"Stop promoting mediocre men" – survey shows frustration with board representation

Culture, menopause, childcare responsibilities pile on pressure

"Stop promoting mediocre men" – survey shows frustration with board representation

Diversity & Inclusion

By Jen Frost

Childcare responsibilities and the menopause continue to hold women back from board and executive roles in insurance, the results of an IGI and Eames Group survey prepared for the Dive In Festival have indicated.

Culture and “casual sexism” could also be frustrating women’s chances of success, respondents suggested, while 36.5% strongly agreed and 40.9% somewhat agreed that firms will not take action on gender disparity in boardrooms without regulatory intervention and shareholder pressure.

Just under 43.7% of survey takers said they were “very concerned” and a further 35.4% said they were “a bit concerned” by a lack of female representation in board and executive roles.

Taking time out to have a child “very much impacts” a woman’s ability to succeed at work, 66.7% of those surveyed said.

Meanwhile, around 74.2% believed that firms need to do more to support women going through the menopause and perimenopause. Extra support would contribute to encouraging more women on to insurance boards, 47.1% of respondents said, with an additional 40.8% believing that this would “possibly” help.

Survey takers were split on the best approach to redress a perceived lack of female board representation, with 11% having said they felt insurance board environments are “not at all welcoming” for women.

“Women are being invited in because of regulatory scrutiny around board diversity, not because execs necessarily want them there,” one anonymous survey taker commented.

“I have walked into many board rooms, and they have all been 100% men - and white men,” said another.

“The experiences I hear from women who do have board experience is that they are ‘hostile’ and ‘alpha’ environments,” one survey taker commented. “Men on boards I have spoken to have said they have often seen a woman come up with a good idea, but it is only really taken up when it is echoed by a man (either with attribution to the woman or without).”

Others called out “male-centred activities” – examples given included golfing and horse racing – and one respondent recalled being “asked to get coffee” when scheduled to present.

Asked what one thing the industry and businesses could do to improve female board representation, survey takers suggested a range of actions.

These included more support through childcare and the menopause, improving the recruitment process and talent pipeline, and investing in more mentoring and support for women.

Expanding boards to accommodate more voices was another suggestion, while others called for cultural change and a reset at the top.

“[Include] them in conversations earlier on in their careers so they know how to handle tough conversations and can be ‘groomed’ like younger men are for senior roles,” one survey taker suggested.

“Stop promoting mediocre men […] The same old rubbish is still happening - look at what happened to Amanda Blanc at Aviva or Sanna Marin in Finland,” another said.

Aviva CEO Amanda Blanc faced sexist comments, including that she “was not the man for the job”, at the UK headquartered insurer’s AGM in May.

Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin faced uproar after she was pictured enjoying herself at a party, with some commentators suggesting the criticism had sexist undertones.

IGI surveyed 159 professionals working within insurance, with most survey takers (65%) working at an insurer or underwriter. Just under a quarter of respondents (24.68%) worked at a service organisation, for example loss adjusters or software providers. The remaining respondents worked at brokers, MGAs, or in the legal profession.

Most of the responses came from the UK (41.1%) and Bermuda (27.9%), with feedback also shared from the Middle East and North Africa (13.9%), the US (12%), and APAC (1.3%).

Just over 88.5% of respondents identified as female, and almost 78% were aged 45 years old or less.

Many were not in board or c-suite level positions, with just under one in four (24.7%) of responses having come from senior vice presidents and vice presidents. Two respondents (1.3%) said they were non-executive board members, while 20 responses (12.7%) were said to be from members of executive committees, the c-suite, or board rooms. 

IGI D&I champion Aaida Abu Jaber said the results should be used as an “indicator” rather than to draw any scientific conclusions, given the quality and quantity of data.

“In terms of research and results, it’s a starting point,” Abu Jaber said.

“It needs to be highlighted – companies like ours, people [in the industry] need to highlight it and women themselves need to go out and highlight it.”

Women who take time out to have children or adopt children may find a younger man has had the opportunity to take on their role in the interim, Abu Jaber said, potentially putting them on a less even footing on their return.

Further, she pointed to difficulties women face while going through physical changes that come with the menopause, which can include hot flushes and “foggy brain”.

A combination of factors could also be leading to women feeling less confident in themselves and their careers as they age.

“[As women age they may start to feel that] they haven’t reached where they should have been,” Abu Jaber said.

“As you get to that point, you may lose your confidence, you may shy away from applying for the position, beating yourself up over what’s happening.”

This “internal doubt of their own abilities and capabilities”, coupled with the physical effects of aging and the menopause, could be holding some women back, according to Abu Jaber, and women need to support each other.

While perhaps disappointing, it is “not surprising” that those surveyed felt regulatory intervention may be needed to force change, Abu Jaber said.

Any regulatory targets for senior leaders would need to go hand in hand with efforts to encourage young women – and young people in general – into the industry on an equal footing, she suggested.

Female representation on boards has been broadly on the up since the mid-2010s.

By 2020, 75% of global indices’ boards were made up of more than 22% female members, compared to 75% having less than 25% female members in 2014, according to BoardEx’s Global Gender Balance Report.

Norway was the first country to roll out quotas in 2003, requiring that women make up at least 40% of boards, and some jurisdictions have followed suit.

Anecdotal feedback to the IGI survey suggested a split on the quota issue, with some commenting they would like to see quotas and others stating they did not think they were a solution.

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