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Tackling the gender seniority gap: what works for the insurance and long-term savings industry?

Where are we?

  • Like many other sectors, there are fewer women than men at managerial level and above in the insurance and long-term savings industry.
  • Insurance and long-term savings does a good job of attracting women, but either loses them entirely or fails to promote them.
  • There is a wide variation between companies that are good at progressing women but may not necessarily have high senior female representation. There is no simple pattern of ‘good’ vs ‘bad’ performers in the industry.

Why aren’t there more women in senior roles?

  • The dominant reason for the gap is the ‘motherhood penalty’. Women are more likely to take on the bulk of the childcare responsibilities and work part-time, but once you work reduced hours it is unlikely that you will progress. You get stuck.
  • There is also an unconscious bias against mothers: they are regarded as less competent and committed than non-mothers. Whereas, fathers are perceived as more competent and committed than non-fathers.
  • There are still some factors that affect women progressing regardless of parenthood:
    - Women are less likely to negotiate/ask for promotion;
    - There is some unconscious bias towards women in general and not just  mothers.

What can we do about it?

  • To reduce the seniority gap, we need to make it easier for part-time or formerly part-time employees to advance. This can be achieved by;
    - Making more senior jobs available part-time;
    - Having more flexible working practices advertised, encouraged and implemented;
    - Making job shares easier and more attractive; and
    - Developing advancement opportunities for women who worked part-time.

  • There are a range of behavioural interventions that help level the playing field on:
    - Negotiation;
    - Applications for jobs; and
    - Systems that promote unconscious bias including on feedback.

Are companies doing the right thing?

  • Analysis of the gender pay gap reports in insurance and long-term savings and FTSE 100 companies found little correlation between the interventions companies use and the evidence for what works.
  • However, private evidence may be better. Many gender pay gap reports are very high-level, so it is difficult to know exactly what companies are doing and therefore whether it is likely to be effective

See the full report here.

Where next for the ABI and its members? Guiding principles and recommendations

This report has identified four broad themes for further work: experimentation, better data collection, clearer reporting and targeted action. Each of the following recommendations fall under one of these guiding principles


  • The ABI should drive projects and initiatives to increase flexible working and reduce the gender seniority gap in the Insurance and Long-Term Savings Sector. The Making Flexible Work campaign, aiming to do just this, will launch in early 2021.
  • CEOs should seek to trial at least one senior role where they have some visibility in the next 12 months as a job-share and set out clear metrics for success. If it is successful, they should then deliver this through their organisation.
  • Companies should try accelerated development and promotion programmes for women of high potential that have been working part-time and measure their impact in terms of:
  1. Promotion;
  2. Performance, through objective metrics, of the promoted people; and
  3. The ABI could support this through their own executive leadership programme, Future Leaders.
  • Companies should assess their hiring, promotion and feedback procedures to see if:
  1. Undue weight is given to unstructured interviews;
  2. If more standardisation, comparison, or independent evaluation could be applied; and
  3. Companies should also track the results of these initiatives against performance of successful candidates.
  • Companies and the ABI should look at whether there are opportunities to adapt their programmes to combine mentorship and ‘domain specific’ development and measure their success against current programmes.


  • The ABI should conduct further analysis with the insurance and long-term savings industry to understand:
  1. Changes in entry-level gender splits over the last 20 years;
  2. Whether some roles are overrepresented or underrepresented by women; and
  3. The extent to which women stay in the insurance and long-term savings industry at a junior level or exit altogether.
  • Companies should monitor the percentage of jobs, across different functions, which mention flexibility.
  • Firms and the ABI should evaluate their leadership development programmes not only in  terms of perception but also in tracking forward to promotion, remuneration, and evaluation.

Targeted action

  • The ABI should:
  1. Analyse the extent to which different patterns in progression among companies can be correlated to different company models;
  2. Controlling for this, investigate company practices that are resulting in better progression and entry rates, and use this to drive best practice across the industry; and
  3. Host an annual event for companies where the most successful discuss their initiatives.
  • Companies should enforce transparency over the negation boundaries and abilities in all job applications and performance appraisals.
  • The ABI should develop a series of ‘watch words’ that are likely to poorly impact applications and share these with HR departments.


  • Companies should collect and make available privately to the ABI, data on roles as well as pay quartiles to allow better analysis on impact and progression.
  • CEOs should consider requiring managers to justify any decision to refuse flexible working, for new roles or current roles to a central Committee.
  • Companies should share, moderated through ABI, successes they have had in increasing female applications for roles.
  • All companies offering training should be required to demonstrate results - not just good evaluations from participants.