Data clearly suggests that diversity at the highest levels drives better business outcomes, so how do we springboard between the current paradigm in insurance and a more gender-balanced C-suite? The relative lack of women in senior leadership roles in insurance could create a paradigm that suggests there can only be one woman at the boardroom table, according to Megan Zarnoch, SVP, regional underwriting executive at QBE Insurance. Despite the fact that the industry as a whole now has fair representation of both genders, the number of women in the senior positions remains disappointingly low.
“If there is only ever one female [or other diverse individual] at the table, it could drive a detrimental degree of competition among women who all want that spot,” said Zarnoch. “At QBE, we talk a lot about having diverse perspectives in all we do and in treating people equally. In fact, as a company, we have achieved fair pay and have committed to putting more women in senior roles. To get there, everyone needs to be on board. Women need to support other women and work together to change that paradigm, and men need to support women to help make it happen,” she added.
Zarnoch has found that the relationship-driven nature of the insurance business can contribute to the challenges which women face in climbing the corporate ladder, because opportunities to build those relationships are often based around the population of those already at the table.
“A lot of business is conducted outside the office, and often in places or through activities that are not inclusive, such as on the golf course,” said Zarnoch. “I’ve observed good progress within my own company but it’s critical to see QBE and other companies making an effort to balance out traditional activities with those that appeal to a more diverse audience. Women have to hustle more and work harder to demonstrate capability, because they are less likely to have opportunities to develop a natural business relationship,” she added.
Despite the challenges faced by women today, Zarnoch believes that change will be coming soon as a new generation moves into leadership roles within the insurance industry and companies actively focus attention on diversity & inclusion which is already a core value at QBE.
“We must be near the precipice of the shift in that paradigm,” she said. “As the demographic that runs the C-suite at most firms today reaches retirement, the dynamic will change and there will be a shift towards a wider mix of diverse perspectives.”
Zarnoch started her career 18 years ago as a claims adjustor at Liberty Mutual’s California office, which gave her a solid foundation for understanding the nuances of the business and its products. She soon found her passion in underwriting and later moved to Chicago which opened up a range of new opportunities. After a seven-year stint at Travelers, she landed at QBE in 2016 where she is responsible for profitable growth and achievement of business objectives for a large region and team, spanning over 30 states.
Zarnoch’s advice to women joining the industry is to focus on developing your own skills to become an expert at what you do, whilst building a networks of allies, mentors and sponsors of both genders.
“Be authentic and build relationships based on who you really are,” she said. “Only when we are all comfortable doing that will we have a truly inclusive environment with diverse conversations that can drive the best outcomes for all our businesses.”