We need to talk about the gender seniority gap.

I have to be honest, one of the most striking things about moving into insurance from the charity sector six years ago was the lack of senior women in the industry. I’ve been to some meetings of senior executives from across the industry where the only women in the room were from the ABI itself. That’s not to say the ABI is perfect – a great anecdote among colleagues is that when the ABI formed in 1985 its boardroom and executive suite were situated on a floor that did not even have a female toilet - but with 45% of the ABI’s management positions filled by women, we seem to be doing a bit better than the 20% average across the industry as a whole.

If I find the shortage of senior women a bit off putting, then I can only imagine what it must be like for a woman starting out in the industry today. That’s why the ABI has made diversity such an area of focus over the last three years. In that time you can really feel how the conversation has changed with a real momentum for change building, aided by a strong following wind from external forces like gender pay gap reporting and the #metoo movement. 

Earlier this year a room full of industry CEOs gathered here at the ABI to discuss what more needed to be done to close the seniority gap. One key action was to build an evidence base of what actually works. So the ABI commissioned research firm Public First to analyse why the seniority gap exists and what can be done about it. This time next week this work will be published here at the ABI at an event hosted by Amanda Blanc, our new Chair.

Whether you are in insurance or not, the research makes fascinating reading. It shows that while women come into the industry in numbers at junior and graduate levels, the pathway to the top is still very hard to find. It says the most significant reason for this is what is known as the motherhood penalty. In short, women who take time off to have children and often return on a part-time basis at first, lose out heavily compared to male colleagues. They also suffer in comparison to female colleagues who don’t have children

The insurance sector is not the only financial services sector facing these challenges, as gender pay gap reporting so clearly demonstrated earlier this year. Of course there are brilliant women who have risen to the top of the industry, one of who has just become our first woman Chair. Yet the task ahead is huge and progress has not been fast enough – we should not, in 2018, still be talking about a disparity in representation at senior levels like we see in the industry today.

Much of this is already known, but the missing piece is what the answer is. On this the research floats some interesting proposals in areas such as part-time working and job sharing but also identifies the need for more work by firms to analyse whether the many initiatives they put in place actually work. Perhaps this is a sign that we need to move on from talking about what the problem is to what solutions actually work. And that is exactly what we will be doing next Friday, with a top quality panel exploring the issue.

There are still a few tickets available for this free event, so book your place now. 


Last updated 17/09/2018