Realising the full potential of women in insurance

FMG head of claims on encouraging confidence and creating opportunities to help women thrive

Realising the full potential of women in insurance

Insurance News

By Bennett Richardson

There is sometimes a thinking around workplace personas that women need to act differently in order to get ahead – but this is false choice, according to FMG head of claims strategic operations Jacqui McIntosh (pictured).

“It’s taken me 20+ years of working to realise that everyone is better off if I just be my authentic self and not feel pressured to be who someone else thinks I should be to achieve success,” McIntosh told Insurance Business.

Being authentic links strongly to self-confidence, a key ingredient for women to boost their impact within an organisation and shape decision-making processes.

“Women need to have confidence in their own skills and capabilities,” said McIntosh.

“Being confident doesn’t means being extroverted or the loudest in the room, it means knowing what you bring to the table and being willing to showcase that in a respectful way. Knowing your audience and building strong relationships within your organisation before you need them is also great for influencing. And of course, you need to know your stuff.”

McIntosh will be speaking on a panel about influencing decision-makers at the upcoming Women in Insurance Summit 2024 in Auckland on February 27, thanks to event sponsor Deloitte, gold sponsor Delta, and silver sponsor NIB. Book your tickets today

A positive feedback loop to lift more women’s careers

Of course, building career confidence can take time when there are limited opportunities or subtle structural impediments to advancement.

“We need to create opportunities where women have the chance to gain the crucial experiences needed to take that next career step. That doesn’t mean a leadership course, it means practical, in the workplace opportunities to show the organisation their talents,” said McIntosh.

While things are not as difficult for women as when McIntosh first entered the workforce, the insurance sector is widely seen as a laggard when it comes to matters such as pay gaps or corporate culture in some cases.

“Gender bias is still very real – we need to actively work to remove gender bias. In most workplaces now it is not overt, but it is still there - for example, a woman might be encouraged to move from a leadership role after returning from maternity leave as it will be easier for her work/life balance,” said McIntosh.

“While this may be considered being helpful or thoughtful, approaches like this prevent women from thriving or reaching their full potential as they feel less connected and valued.”

It also creates an active barrier to women entering top leadership roles, which has a knock-on effect in terms of reducing the number of role models for younger women to draw inspiration from.

“If women can’t see other women flourishing in their careers, some struggle to believe that they can reach the [upper] level,” said McIntosh.

Conversely, having more female role models in leadership positions creates a positive feedback loop and strengthens the pipeline of women moving up the corporate ladder. One example at FMG might be the recent appointment of Sarah von Dadelszen as board chair.

“Women… need people within their own organisations who they can look up to and strive to be like and then they need to be supported by those people to be successful,” McIntosh said.

This allows women to know that they have the support of their peers, and that they are part of a trusting and respectful environment where having different ideas is celebrated – in short, it reinforces confidence.

More women in leadership improves business results

There is no doubt that women have every reason to be confident in terms of contribution to the bottom line.

The body of academic literature illustrating a superior business performance at firms with higher female board representation now spans several decades – the general premise really isn’t contentious anymore.

Drilling down into different industries and business conditions over that period suggests that female leadership can bring even more benefit to industries with a higher sensitivity to risk, such as insurance.

Some of the better-known surveys about the corporate benefits of gender diversity on the board have suggested as much in terms of performance amid a tough economy. The long-running Credit Suisse Gender 3000 report, for example, found as far back as 2012 that stronger share price performance of companies with more women on the board was particularly obvious during the GFC as the macro environment deteriorated and risk volatility increased.

More recent studies show that in environments where corporate governance is weaker, insurance firms with higher proportions of women on boards have a lower propensity for risk taking, leading to better shareholder outcomes.  Another recent finding is that the higher the proportion of female directors on the board, the higher the corporate environmental, social and governance (ESG) practice score.

As emerging risks multiply amid a shaky economy and global supply chains woes, and a climate crisis pushes ESG initiatives to the top of more corporate agendas, perhaps the conditions for women to make an outsize impact on the insurance world are firmly in place in the post-pandemic world.

Another well-known report by McKinsey has been following the relative performance of thousands of firms, including some in New Zealand, since 2014 to measure the relationship between diversity and performance. Its fourth Diversity Matters report, released in December and the first since COVID hit, presents the strongest evidence yet for better business performance at firms with a greater representation of women on executive teams.

It shows that as more women have been appointed to boards over the years, and as the world has lurched from one crisis to another, the likelihood of financial outperformance at top-quartile companies has grown to a whopping 39% versus their bottom-quartile peers with fewer women on the board. Put simply, firms with lower diversity on their boards are relatively poor financial performers – and old-school thinking during a crisis is often detrimental.

For McIntosh, protecting the aspirations of younger women in insurance is a key motivator in the current environment.

“[I am] passionate about both supporting women to be successful in their careers and also ensuring the next generation of females don’t have some of the negative experiences I have had. My main focus at the moment is supporting women to have confidence in themselves and their abilities at work,” she said.

While she is against artificially inflating female representation, a more proactive approach to recruitment is needed.

“I have never been an advocate for gender quota – I believe it should always be the best person for the job. But I will say that sometimes we have to go and look for women to make sure we have the best candidates on the table,” she said.

It is all about making it easier for more people to succeed and aim for ever higher goals.

“Mentoring and coaching women is important to me, as is seeing strong females recognised for the skills, experience and passion they bring to the workplace,” she said. “Personally, what I find the most rewarding is then seeing people go on to achieve the career success they have been striving for, including roles that are more senior than my own.”

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