inclusive and truly value diverse opinions."

Furthermore, since opportunities for mentoring and sponsorship will not occur naturally. Pooja Rahman, CRO at US life insurer Protective Life, says insurers "must be more intentional" when it comes to gender diversity.

Pooja RahmanThe risk experts also stressed how good maternity, paternity and carers' policies make the workplace a much better balanced and fairer place to work.

Helen Cooper, CRO at UK motor insurer Esure Group, says while the flexibility of hybrid working post-Covid is great, there is the risk women might become less visible in the workplace by working from home.

To encourage the next generation of women into the insurance business, the risk experts suggested the market could focus on the connection to social purpose and the range of roles.

Young women also need to be able to see themselves in leaders in order to stay engaged, says Williams. She comments: "It is really important for companies to have diversity in their leadership teams and foster a culture that is inclusive."

The question whether there should be mandatory gender targets split opinions. Some risk experts said the fundamental requirement should always be competence and ability, rather than gender.

Philippa HerzHerz has had mixed feelings about mandatory targets in the past. However, she has also found that setting targets "prompts helpful actions that might not otherwise be taken". An example of this is insisting on gender-balanced recruitment shortlists.

At a minimum, the risk experts stressed insurers should consider all options that can help build a stronger pool of emerging talent.

Chika Aghadiuno, Aviva's former group enterprise risk director and a non-executive director at the Medical Defence Union, says it is a challenge for her to talk about gender without talking about race and ethnicity.

Aghadiuno says her observation is that entry-level intake is increasingly more balanced in terms of gender. She says: "There is a general challenge to appeal to as wide a talent pool as possible, irrespective of gender - cutting across race and ethnicity, social mobility groups and visible and invisible differences.

"I believe the insurance sector should be an attractive proposition but has not done enough to increase and demonstrate its appeal."

  • More detailed comments from these risk experts will be published by InsuranceERM over the coming week.