Aurore Lecanon, chief risk and compliance officer at Prudential International Assurance, and also the winner of chief risk officer (CRO) of the year in InsuranceERM's 2021 awards, tells Ronan McCaughey how more progressive thinking could open up the insurance sector to new talent with diverse ideas
Is it becoming easier for women to hold leadership and senior risk management roles at insurers?
There are definitely great career opportunities in risk and insurance for women nowadays.
This reflects the evolving risk profile of companies as it used to be all about financial risk and as a result risk teams tended to have a heavy quantitative bias, and recruit actuaries as a preference.
When I was hired by Prudential as a financial risk director, the group CRO at the time was hesitating between me and someone with a more traditional actuarial background. He made me solve a mathematical integral at the interview to ensure I could pass the "quant" test. It was done in good fun, but I would have been devastated had I missed that role due to not being an actuary.
However, with operational risk and resilience, sustainability or culture risks becoming much more visible, things are changing. The risk profession is becoming more attractive to women and recruiting for senior positions is more open to acquiring people who have operational risk backgrounds.
While the insurance industry counts prominent insurance female chief executives like Direct Line's Penny James or Amanda Blanc at Aviva, and a relatively good number of highly regarded female chief financial officers, I don't know many female CROs - and it sometimes feels lonely at risk conferences. What can we do about it?
Could insurers do more to encourage women to enter insurance risk management?
As senior leaders, but especially CROs, we need to lead by example. To me, this is not about gender, sexual orientation or race.
Diversity of thoughts is essential to good risk management and we need to build multi-disciplinary teams that can think about risk holistically.
It is not easy as it also requires the human resources and recruitment professions to stop thinking one dimensionally and be brave about the CVs they send us. I think they do this well for senior talent, but this process really needs to start at graduate level.
Secondly, I think mentoring must become a natural activity for any senior leader.
Mentoring or talent development programmes are one thing, but what is important is to make mentoring an instinct – keep in touch with the talents who have worked for you and reach out to them when opportunities arise.
Be loyal to them as they progress through their careers. Succession planning also needs to evolve. It needs to counteract the bias in searching for people that will just fit right in - or are exactly like the person they are to succeed.
Finally, I have learnt a lot recently about unconscious bias. Addressing unconscious bias is not about making us sit through a few hours of diversity and inclusion training.
There is an interesting McKinsey article about it. It recommends we systematically assess all instances where bias may come into the equation and pro-actively address it.
For example, you can use advanced analytics to write job specifications that will appeal to different backgrounds or to systematically review performance evaluation and identify any bias in feedback received between men or women. I find this fascinating and it could surely help.