The following is an editorial by Alicja Grzadkowska, senior news editor at Insurance Business. To reach out to Alicja, email her at [email protected]
Over the past two weeks, protests against police brutality in the United States, sparked by the alleged murder of George Floyd at the hands of police in Minneapolis, have reignited conversations about systemic racism and the treatment of non-white people by authorities around the world. Protestors have rallied in cities across Australia, Canada, France, the UK, Japan, and South Korea, among others, and in turn many public and private entities have highlighted their support for this important movement.
Some of the organisations voicing support for Black Lives Matter have included insurance companies, whose leaders have issued statements about the events in the US and the broader problems that have resulted with persistent racial inequality. However, considering the industry’s enthusiasm for diversity and inclusion in recent years, all companies have a responsibility to turn words into actions.
The insurance industry has historically been dominated by white men and was known for a long time as a boys’ club that was difficult for women, as well as people from marginalised communities, to break into.
By now, there has been some progress made in the industry in terms of gender diversity. The Association of British Insurers (ABI) reported that female representation on executive teams moved up from 22% to 27% from 2017 to 2018, though there was only a 1% increase in female representation at board level. The Insurance Institute of Canada meanwhile discovered in its demographic research that the typical insurance professional today is most likely a 42-year old woman who is a people manager in underwriting or claims. Other research from the Harvard Business Review found that 57% of entry-level insurance employees are women, but this number drops to 28% at the VP level and 18% at the SVP level.
Finding numbers on racial diversity in the insurance sector is much more challenging. While insurance companies have landed on lists like the Great Place to Work Best Workplaces for Diversity and Black Enterprise’s 50 Best Companies for Diversity, it’s hard to tell how much progress has actually been made since there are few industry-wide quantitative studies tracking diverse representation within the various levels of insurance firms.
That’s not to say the insurance industry is doing nothing to promote diversity and inclusion. Its work has involved company initiatives to support marginalised communities through charitable contributions, the promotion of diverse businesses by choosing them as suppliers, as well as the growth of the Dive In Festival and other work done within the four walls of individual companies to bring in more diverse talent. However, without adequate diverse representation at the senior ranks of insurance companies and the conscious evaluation of the progress being made (or not made), the industry won’t be able to change from the inside out to fully reflect the communities and businesses from which it seeks to support.
Moreover, the industry has an important voice in the current discussions around racism and inequality as insurance is an enabler of business. Just as some insurance companies have been stepping back from fossil fuel investments and the provision of insurance for projects with significant climate repercussions, they too can take a stand against institutions and organisations that are continuing to promote inequality and systemic racism. With the #MeToo movement revealing the very serious insurance repercussions that can arise from sexual harassment and gender discrimination, insurers can likewise do their part to prompt companies to implement strategies that ensure workplaces and business practices don’t ingrain racist practices further.
With many insurance companies already introducing diversity and inclusion initiatives, they should now be asking themselves what else they can do to recognise the very real and pervasive issues of inequality and racism, and become part of the progress for which the current protests are fighting.