Insurance: A Man's World?

Written by EO Executives on Feb 07, 2017

 Diversity is a topic that has been at the forefront of insurance board agendas in recent years. With many industry leaders working hard to raise awareness around the careers and opportunities women have within the insurance industry.

Having worked in this space for over 17 years I decided to reach out to my strong network of industry leaders, and gain a greater understanding as to how women have elevated into key leadership roles. The core purpose of my research being centred around what exactly is being done to encourage the next generation of female leaders.

Historically, insurance is an industry made up of grey suited men, think "The Man From the Pru", but with companies becoming more innovative I was keen to see whether the changing business world has had an impact. However, after surveying 100 + respondents we found that the insurance industry still has a long way to go in becoming a desired sector for women to work in.

The survey found that on average only 41% of respondent’s insurance teams are made up of female professionals. This finding is arguably representative of many established statistics and research around this topic, which state the insurance industry is still primarily male dominated.

How many women are board members in your current company?

Our survey revealed that on average only 16% of women are board members in the respondent’s current organisation. This finding indicates that diversity in insurance still remains a subject for exploration that could be better.

So, why is it that women are underrepresented in senior positions and at board level?

Historically, insurance has been a very male dominated space, where a high proportion of decision makers are men. As a result, the candidate selection process may have been affected through unconscious bias and entrenched traditions.

One respondent suggested:

The industry is “male dominated on the client exec side and that's the route to leadership and management. Women tend to be seen to lack the aggression/competitive edge to take these roles so rarely move beyond client advisory.”

How well are careers in insurance communicated to young women?

The survey indicated that insurance careers are poorly communicated to women, with only 30% of respondents stating they agree women are encouraged to pursue a career in the industry. As one respondent stated “Insurance is seen as a boring profession for men in dull suits. The face of insurance is still male. Firms don't communicate the exciting things that insurance firms do.” This is certainly my personal experience as an ‘A’ level completer in 1996. Insurance careers were never presented to me, despite having high grades in maths and sciences.


Culture is at the centre of driving diversity and contributes greatly to employee engagement and satisfaction. It is the key component that holds any organisation together and ensures a sense of inclusion. Today, as businesses work to achieve growth we are seeing more organisations establishing strong brand values. Nonetheless, for many insurance firms there is still a long way to go in achieving this. Although many firms are working to establish diversity and inclusion, there are still elements that are yet to be improved.

Many respondents have expressed the drinking culture has a huge impact on diversity within their organisations. The drinking culture is still paramount for insurance, especially on a Friday afternoon in the City. This is how deals were traditionally done. From my experience a woman joining in on this was “one of the lads” rather than part of the team. Many private member clubs remain in the city, which form elitist groups and exclude individuals from cultures where alcohol is prohibited.

These elitist groups make it impossible for others to join, certainly in a peer to peer capacity.

Barriers to entry

When the opportunities for women to progress into senior roles are statistically low, it is unsurprising that a career in insurance can be unappealing.

For the insurance/ financial services industry to overcome this representation more needs to be done to address how insurance careers are communicated; the traditional stereotype of the industry needs to be challenged.

Flexible working is also an issue that needs to be addressed across the board. For example, to become fully qualified as an actuary there are several exams that are to be taken within a certain time frame. For women, this can prove to be a challenge when taking career breaks. Long breaks can result in missed opportunities to complete exams and career progression into senior positions is restricted. The insurance industry typically provides limited flexible working hours for mothers and this can be seen as discrimination. To overcome these barriers, organisations need to establish a more modern working culture that allows women to achieve their goals with flexibility.

The opportunities must be heightened and better communicated, and the barriers must be challenged by the both the organisation and the individual.

What can women do?

“Women can and should drive to effect change but at present men have a massive vested interest in preserving their privilege and the status quo, so rarely remove the plank from their own eye before addressing the splinter in eye of the wider organisation.”

For women to challenge the traditions of the industry and develop the career opportunities that women are offered, it is important for women to understand that entrenched cultural perceptions of women may also be held by women.

The qualitative responses from the survey showed that women championing other women is so important, especially in current times with current world situations. The recent women’s march attracted millions. Women are encouraged by a variety of factors, the media and social media being two large components to judge other women negatively. Their physical weight appearance and their outward display of wealth- think designer handbags, shoes, diamonds etc. Thankfully it’s becoming increasingly rare that I go into a meeting and get “priced up” by another woman. Men do not judge each other in this way, they just get on and do a deal. Perhaps an occasional compliment is given regarding a watch, but men fundamentally do not judge each other in the way that women do. They compete, but rarely in a vacuous or superficial way. This negative attitude in women is holding them back.

As one respondent stated: “To be successful at a senior level means spending most of your time working with men and having to work in an environment that favours men, so it takes effort not to accept these norms are “right”.”

So, what next?

Due to historical factors, the balance of women working in insurance isn’t going to change overnight, due to legacy it can’t. However, today in 2017 as a society we are more aware of inequalities and how to address and challenge them. Groups have been established from online forums in the form of LinkedIn to supper clubs where like-minded women can network and discuss best practice.

Innovative HR leaders have been instrumental in introducing flexible working for all and results orientated work environments (ROWE), this has also progressed naturally as technology has advanced and the cloud has meant that individuals can work anytime, anywhere.

I do think that women have stopped judging each other as much as they once did and sexist polices, take for example the case of at Nicola Thorp at PWC are becoming a thing of the past. Dress code as a whole is becoming more relaxed and 80’s style expressions like “dress for the job you want not the one you’re in” are now seen as laughable.

Nonetheless, there are areas of the industry we can improve to overcome this. One respondent suggests the following:

  • Coaching your team in diversity and in thinking differently about how they recruit and treat their direct reports. Helping them to ‘see’/ question / challenge the countless examples of male bias.
  • Be visible in your organisation – speaking/ demonstrating female leaders as a norm.

As increased awareness of health and well-being and meant that the city drinking culture is dwindling and equally men and women have an attitude of “work/life” balance and are more likely to head home or go to the gym rather than prop up a bar.

All this said, there’s still a long way to go so we welcome your thoughts.

To explore the survey findings further, we will soon be running a guest panel webinar with senior industry leaders. I hope you will join us but in the meantime please get in touch by emailing me directly at: or comment below.

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