In the recently published ‘Route to the Top’, the annual CEO report released by global executive search firm Heidrick & Struggles, there were a number of findings which offered a fascinating insight into how the image of a global CEO is changing in the context of a shifting economic and business environment. For Jenni Hibbert, the global managing partner of Heidrick & Struggles’ financial services practice, the report offers an accurate representation of the insurance sector within the UK market.
For Hibbert, one of the most surprising aspects of the report was the slow growth rate of gender diversity which, despite showing improvements in the past couple of years, is not where she would like it to be. While the UK is still ahead of the international average, she said, 93% of CEOs in the UK are men and there has been a 1.2% decrease in the number of female CEOs since last year which suggests a stagnation.
When examining the reasons for this, Hibbert outlined her belief that much of the effort and the momentum which has been seen over the past decade is still taking its time to come to fruition. A link can perhaps be drawn here, she said, to another key statistic from the report which found that the average age of female CEOs is much younger than their male counterparts.
“I think if you go down a couple of layers, within the organisation, you see a dramatic improvement in terms of gender parity and other forms of diversity,” she said. “But as you filter that up towards the top of any organisation, it’s still taking a while for those candidates who have genuinely collected the right set of experiences to be reaching the C-suite. And so, my hope, but also my expectation, is that if we fast forward 10 years, the picture will look quite different.”
Hibbert believes that while gender diversity is a clear priority within the insurance sector, the industry is behind the curve when it comes to age diversity. Insurance, she said, is only slowly catching up in comparison to other industries in terms of digitalisation and accessing the new generation of the workforce and customer base. This, she detailed, is impacting the senior executive teams and boards which are still in the process of shaping their thinking around these topics.
A key takeaway from this report for boards, she said, should be to shift from the traditional mind-sets within insurance companies in order to create a culture open to digital transformation.
“Only through this will they be able to attract a diversity of talent as, currently, the insurance sector is greatly suffering from a skills shortage, inhibiting innovation and growth,” Hibbert said. “Especially as consumers expect more simplicity, flexibility and personalisation, which can be solved through new technologies.”
Companies within the insurance sector need to recognise that the attraction of new talent is strategically aligned to where the businesses are headed, and how these businesses are being disrupted, she said. Insurers are focused on technological transformation, she said, and they must engage with some of the disrupters and the incubators to capture some of that talent.
Most of this talent is younger, she said, and she believes that anything that is culturally stifling the voice or the advancement of that talent is completely at odds with any strategic ambitions. Having recently spoken to several CEOs in the insurance sector, Hibbert said, she believes that they are taking this consideration seriously and that the tone is being set by the executive c-suite level of these organisations as it should be.
“Show me an area of insurance where technology is not playing a disruptive part,” she said. “So, it’s got to be embraced at the top, and I think it is being embraced at the top.”
When it comes to implementing and encouraging any form of diversity and inclusion across the insurance sector, Hibbert believes that, while mentorship is valuable, it is sponsorship which is even more critical. Having people who are willing to open doors for people who bring a different skillset to the sector, or who try to clear obstacles from the paths of the people they are sponsoring is essential, she said.
“I think we’ve got some leaders who stand out as advocates work across the industry,” she said. “And I think you’ve got some who are more quietly making it a priority within their own organisations, and I think you need both. But those who have stood out and advocated [diversity] across the industry have been very powerful voices.”