Leadership positions in the insurance industry have been historically dominated by men. But that is starting to change — and it’s a change long overdue.
Over the past 20 years, I’ve risen through the ranks to become a leader, but it wasn’t easy. I often experienced an industry work culture that reserved management roles for male counterparts even as a number of female colleagues contributed higher-quality work and had a bigger impact on the bottom line. While I was able to succeed in this challenging environment, I recognize that more must be done to level the playing field. I applaud the steps many organizations have taken and current efforts to promote more women into the leadership positions they deserve. But I challenge insurance companies to embrace an inclusive culture that seeks female viewpoints. Otherwise, they stand to miss out on quality leaders and ultimately see their businesses falter.
Workplace culture needs an overhaul
As an eager and enthusiastic employee early in my career, I worked hard, produced results and was promoted. I became aware that, in large part due to the male-dominant leadership team, I settled into a role where I felt I had to act a certain way that was counter to my authentic self. I focused on what I thought looked good to management as opposed to doing what elevated me to leadership in the first place — doing great work and being an emotionally intelligent person. My instinct was to be a servant leader but this was frowned upon by male and female leaders alike.
After more than 20 years in this business, I know my experience is common. I’m one of many women who have endured this negative cycle in becoming insurance leaders. In my home country of the U.K., the entrenched workplace culture in insurance sometimes ran rampant — and its side effects cascaded through the entire workforce, women and men alike.
The data underscores the problem. Research on U.K. insurance workers spotlighted the negative consequences of the country’s insurance workplace culture:
- 50% have witnessed problematic behavior at work
- 41% have suffered a reduction in productivity because of bad workplace experiences
- 29% have taken time off from work due to issues such as bullying, harassment or sexual misconduct
Not only are these side effects damaging to employee morale and well-being, they’re also bad for business: A non-supportive workplace culture is 10x more likely to make employees quit, and a less engaged and absent workforce can cost U.K. employers up to £36 billion annually.
While I have navigated this pervasive workplace culture and am committed to helping highlight the deficiencies and bring about change, many other women grow tired and seek employment in other industries. And the numbers show the impact of these women dropping out — only 30% of vice president positions in the insurance industry are represented by women, and just 18% of C-suite positions are occupied by women.
The bottom line: We cannot tolerate the status quo. It’s detrimental to employees’ well-being, and it discourages women from aspiring to leadership positions.
Change the narrative by changing culture
What can insurance companies do to break the chain of long-standing toxic industry culture and better support women as leaders?
We’re only at the beginning stages of shifting the insurance industry norm to a healthier, more inclusive workplace culture. By accelerating that shift at your organization, you can lay a foundation for a positive workplace environment, help champion female leaders and achieve better business outcomes.
Here are a few things your organization can do to bridge the leadership gap for women in insurance and create a better workplace culture:
- Practice servant leadership. Although established leaders are important for organizational direction, it’s also important to decentralize your culture with servant leadership — a leadership style that encourages collaboration between senior and junior staff and allows people to speak up. For example, I often ask direct questions of our CEO at Amwins. Our organization encourages collaboration from the entry level all the way to the C-suite. This type of culture encourages employees to be themselves and specifically lets women know that they don’t need to become someone else to succeed.
- Provide diverse leadership programming. I realized years ago that I no longer wanted to lead the way I had learned from executives with whom I worked. So, I took it upon myself to find learning and development (L&D) programs that taught leadership styles that align with my personal values. You can enable your employees to become leaders on their own terms by offering L&D leadership programs that cater to different leadership styles. A variety of L&D offerings is especially key for women who may have been discouraged from practicing different leadership styles in the past.
- Democratize career growth paths. Too often, I saw other leaders around me who were given opportunities mostly for how they looked in the company’s eyes rather than their actual work contributions. Many times, I felt that I and others — especially women I worked with — were better suited for leadership positions because of our work merit, not just our image. This is why it’s critical to clearly define what growth looks like in your organization so leadership opportunities are fairly given to all employees and women have a truly level playing field. An added payoff is that organizations that focus on gender inclusion and prioritize the advancement of women report up to 61% higher revenue growth than other companies.
Take the insurance industry into a new age
We’re entering a new and better age for women in the insurance industry. But, to enter this new era, change needs to happen. By building a workplace environment on servant leadership, investing in robust L&D programs and clearly defining career paths, your organization can be a champion of women in an industry that has historically worked against them.