Like most sectors of the global economy, the insurance industry has struggled in the past regarding fair representation of women. A study conducted by McKinsey and LeanIn.Org in 2018 found that despite women being consistently underrepresented in leadership roles within the insurance industry, almost half of men and a third of women in the industry didn't believe gender parity and equal representation in leadership was an issue.
There are still those who view the societal drive in most developed economies to ensure men and women are represented equally in management and executive roles as nothing more than a box-ticking exercise.
However, it isn't only women that are elevated as a result of these initiatives. Like any business in any other industry, insurers benefit from having a more diverse workforce where a greater range of opinions and experiences are represented and welcomed.
How well are women in insurance represented in 2022?
While the insurance industry has some way to go in providing equal opportunities for men and women at the executive level, it has made steady and consistent progress over the last couple of decades. In 2017, women accounted for 22% of workers in executive-level roles, but that figure rose to 27% in 2018 and has continued to rise.
Women are underrepresented at all but the entry-level of the insurance industry. However, more women than ever before are pursuing entry-level positions in the insurance industry and more women enter the industry at this level than men.
As you climb the ladder and start looking at the statistics for increasingly senior positions within insurance companies, a disparity in favour of men becomes apparent. By the time you reach the boardroom, women account for just one in every five workers, and this figure has barely moved in recent years.
It's important to remember that even at the board level, the overall trend within the industry as a whole is that firms are taking notice and taking measures to diversify their workplaces and help women overcome the barriers that have kept them out of the industry in the past. 61% of the more than 103,000 insurance workers that took part in the Association of British Insurers survey stated that they had mentoring programs in place specifically targeting women and other minority workers who have historically been underrepresented.
What barriers are holding women back in the insurance industry?
Charlotte Halkett, managing director at Buzzvault, has commented on how women in tech and those studying STEM subjects at university have faced similar hurdles to representation as women in the insurance industry. For women in STEM, like those in insurance, things are moving in the right direction, albeit far slower than many would like.
Halkett notes that some of the same factors are at play in the underrepresentation of women in the insurance and tech industries. For example, a lack of visible female role models for women wanting to enter these industries means they often lack a common motivation that men take for granted.
A man thinking about a tech career has no shortage of other men to look up to, emulate, and take inspiration from. But for women, there are fewer potential role models and those that are there are often less visible than their male counterparts.
How is the insurance industry working to improve the representation of women?
Because many of the barriers women face in the insurance industry mirror those seen in other sectors, the industry can look to some of the solutions that have worked elsewhere for inspiration. With 57% of entry-level workers being women, the insurance industry at this level is more diverse than the economy as a whole, where 48% of entry-level roles are filled by women.
While the representation of women at the highest echelons of the insurance industry remains low, with women accounting for just 18% of executives, the percentage of managerial and lower-level positions filled by women has been growing steadily for several years. This sustained trend reflects a widespread acknowledgement of the issue throughout the industry and a concerted effort to address it.
One 2017 study found that more than two-thirds of insurance businesses had mentoring programs in place that targeted workers from underrepresented demographics, including women. These mentoring programs have proven to be very successful for individual companies and the industry as a whole.
Within the space of a single year, an additional 14% of insurance firms appointed an executive sponsor for diversity and inclusion to oversee their operations and provide guidance on how to foster a more welcoming and diverse work environment. This rise took the figure from 74% to 88%, reflecting how seriously the vast majority of the industry takes representation.
What does the future hold for women in the insurance industry?
It was only a few decades ago that virtually the entire British insurance industry was based in London. Fortunately, there are now opportunities with insurance firms up and down the country.
Similarly, the range of roles in the insurance industry, and the skills and expertise required to undertake them, has grown considerably in the digital age. However, in the post-covid world, there is a global shortage of skilled workers within the tech industry.
The proportion of women that work in technology-related careers, including those within the insurance industry, has been rising gradually, but currently stands at just 25%. And yet, there has never been a better time for women with STEM backgrounds to put their skills to use.
For example, the range of businesses and industries utilising AI and machine learning continues to grow, providing qualified workers with opportunities in sectors of the economy they never would have imagined just a few years ago. Women entering the insurance industry in 2022 often do so because they've qualified as coders rather than accounting or other subjects conventionally associated with insurance work.
Women now account for 53% of university graduates in STEM subjects, which isn't far from their 58% share of university graduates as a whole. However, while they are very well represented in some STEM-adjacent fields, such as healthcare, they are still underrepresented in others, like engineering and physical sciences.
As the insurance industry increases its reliance on digital systems and software solutions built on AI and machine learning, the number of opportunities available to women with a STEM background will increase. Overall, the future looks bright for women in the insurance industry, even if there's some work still to be done.
To learn more about the women who work at Artificial, read our interview with Head of Transformation, Dipika Carter.