3 minute read 28 Jun 2019
Business woman standing near the display

Three key steps for building women leaders in insurance

Authors

Ed Majkowski

EY Americas Insurance Sector and Advisory Leader

Transformational insurance leader.

Gail McGiffin

EY Global Insurance Underwriting Leader

Sales executive. Decision scientist. Customer advocate. Innovator.

Nicole Michaels

EY Global Insurance Business Transformation Leader

Transformation leader in insurance. Passionate about diversity and inclusiveness as a business imperative and growth driver.

Bernhard Klein Wassink

EY Global Insurance Customer and Growth Offering Leader

Experienced financial services professional. Digital strategy enthusiast.

Sophia Yen

EY Americas Insurance Strategy & Innovation Leader

Transformation leader in the industry enabling the art of the possible. Visionary. Futurist. Avid writer and traveler.

3 minute read 28 Jun 2019

Studies show that diverse teams outperform homogeneous teams when led inclusively and that firms deliver better financial results when they have women on their corporate boards and in the C-suite. So, why is it taking so long for women to belong equally?

To truly drive innovation and stay relevant in today’s rapidly changing world, insurance leaders cannot afford to overlook the power of diversity and inclusiveness (D&I) in thinking, experiences, ideas, backgrounds and abilities.

Here are three actionable ways to build the next generation of women leaders in insurance:

1. Improve college and market recruitment and hiring

Today’s college graduates are surrounded by diversity, and they expect to enter workplaces that embody those same values. For the insurance industry to attract new employees who have the creative, technology and customer skills needed to build the insurance workplace of the future, insurance companies must demonstrate their commitment to diversity, as manifested throughout the formal recruitment process, as well as leveraging personal relationships.

It is in insurers best interest to recruit more women with backgrounds in science, technology, engineering, the arts and mathematics (STEAM). While actuaries have always needed mathematics and statistics, just about every aspect of insurance is being transformed by digital technologies, artificial intelligence (AI) and other computing-intensive business processes. It is also important that insurers recruit liberal arts majors for areas like underwriting. These graduates possess the necessary skills for sales, relationship management and creation of business solutions. The ability to reason and philosophize will be even more critical in the digital age, as more repetitive tasks shift to AI.

At the same time, insurance companies must drive accountability for D&I initiatives by removing unconscious biases from the recruitment process, recruiting balanced teams and hiring women from diverse backgrounds, skill sets and experiences. A way to enact this is to ensure there are diverse slates of both interviewers and interviewees, as well as holding leadership teams accountable for their team’s D&I profiles. This may include the need to widen the field when looking at recruiting from the marketplace so as to have a more representative pool of candidates reflective of insurance company D&I goals. Going to the same recruiting sources for diverse candidates just isn’t good enough anymore.

To foster an environment for the industry’s future leaders to thrive, it takes effort, backed by accountability and active participation from everyone – not just women.

2. Sponsor and mentor women to support career progression and improve retention

Mentors provide advice and counseling throughout one’s career, while sponsors are on-the-job allies who state the case for one’s promotion or participation on a high-profile project. Women in the insurance field need both mentors and sponsors — and both roles need to be embraced by men and women.

Employees may be able to find mentors and sponsors through their own networking efforts, and organizations should also foster connections through team-building workshops and other methods that emphasize the importance of sponsoring across differences. It is vital to hold executives accountable for their strong commitment to D&I by measuring results, such as the retention levels and career achievements for women and other underrepresented groups within their spheres of influence. Only through metrics-based accountability will D&I achieve a sustainable impact.

We all have to ask ourselves: Who am I mentoring? Who am I sponsoring? Who am I pulling up?

3. Clear away barriers preventing the ascent of women executives

While progress has been made, women are still severely underrepresented in insurance leadership roles. Although women represent more than half of the insurance workforce, they hold fewer than one-fifth of board seats and only about one-tenth of insider officer positions and top officer positions such as CEO, COO and CFO. Based on this evidence, we can see that the pipeline for women executive talent is being artificially blocked.

In response, insurance companies need to work for greater diversity in succession planning and to prepare women for these kinds of roles. To ensure that women can rise on their merits and in accordance with the requirements of the job, succession planning has three key areas for improvement:

  • Preference: Counteract the bias for search teams to promote people who look just like them.
  • Tradition: Break the pattern of hiring leaders with the same background and profile as previous leaders.
  • Requirements: Promote and appoint leaders based on the specific skill sets of what the leadership role requires for the success of the company.

D&I is critical for driving innovation and a competitive advantage for insurers in today’s transformative age. By welcoming a wider range of skills and viewpoints, D&I represents an essential component of the evolving business model in insurance.

As part of their broader D&I initiatives, insurance companies must take steps to improve gender parity. Starting from the top, business leaders throughout the insurance organization should be held accountable for recruiting and hiring women, sponsoring and mentoring women, retaining and promoting women and clearing away obstacles to leadership roles.

Summary

As the insurance industry continues to evolve in response to disruption, it’s imperative that insurers embrace innovation to achieve growth and market leadership. Already, AM Best has announced plans to score and assess carriers based on their ability to innovate. D&I is critical for driving innovation, and insurance companies must take necessary actions to build the next generation of women leaders.

About this article

Authors

Ed Majkowski

EY Americas Insurance Sector and Advisory Leader

Transformational insurance leader.

Gail McGiffin

EY Global Insurance Underwriting Leader

Sales executive. Decision scientist. Customer advocate. Innovator.

Nicole Michaels

EY Global Insurance Business Transformation Leader

Transformation leader in insurance. Passionate about diversity and inclusiveness as a business imperative and growth driver.

Bernhard Klein Wassink

EY Global Insurance Customer and Growth Offering Leader

Experienced financial services professional. Digital strategy enthusiast.

Sophia Yen

EY Americas Insurance Strategy & Innovation Leader

Transformation leader in the industry enabling the art of the possible. Visionary. Futurist. Avid writer and traveler.