Female representation in the upper ranks of the insurance industry is improving at a snail’s pace. This issue and many other topics relevant to the experiences of women in the sector brought out around 300 attendees to Insurance Business Canada’s Women in Insurance event on May 15 in Toronto.
“There are more CEOs named John than female CEOs in the top 500 companies in Canada,” said Angelique Magi, national vice president of transportation and strategic initiatives at The Guarantee Company of North America, during a panel on career advancement. “Among the top 100 CEOs at the largest publically traded companies in Canada, just six are women.”
Women represent 50% of the insurance workforce in most disciplines in insurance, added Magi, citing Insurance Institute of Canada numbers, but there’s only been a moderate increase – from 28% to 35% from 2007 to 2017 – in women holding senior and executive positions. Clearly, there’s work to do.
“There’s never been a better time in this industry for change, and change is happening before our eyes and we’re seeing it every day,” said Eileen Greene, vice president and partner at Hub International and chairperson for the event. “I think it’s a dialogue that needs to be heard and it’s tough conversations that we need to have in order to have change executed.”
The panels and keynotes covered a broad range of issues, from navigating sexual harassment in the workplace to breaking through the glass ceiling. Fotini Iconomopoulos, negotiation consultant at Forward Focusing, gave an impactful presentation on unconscious bias and provided useful tips on becoming a more effective verbal and non-verbal communicator. She used an image of a male-dominated board room from Mad Men to show what many offices still look like.
“In the insurance industry, and professional services in general, this is still the scenario in many of the executive board rooms that I see,” she said, explaining the obstacles that stand in the way of diversity. “When you’re going to invest in people, it’s a lot of money to spend. You’re going to spend it on your high-potential employees, those most senior folks in your organization, the people who are going to make you the most money. Those are the folks that you’re going to invest in, so that’s why these rooms look so male-dominated all the time. We have more work to do.”
Those in attendance were excited to be in the room with so many top executives from the insurance industry, and found the speakers insightful and diverse.
“Most of our clients are represented here and I wanted to hear what the VPs and presidents and CFOs and CEOs had to say about the future of insurance,” said Jessica Grant, partner at Blaney McMurtry LLP.
“Supporting women in business, not just insurance, is important and I find it spectacular when you see these panel-like discussions – the experiences people bring to their current roles and their backgrounds are all varied, just like our male counterparts,” said Jo-Anne MacDonald, ARAG’s new CEO in Canada. “I think we learn from events like this and I always take something from them.”