How women can advance in insurance risk management

Published in: Risk, Risk management, People

Companies: Pacific Life Re

Michelle Moloney, Pacific Life Re’s chief risk officer (CRO), and Sian McAlpin, the reinsurer’s CRO in Bermuda, tell Ronan McCaughey about ways to encourage women to enter and progress in the risk management sector

Sian McAlpin, Michelle Moloney

Is it becoming easier for women to hold leadership and senior risk management roles at insurers?

Moloney: The good news is yes, and while we still have a long way to go, the biggest barriers are being broken down. There are several factors that influence a career trajectory, but I believe there are three that are most deterministic: keep learning; take risks; and access to opportunities.

  • Keep learning – Curiosity as a capability trumps deep knowledge that is not nurtured. Women and men are on an equal footing here.

  • Take risks – Doing something, even if we fail, is better than standing still, provided the risk is calculated and we take the time to learn.

    Similarly, we need to be able (and brave enough) to take risks when it comes to new career opportunities. If you don’t raise your hand for the job above your current level, you won’t get the chance to raise your hand for the one above it, and by taking on new roles learning is exponential.

    Women are nurtured to be less inclined to take risks, I’d therefore encourage women to self-reflect. If you tend to not take risks, then now is the time to be more deliberate about raising your hand. What is good about this driver is you have control over it.  

  • Access to opportunities – Companies are acknowledging that old networking mechanisms bring in talent that look like the people they are replacing.

    Creating new avenues and overcoming unconscious bias is not organic and resolving these issues is highly complex and cannot be solved overnight.

    On a positive note, over the last couple of years in particular there has been a significant investment by companies to become more diverse and inclusive. 

Could insurers do more to encourage women to enter insurance risk management? 

Moloney: Insurance risk management, like Stem, (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) is underrepresented by women. The cause is not singular. There is a complex system and the solution needs to be multi-level and multi-dimensional.

But one area I’d point to is image and how the media portrays Stem and role models. There was a study done in 2020 that shows women-led nations had better responses to Covid-19 due to collaborative decision making.

Those are role models the industry (and the world) should do more to promote and create awareness of. Similarly, as an industry we need to elevate role models that represent what we want in our next generation.

That will help increase the number of women to enter the industry but will also help to retain and develop talent.

"We need to elevate role models that represent what we want in our next generation"

Companies are enhancing their diversity and inclusion (D&I) initiatives which, like the problem, needs to be broad and multifaceted. In addition to role models, we need to look at mentorship, sponsorship, promotions, recruitment practices, evaluation systems as well as leadership behaviours.

I’m a strong believer that culture starts at the top. And as the expression goes… “culture eats strategy for breakfast”.  Leadership behaviour must model diversity goals for success.

At Pacific Life Re, we are heavily invested in creating a more diverse and inclusive culture and it’s something we’re really passionate about.

We encourage open conversations and we are actively training our employees, with sessions covering unconscious bias and allyship. Our global D&I committees ensure we celebrate a wide variety of cultures and we strongly believe that learning from and listening to our differences makes us a stronger business.

Is it becoming easier for women to hold leadership and senior risk management roles at insurers?

McAlpin: It’s widely known that it has historically been challenging for women to reach the C-suite in any capacity, any country and any industry. But I believe there is reason for optimism now.

"It's great to have seen talented women already in senior roles"

With the heightened focus on diversity across the insurance industry, and the world in general, many companies are expanding their reach when searching for executives. I believe companies are realising the benefits of having a truly diverse and inclusive workforce.

Since joining Pacific Life Re in August last year, it’s great to have seen talented women already in - or being appointed to - senior roles and this has really inspired me to encourage more women to venture into the world of risk and insurance. My hope is that we are not unique and that this becomes a trend across the industry.

Could insurers do more to encourage women to enter insurance risk management?

McAlpin: In my opinion, the issue is more about how women can advance in the insurance risk management arena. I am encouraged by the number of women I see entering the world of insurance, both in risk management as well as the broader insurance industry.

However, within the industry as a whole, the representation of women in senior management and executive positions is still disappointing.

"Don't let perceptions get in the way of paving an exciting, challenging and rewarding career path"

I think more can be done to change the perception of the insurance industry and to encourage our younger generations to consider a career in risk or insurance, which I hope in time, will mean we have more women in senior positions.

International Women’s Day, for example, is a great opportunity to take a step back and reflect. The theme this year is #choosetochallenge, which aims to challenge and call out gender bias and inequality. 

If there’s one thing you take from reading this, I’d like it to encourage you, your daughter(s), niece(s), sister(s), female cousin(s), friend(s) and colleague(s) to #choosetochallenge and not let perceptions get in the way of paving an exciting, challenging and rewarding career path - and not get in the way of aspirations for reaching the top.