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It's 100 years since women first got the vote - but some parts of the business world are still stuck in the past

Just one of the ways the UK will mark 100 years since the Representation of the People act enfranchised millions of women is by erecting a statue to Millicent Fawcett in Parliament Square. As someone whose career started as a campaigner in a women’s organisation founded by one of Fawcett’s fellow Suffragists, Margery Corbett Ashby, I’m delighted but also think 100 years is a long time to wait. In the same way, progress on real equality for women in business can also feel painfully slow.

Annie Kenney and Christabel PankhurstGender pay gap reporting highlights just how far we have to go. It reflects an all too common reality in our businesses and organisations today that women occupy the lower paid and more junior roles, and progress to equality at all levels and seniority is moving very slowly.

There are, of course, a range of views on the principle of positive discrimination. Personally I’ve always been a supporter because it’s hard to see how we can genuinely drive change otherwise. It is not about patronising talented women by giving them a leg up as some might argue, but about intervening sufficiently to give women a slightly more level playing field on which to compete. All women shortlists have boosted the number of female MPs in Parliament, and it’s the sort of approach that male-dominated industries, such as financial services, need to adopt more widely.

If we are serious about equality then we have to constantly challenge ourselves by aiming for better, and we must hold ourselves to account. Admitting the scale of the issue faced by financial services is an important part of that process. We cannot deny that the culture of some parts of the insurance industry is simply not welcoming to women.

Louise HansonThe ABI now insists on a 50/50 gender split on long lists for senior roles when engaging with agencies. We have been able to report we achieved our Women in Finance Charter target of at least 45% of women across management positions a year early. It’s a big step forward for an organisation that didn’t even have a female toilet on its executive floor when it was formed in the 1980s.

As a trade association we are trying to do our bit to bring the overwhelmingly white and male face of insurance into the 21st century. It is an effort which should be matched by the sector’s regulators and the other public bodies we interact with. As a country we can be proud of being on our second female Prime Minister but it was only last week that Treasury appointed a woman to the role of chief economist for the first time. For the diversity of the financial services sector it will be even more significant when we finally see a female Chancellor – and a female boss of the Bank of England.

There are other actions we are taking to help lead insurance towards a more diverse and therefore more successful future. We’ve recently established a talent and diversity network to support our member firms and we’ve convened a meeting of many of the industry’s leading CEOs where diversity and inclusion was the only item on the agenda.

Changing the underlying culture of an industry is not a quick job. There remain huge challenges in making the whole financial services sector as diverse as the wide range of customers that it serves every single day. Importantly men as well as women are rallying to the cause and change is being made. 

Last updated 06/02/2018