--The recent numbers are way up from 2013, when women held only 6% of top executive positions and 13% of board seats in the industry, but much work remains to be done.
--The key ways forward are: emphasize accountability, not just verbal commitments; celebrate progress; and collaborate with like-minded people across the industry.
The insurance industry has been welcoming a complement of diverse and nontraditional talent throughout the past decades and embracing a future of opportunity through various diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) initiatives. This has brought a diversity of thought and sense of belonging that has not only created more fulfilling workplaces but has spurred innovation and boosted profits.
A Little History
In the early days of insurance, roles for women were typically limited to administrative and clerical work. By 1930, the roles for women in insurance started to evolve, with nearly 15,000 women employed as insurance agents and officials in the U.S., according to Intact Insurance Specialty Solutions.
Over time, the workforce changed further. We saw a greater presence of women in leadership positions and the emergence of professional associations. In 2013, leadership at the Insurance Industry Charitable Foundation (IICF) decided to launch our first Women in Insurance Global Conference, with a goal to provide a robust platform for discussions designed to advance women’s roles and voices in the industry.
Our leadership recognized that the advancement of women leaders had, in a way, somewhat stalled. Women in insurance were largely still not present in the top decision-making process or represented in large numbers in the C-suites. Conferences, meetings and industry dinners at this time were still heavily male-dominated, including IICF’s own benefit dinners.
As our conference series grew and thousands of insurance professionals attended our events in New York, Chicago, Dallas, London and Los Angeles, IICF understood that not only women in our industry needed these forums as a platform to share their voice. During this time, the industry was in the early stages of its DEI journey, and IICF expanded the scope of its conferences by embracing broader topics. In 2020, we hosted our first IICF Inclusion in Insurance Conference.
Progress as Seen Through Our Lens
Our conference series gives us a clear window into the industry, and we've noticed progress in the following areas:
Women in Leadership
Throughout the 21st century, we have been working as an industry to close the gap in leadership roles in insurance. As of 2013, women held only 6% of top executive positions and 13% of board seats in the industry, according to data from St. Joseph’s University Academy of Risk Management and Insurance. This was a challenge we sought to address at our inaugural global conference.
We started with a simple approach centered on having the few women in senior-most leadership in our industry share their career journeys. Female executives from across the industry gathered to share their own experiences of how they rose through the ranks of insurance, what challenges they faced, such as work/life balance, and what lessons they had learned. Over the following years, we added to our model, discussing empowerment, the gender gap and how to break through the glass ceiling. These sessions provided powerful insights and actionable advice for our fellow industry members.
We have seen some progress as more businesses in our industry promote women into top leadership. The figures remain low, signaling that more work needs to be done. Recent data found only 19% of board seats and only 12% of top officer positions are held by women. This still is significant progress from a decade ago.
The Development of a Business Case
In 2015, McKinsey unveiled a comprehensive study showcasing how a diverse workforce is correlated with better financial performance. Further industry research highlighted how the next generation of talent prefers to work for an employer that fosters a workforce with broad representation. And from there, our industry was empowered with a strong business case to make greater strides toward a fully inclusive workplace.
The IICF conference centered discussions on this business case, why executives needed to have a sharper focus on their recruiting practices and how to directly address challenges recruiting and retaining diverse talent. We then moved to individual responsibility, sharing what steps people from all levels in the industry can take to create real change in the workplace and why everyone’s actions, regardless of role, matter in the grand objective of creating a fully inclusive future for the insurance industry.
See also: Solving the Puzzle on Inclusion
A Broadened View of Inclusion
The umbrella of inclusion and belonging today covers a much wider range of topics than it did a decade ago. Inclusivity and developing a culture of belonging has become a powerful movement across our industry as companies have introduced initiatives to support, include and empower individuals with diverse backgrounds and experiences, as well as create allies. IICF accordingly has evolved our conference series to include many new perspectives and voices.
Throughout our decade-plus of leadership conferences, IICF’s conversations encompass women leadership in the industry, accessibility, mental health and wellness, women, caregivers and veterans returning to the workforce and much more. By retaining a special focus on women in insurance, our global conference remains a unique opportunity to engage, grow and network.
We continue to see businesses acting on initiatives designed to enhance a sense of belonging. We see that it’s now commonplace for insurance organizations to have employee resource groups (ERGs) dedicated to making individuals from different backgrounds and experiences feel comfortable with their role in the industry and see a path to upward mobility, as well as mentorship initiatives focused on welcoming and advancing non-traditional talent.
Where We’re Headed
Over the past decade, we have learned much from our IICF leadership conferences, speakers, thought leaders and others about the real progress toward a fully inclusive industry. Experts say our best approach to continue this positive trajectory includes:
Accountability: This year, we’ve heard that DEI fatigue has been a consistent conversation across the industry. A suggested best practice for the future is an emphasis on accountability, where it’s not enough to simply verbally embrace inclusivity and where leadership promotes accountability for the successful implementation of these initiatives and measure overall progress.
Recognition of Progress: Once progress is identified, leadership should ensure teams are recognizing and celebrating it. When people can see progress firsthand in their own workplaces, any fatigue will not only fade away, but those employees will also be inspired to do more.
Collaboration: Industry collaboration is also essential to moving inclusion in our industry forward. There is so much we can learn from each other. Recently, we convened the industry for our biennial IICF Global Conference in New York City, gathering colleagues from across the industry along with leading experts in inclusion and belonging. And next June, we’ll host our IICF Regional Forums in Chicago, Dallas, London, Los Angeles and New York, where we’ll continue to advance ideas into action together as an industry.
Our industry has undergone a tremendous evolution in terms of inclusion and representation, especially during recent decades. The insurance industry can continue to build toward a fully inclusive workplace with a sense of belonging for all. Let’s keep the momentum going.