Women in InsurTech: climbing the corporate ladder

What can businesses and advocates do to improve the diversity and inclusion ratio of women in insurance, particular in leadership roles? Novidea recently spoke to three successful women in the industry about their experiences climbing to the top.

Novidea, a creator of a born-in the-cloud, data-driven insurance platform, recently hosted a webinar moderated by Kate Shopper, head of marketing.

Shopper pointed to global data from the gender equality researcher Equileap, which was released for International Women’s Day. The research showed that in the UK, women make up only a fifth of executive team members, while only 6% have a female CEO, and 13% have a female CFO.

What’s more, is that only eight women and no women of colour are currently employed as CEOs in the FTSE 100. While women hold only 14% of executive directorships, according to The Fawcett Society, sex and power report 2022. If we look at insurance, Shopper said, a 2019 McKinsey report noted whilst women represent 56% of entry level insurance positions, only 30% of the vice presidents and 18% of the C-suite are female. Moreover, the report also revealed that entry level women in finance are 24% less likely than their male peers to be promoted.

However, Angela Baker, head of analytics solutions at Marsh said she believes this trend of underrepresentation is changing, “There’s a lot of women in my organisation and across the industry. Previously [female] leaders were in HR or legal operations – not business leaders, not responsible for P&L – that is changing.”

At the top level, there is the will and power to change, Baker said. “We’re signing up to charters, we’re committing to making those changes, but as individuals, it’s about marginal gains. So how do I take small steps every day to make a difference? How do I make thought process and how I train how I take on people? …It’s those marginal gains where we can all make a difference.”

Baker also said that in her experience, what helped her throughout her career was learning how to be brave alongside having a support network. “Sometimes I’ve gone into jobs, and I think what am I doing? Or I’m testing myself, and it’s having a kind of network around me that’s encouraged me to do that. To be brave in the decisions I make and finding people either in your personal life around your family and friends or within the workplace, so people who can sponsor you and mentor you and give you the courage to take those chances.”

This is something that resonated also with Kate Wells, managing director at Azur Underwriting LTD, “I think that can sometimes be something that holds women back,” she said. Wells made a career change from a big American corporate environment into an InsurTech startup. “That came about because we were moving a book of business out of the organisation I worked for and into that startup. It was a huge cultural shift, I often question myself: would I have been brave enough to make that shift if it hadn’t sort of happened to me? And the answer is honestly maybe I wouldn’t.”

Wells went on to emphasise that being bold and brave in her decisions was key. “Also learning that it’s okay to fail, which is something women are often not as ready to accept.”

Indeed, women tend to play it safer in the workplace than their male counterparts, Wells continued. This could be for many reasons, one potential being perhaps because they are more likely to be caregivers, they need the security. But she said it is essential for any woman in her career to keep learning.

InsurTech is still very male dominated, Wells said. She entered an organisation where the three founders were men who were friends and had worked with one another before, and she had to find her place.

Wells added that she believes women “bring something different to the table,” and this could prove particularly valuable to InsurTechs. “Diversity of thinking is so important when you’re in a startup environment, because you are making a lot of quick, fast-paced decisions. The whole advantage of an InsurTech tech businesses that you’re agile, and you can move at pace. And so, you have to leave behind some of the sort of old ways of working and having different viewpoints that women can bring to the table.”

Novidea’s Shopper said the insurance industry has received a lot of public criticism in the press recently and posed the question of whether this will make it harder to get more women in the industry.

According to Sharon Brown, managing direct Harbour Underwriting, female leaders have a “massive responsibility” in relation to diversity and inclusion. “We have got to stop ignoring these behaviours and call out judgement errors. We should instil confidence in other women joining the industry that they’ve got their backs and those behaviours won’t be tolerated… we have to protect the women around us and the ethnic minorities.”

In addition, Brown said that recruitment into the industry should begin at the grassroots level. “When I was at school, we were never given the opportunity to consider insurance. I was told that say, beauty therapy or dog grooming, something like that was the way to go.” Leadership programmes for females could also prove really valuable, she added.

You can find the full webinar here.

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