Celebrating women: personal reflections from iCAN's events across the UK

Encouraging firms to walk the walk as well as talking the talk

Celebrating women: personal reflections from iCAN's events across the UK


By Kishan Mangat

Throughout March, the Insurance Cultural Awareness Network (iCAN) hosted a series of sell-out events across the UK to honour International Women's Day. From Birmingham to London to Manchester, these sold out gatherings weren't just about professional insights; they were about personal connections and honest reflections.

One important hallmark of the three events was the number of men in attendance. Inclusion events, like those we host, historically play to a receptive, “friendly” audience - people who share the lived experience, seeking like-minded individuals and support. Increasingly though, at iCAN events I’m meeting more people outside our “core” audience.

This tells me a number of crucial things. Firstly, that our reach and reputation is expanding. People are drawn to our events because they know there is high quality, intelligent and thought provoking content that doesn’t pull its punches. Secondly, it shows that the message of inclusion is getting through. Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, it shows that more people in our industry see the relevance of inclusion to them and their work.  It is clear to me that people in our industry want to know more and offer their support.

In Birmingham, our collaboration with PwC was led by accomplished leaders from insurance, finance, and sport. One key takeaway that resonated deeply with many in our audience was hearing about the difference between mentorship and sponsorship.

Crucially, sponsorship is about advocating for women, a person of colour, or a person from any other minority for that matter, when that person is not in the room. The responsibility lies with those who have power, whether that’s formal power from your status in the organisation, or simply your power as a member of a majority group. In Birmingham, one of our attendees remarked how incredible it was that there were so many men present at an international women’s day event.

The broader allyship theme was picked up a few nights later, by panellist Huw Evans. The former Director General of the ABI, pointedly reminded the room not to expect profile from being an ally or doing work that advances inclusion - and not to seek that profile either. Being an ally is about being honest about what you don’t know and doing the work when there’s no reward or kudos involved.

We’re reaching an interesting point in our understanding of how to make lasting change in diversity and inclusion. The Women in Finance charter has been effective in increasing female representation in senior management of financial services businesses, with 36% of the signatories achieving their targets and a further 40% on track to meet their targets that have future deadlines.

But the targets are still some way short of parity - female representation in senior management averages only 35% - and it’s not possible to say (though one can guess) the impact on advancement of women who come from ethnic minority backgrounds.

Targets are controversial to some, and I understand those concerns, but there is no disputing the fact that the charter signatories increased female representation. To my mind, this is evidence that a public commitment to specific diversity targets strongly correlates to achieving tangible change.

That’s why I echo what another of our panellists, Shazia Deenally, referenced in London. The regulators' proposals to ensure firms publish their diversity data and publicly state their progress against their diversity and inclusion strategies will encourage firms to take actions that walk the walk as well as talking the talk.

Ultimately though, we have a responsibility to ourselves to do what we can to advance our careers. This was a theme that developed at our Manchester event, where panellist Nazmin Mohal, encouraged the audience to embrace their uniqueness and not to compare themselves with others. Former Olympian Shanaze Reade delivered an amazing keynote about the power of persevering, and how setbacks can be the best thing that can happen to you. She reminded us about community and happiness, and the focus on finding your ‘tribe’ - that supportive network is key - and is one of the driving forces of iCAN.

Ultimately, it’s this combination of individual determination, supported by allies, within organisations that are measurably accountable as inclusive environments, that will create the most successful teams, where everyone from all genders, all backgrounds and all abilities can find happiness to thrive.  To paraphrase Shanaze Reade said, happiness doesn’t come from success, success comes from happiness.

To keep up to date with future iCAN Events, please find out more here.


Keep up with the latest news and events

Join our mailing list, it’s free!