Alcohol-fuelled conferences and strip club entertainment – sexual harassment ‘systemic in insurance’

Alcohol-fuelled conferences and strip club entertainment – sexual harassment ‘systemic in insurance’ | Insurance Business Canada

Alcohol-fuelled conferences and strip club entertainment – sexual harassment ‘systemic in insurance’

Lloyd’s of London, the most famous and historic insurance market in the world, has recently come under fire after a damning Bloomberg report suggested a culture of sexual harassment is thriving in the “deeply backward-looking” market. The report, based on the accounts of 18 women who have worked at Lloyd’s, included one description of the 333-year-old insurance institution as a “meat market”. Other sources told of how women were referred to as “box bitches” and ranked between 1-10 on their looks.

Bloomberg’s article has triggered a media storm and has forced Lloyd’s into immediate action. The market has announced a robust plan of action to deal with the sexual harassment allegations. Lloyd’s CFO John Parry told journalists at a UK press conference that Lloyd’s has “taken the lead” in combatting bad behaviour, but he admitted “there’s still some appalling behaviour in the market that we need to stamp out”.

Whether the allegations against Lloyd’s are found to be true or not, it’s clear the insurance industry still has more to do in terms of cleaning up its culture and improving inclusion and diversity. That rings true for the Lloyd’s market and for other insurance jurisdictions around the world, including in Canada.

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One female insurance executive, who asked not to be named, told Insurance Business the allegations against Lloyd’s are “not surprising at all”. She said sexual harassment has “been systemic for a number of years” and that it continues today, both in Lloyd’s and in the Canadian insurance market. The source attributed this partly to the “alcohol-fuelled insurance conferences, which are a breeding ground for inappropriate remarks and inappropriate behaviour”.

The female executive offered up other examples where “inappropriate behaviour” is exercised in insurance. She described a culture of client entertainment that still includes, in many cases, trips to places like strip clubs and other less distinguished establishments. She said some companies have tried to prevent that by refusing to reimburse expenses for inappropriate client entertainment, but that those rules are often “bent, manipulated or somehow navigated” so that these actions remain.

“I’ve seen examples where expenses at events like that have been reimbursed by way of granting an employee a special bonus, such that the net amount covers the cost of the entertainment and it no longer has to go through the typical expense reimbursement process where someone will see the name of the establishment and what the company is paying for,” the source said.

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Heather Matthews, senior vice president, National Claims Management Centre, Crawford & Company (Canada) Inc. told Insurance Business the allegations against Lloyd’s of London are “very disheartening”. She said: “Why is it that people feel that they can treat others this way? At the root is disrespect for others. This applies whether it is sexual harassment, bullying and any other form of discrimination.”

That being said, Matthews remains positive about the state of the insurance industry in Canada. She said the industry has made great strides with regards to diversity and inclusion and that the majority of men and women in the industry respect one another and represent strong values.

“We’re seeing more and more women sitting at that executive table and being in positions to make critical business decisions. We’re also seeing swift and definitive actions by employers with a zero tolerance for these behaviours,” Matthews commented. “That alone should provide confidence for people to come forward. 

“I was a victim of sexual harassment almost three decades ago. I never came forward for fear of not being believed or losing my job. I could not believe what had happened and what was said to me - I was in shock. It wasn’t until another woman far braver than I, went to management that myself and numerous others came forward. We ironically took comfort in knowing that we were not alone and the allegations and subsequent consequences unravelled. It was dealt with in a respectful and swift fashion and that day I made a promise to myself to never be silent again.”

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Following the recent allegations of sexual harassment, Lloyd’s of London announced it would introduce an independent whistleblower hotline, which would be a safe space for people to report incidences. The anonymous industry source said she would encourage more whistleblower mechanisms for both women and men in the industry.

“There are lots of men in the insurance industry who do not partake in these activities and who do not want to be tarnished with this brush,” she said. “These whistleblower mechanisms will give men the opportunity to speak up and play a part in that important culture change.”