The financial services industry, including insurance broking, has been known to be heavily male-dominated in the past. So, in 2016, have things changed?

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There can be no doubt gender diversity in the Australian insurance industry has improved in recent decades, as it has in almost every sector.

“Over the 25 years that I have been a part of our industry I have seen a distinct change in what was traditionally a male-oriented industry, with appointments increasingly being made on quality rather than gender,” says Stella Pruscino, Placement Services Director at Willis Towers Watson.

Indeed, improvements can be seen particularly among the younger generation. “Since I’ve started at NIBA, the demographic at the very senior levels has continued to be male but among the young professionals, especially those now coming into broking, that demographic is very diverse, culturally, as well as gender wise. The future of broking is excellent in that regard,” says Dallas Booth, NIBA CEO.

Although workforce participation by women has increased in general insurance, the current statistics about their presence at the top management level do leave a lot to be desired.

According to recent data from the Workplace Gender Equality Agency, workforce participation by women in the general insurance industry in Australia in 2015 was 60 per cent, however, only 30 per cent were in senior management positions and only 5 per cent of CEOs in the general insurance industry were women.

This is compared to the overall average in Australia where women comprise 46.2 per cent of all employees and hold 14.2 per cent of chair positions, 23.6 per cent of directorships, as well as represent 15.4 per cent of CEOs and 27.4 per cent of key management personnel.

“I personally have never felt that my gender has been a barrier to success but I do see the unbalanced demographics that make up our industry,” says Pruscino. “Whether I’m sitting in an industry board meeting or at an industry conference, we’re definitely a male-dominated field.”

Why gender diversity?

The value of women in the workforce is still to be fully realised but a recent report from Lloyd’s states that companies with high gender diversity were found to be 15 per cent more likely to have above average returns for their industry.

Additionally, according to an IMF report from Europe, for every additional woman on a company’s Board, return in assets increased by 8 to 13 per cent.

I have seen a distinct change in what was traditionally a male-oriented industry, with appointments increasingly being made on quality rather than gender.

NIBA has been talking about diversity and inclusion in broking for some time now and the issue of potential gender discrimination was one of the topics discussed at the Adelaide convention in 2014.

“Broking, historically, like a lot of financial services was a male-dominated industry and women often didn’t go into the industry as brokers except for smaller brokerages but that needs to change,” says Booth.

Pruscino, who is also a NIBA divisional chair, acknowledges the gains that can be made with women in senior positions.

“There is clear evidence that companies with a higher proportion of women in decision-making roles will continue to generate higher returns with lower leverage,” she says. “It is not only female representation at a Board level but in senior management positions where gender targets are not traditionally being set or met.”

Pruscino notes that industry is already seeing some progress toward greater diversity with an increase in female representation.

“However, we have started from a very low base and the pattern of improvement is still uneven,” she explains.

“An increase in female representation is sadly seen as a mark of differentiation as opposed to the norm. This is surprising as research and data quite clearly shows that greater representation of women in senior roles is not just a tick-the-box, nice-to-have but is actually linked to excess stock market returns and superior corporate profitability.”

Direct action

Chris Mackinnon, Lloyd’s General Representative in Australia, told Insurance Adviser he’s noticed that middle management is getting “much more equitable in terms of gender split”. And it just might be “a matter of time” before it is reflected in senior leadership.

But he emphasises: “I wouldn’t suggest that we just sit back and wait for the gender gap at the top to fix itself. The world is moving so fast these days… we have to move a lot faster and be proactive about trying to encourage the change.”

This is a similar message that was conveyed at the Gender Diversity panel discussion at the Dive In Festival in Sydney recently. “Things won’t change by themselves,” said Chris Lamb, Global Head of Organisational Development at Lendlease Australia, one of the panel members. “This is the 23rd year in a row that Australia has had highest standard of education in the world for women. You’d think 23 years would be enough time and, if it were to flow through to the workforce, it would have happened by now. Clearly it hasn’t. Intervention isn’t always popular but it is required.”

Pruscino adds now: “The challenge is creating a balance between attracting females into the insurance broking sector, developing them through mid-management on to senior management and executive positions while ensuring that a pool of talent is constantly added to and developed to prevent ‘overboarding’ as seen in other more gender developed economies.”

Diversity = Innovation and development

“If we are only drawing on middle-aged white men then we aren’t going to last very long,” Lamb pointed out during the Dive In Festival. “A diverse range of people means they come up with a wider range of ideas.”

Mackinnon echoes his views. “We need to start looking outside of our industry, bringing in fresh talent, fresh skills and not just focusing on recycling insurance professionals,” he says. “We have to bring in diverse talent not just gender or LGBTIQ – diverse talent means new talent with new ideas and innovation to our industry. We have to do that to remain current otherwise we will just become dinosaurs.”

I wouldn’t suggest that we just sit back and wait for the gender gap at the top to fix itself… we have to move a lot faster and be proactive about trying to encourage the change.

Not only that, diversity brings with it multiple experiences and differing points of view, resulting in better decision-making, Pruscino argues. “No one person, however intelligent they are, will have all the answers.

“In today’s changing environment we are seeing our clients and partners bringing a diverse teams to the table,” she says. “If a business is not taking advantage of all available talent it creates a drawback for their organisation.”

It also helps productivity, Inga Beale, CEO Lloyd’s of London, has previously said. “Diversity really provides the most innovative environment which to work in. Being inclusive, making people feel included – they are much more productive. It really means you’ve got an engaged workforce. We work in a very competitive environment so we want to make sure that we get the best talent into our sector. And there is nothing better to attract talent than an inclusive workplace.”

The elephant in the room

Women make up half of the nation’s workforce but earn only 77 per cent of men’s average full-time income, according to the latest gender equality scorecard, with the largest industry gender pay gap in financial and insurance services at 33.5 per cent.

“All the evidence is that there is a severe gender pay disparity in the financial services,” Booth acknowledges.

Pruscino points out: “We have to get clearer in our industry about actual performance objectives and how they link to remuneration. When this is clear, it is easier to be objective about rewards and remuneration and takes it away from a gender issue and towards an outcome focus.”

Interestingly, Diana Ryall AM, Founder and Managing Director of Xplore for Success, said during the Dive In session that women clearly have the education and skills. “Now you have to work on having the confidence to ask for the money or the next promotion… to put yourself forward.

“The salary gap in Australia hasn’t changed much at all. I think we need targets, not quotas. Targets that say in five years’ time we want to achieve this. Everyone likes the carrot and less like the stick, but we’ve had enough carrot, and I think it’s now time for some stick so that we really see change,” Ryall said.

Change has been slow but it is coming. Women in insurance still face certain pressures – family life is one – and those in industry acknowledge that they’ve had to overcome one or two obstacles along the way.

Booth says: “Because of the overall lack of balance at the senior level historically it is appropriate to take steps to promote, encourage and support women into senior roles and to provide mentoring and other opportunities as and when we can.”

So, hope lies in the current crop and the next generation coming through.

“At the mid-career level there are some women coming through doing very well,” he points out. “I think their competence and capacity is seeing them progress through the ranks to senior roles of management and responsibility so they’re there and they’re being welcomed.”