Women in Leadership

New Study Shows Just How Significantly Underrepresented Women Are in Insurance Leadership Roles

A McKinsey study shows unconscious bias, lack of work-life balance and fear of risk-taking negatively impact women leadership in insurance.
By: | September 28, 2018 • 4 min read

While organizations such as Lloyd’s of London, Progressive Insurance and Anthem have elected female CEOs in recent years, women remain largely underrepresented in leadership roles in the insurance industry.


At a time when the labor market is tightening, experts say insurers could improve their workforce by paying closer attention to their female ranks and the potential for women leadership in insurance.

However, unconscious bias, a lack of work-life balance and fear of risk-taking can all negatively impact a woman’s ability to climb the ladder. Yet through workforce education, formal sponsorship and mentorship programs, the insurance industry can help foster a culture that reduces the gender gap and more adequately represents the potential women have in leadership roles.

Women Underrepresented in Senior Management and C-Suite

A new report by McKinsey & Company, “Closing the Gap: Leadership Perspectives on Promoting Women in Financial Services,” surveyed 12 female executives and more than 14,000 employees at nearly 40 financial services companies.

It found while women outnumber men at entry-level positions in the insurance industry, their representation of the workforce is significantly smaller near the top of the organizational chart. Women represent 56 percent of entry-level positions, but only 30 percent of the vice presidents and 18 percent of the C-suite.

Kwelin Ellingrud, senior partner, McKinsey & Company

It’s not only an issue of equality and fairness but one that impacts the ability to find and retain the best talent, said Kwelin Ellingrud, senior partner at McKinsey & Company. Women receive 57 percent of college degrees today in the U.S., and those without a fair share of women at all levels of the organization could be putting themselves at a disadvantage, Ellingrud said.

“This is particularly true in today’s very competitive talent environment with low unemployment rates and lots of competition for skillsets such as analytics and digital,” Ellingrud explained.

Subconscious bias remains in much of the business world, including the insurance industry, said Elizabeth Myatt, chair of the IICH Women in Insurance Conference Series.  Traditional stereotypes of women assume they do not possess leadership characteristics often attributed to men.

“People in hiring positions and with power to promote often don’t realize they are focused on stereotypes,” Myatt said. “Both men and women are guilty of unconscious bias and do not picture women in leadership roles as readily as they do men.”

McKinsey noted entry-level women in financial services are 24 percent less likely than their male peers to be promoted.

The lack of women in higher leadership positions can also perpetuate the problem and inhibit the ambition of others in the industry, said Deanna Strable, executive vice president and CFO at principal in the McKinsey report.

“Because we don’t have females in the C-suite, young women don’t see role models or potential paths towards executive-level leadership and are more likely to de-select themselves out of higher-level leadership roles,” Strable added.

Fostering Equality

Insurers that are most effective in driving gender equality are those that execute initiatives and drive accountability from the CEO and senior leadership team, Ellingrud said.


McKinsey noted there were three fundamental building blocks for success for women that rose the ranks in the financial services industry: 1) They build a strong network of sponsors; 2) They took risks early and often; 3) And they knew how to communicate their value.

Insurers can also take several practical and easy-to-implement measures to support upward mobility for women in their organizations. One is to enhance the quality of and access to sponsorship with formal programs, said Angie Ribuffo, president of Women in Financial Services.

“When they are in senior leadership, they need to look down and see the potential from other women and they need to pull up. They can recruit women but if they don’t give them support or development, they can’t keep them,” Ribuffo said.

McKinsey found less than half of the financial services companies it surveyed had sponsorship programs, and only 58 percent had formal mentorship programs. The 2017 Women in the Workplace research revealed women who received advice from senior leaders on career advancement are more likely to be promoted.

Insurers can also reduce bias in reviews and promotions by better educating their management on the matter.

Angie Ribuffo, president, Women in Financial Services

Company-facilitated resources, such as workshops and roundtables, can also offer tools that enable women to advance and attain greater representation in the ranks.

“Companies must educate and make their employees aware of these biases and how they can influence decisions – and ultimately affect whether a fully inclusive and gender equal workforce is attained,” Myatt said.

Juggling family and work remains one of the primary reasons senior women don’t strive to become a top executive. Insurers musts not only offer flexibility but encourage them to take advantage of it, said McKinsey. Forty-four percent of women surveyed said participating in a flexible work schedule would negatively affect their career, compared to 36 percent of men.

Finally, organizations can also build accountability through target setting and measurement. McKinsey found that only 11 percent of financial services companies set targets for gender representation in promotions, lower than the 18 percent rate for companies across all industries.

McKinsey said financial services firms could push further by consistently setting targets for female representation and promotion rates and by holding leaders accountable.

“Evaluations for promotion must also have clear criteria that are reviewed frequently, and cultures must evolve to be open to employees reporting compensation and other issues related to biases,” Myatt said. &

Craig Guillot is a writer and photographer, based in New Orleans. He can be reached at [email protected]

More from Risk & Insurance

More from Risk & Insurance


Kiss Your Annual Renewal Goodbye; On-Demand Insurance Challenges the Traditional Policy

Gig workers' unique insurance needs drive delivery of on-demand coverage.
By: | September 14, 2018 • 6 min read

The gig economy is growing. Nearly six million Americans, or 3.8 percent of the U.S. workforce, now have “contingent” work arrangements, with a further 10.6 million in categories such as independent contractors, on-call workers or temporary help agency staff and for-contract firms, often with well-known names such as Uber, Lyft and Airbnb.

Scott Walchek, founding chairman and CEO, Trōv

The number of Americans owning a drone is also increasing — one recent survey suggested as much as one in 12 of the population — sparking vigorous debate on how regulation should apply to where and when the devices operate.

Add to this other 21st century societal changes, such as consumers’ appetite for other electronic gadgets and the advent of autonomous vehicles. It’s clear that the cover offered by the annually renewable traditional insurance policy is often not fit for purpose. Helped by the sophistication of insurance technology, the response has been an expanding range of ‘on-demand’ covers.

The term ‘on-demand’ is open to various interpretations. For Scott Walchek, founding chairman and CEO of pioneering on-demand insurance platform Trōv, it’s about “giving people agency over the items they own and enabling them to turn on insurance cover whenever they want for whatever they want — often for just a single item.”


“On-demand represents a whole new behavior and attitude towards insurance, which for years has very much been a case of ‘get it and forget it,’ ” said Walchek.

Trōv’s mobile app enables users to insure just a single item, such as a laptop, whenever they wish and to also select the period of cover required. When ready to buy insurance, they then snap a picture of the sales receipt or product code of the item they want covered.

Welcoming Trōv: A New On-Demand Arrival

While Walchek, who set up Trōv in 2012, stressed it’s a technology company and not an insurance company, it has attracted industry giants such as AXA and Munich Re as partners. Trōv began the U.S. roll-out of its on-demand personal property products this summer by launching in Arizona, having already established itself in Australia and the United Kingdom.

“Australia and the UK were great testing grounds, thanks to their single regulatory authorities,” said Walchek. “Trōv is already approved in 45 states, and we expect to complete the process in all by November.

“On-demand products have a particular appeal to millennials who love the idea of having control via their smart devices and have embraced the concept of an unbundling of experiences: 75 percent of our users are in the 18 to 35 age group.” – Scott Walchek, founding chairman and CEO, Trōv

“On-demand products have a particular appeal to millennials who love the idea of having control via their smart devices and have embraced the concept of an unbundling of experiences: 75 percent of our users are in the 18 to 35 age group,” he added.

“But a mass of tectonic societal shifts is also impacting older generations — on-demand cover fits the new ways in which they work, particularly the ‘untethered’ who aren’t always in the same workplace or using the same device. So we see on-demand going into societal lifestyle changes.”

Wooing Baby Boomers

In addition to its backing for Trōv, across the Atlantic, AXA has partnered with Insurtech start-up By Miles, launching a pay-as-you-go car insurance policy in the UK. The product is promoted as low-cost car insurance for drivers who travel no more than 140 miles per week, or 7,000 miles annually.

“Due to the growing need for these products, companies such as Marmalade — cover for learner drivers — and Cuvva — cover for part-time drivers — have also increased in popularity, and we expect to see more enter the market in the near future,” said AXA UK’s head of telematics, Katy Simpson.

Simpson confirmed that the new products’ initial appeal is to younger motorists, who are more regular users of new technology, while older drivers are warier about sharing too much personal information. However, she expects this to change as on-demand products become more prevalent.

“Looking at mileage-based insurance, such as By Miles specifically, it’s actually older generations who are most likely to save money, as the use of their vehicles tends to decline. Our job is therefore to not only create more customer-centric products but also highlight their benefits to everyone.”

Another Insurtech ready to partner with long-established names is New York-based Slice Labs, which in the UK is working with Legal & General to enter the homeshare insurance market, recently announcing that XL Catlin will use its insurance cloud services platform to create the world’s first on-demand cyber insurance solution.

“For our cyber product, we were looking for a partner on the fintech side, which dovetailed perfectly with what Slice was trying to do,” said John Coletti, head of XL Catlin’s cyber insurance team.

“The premise of selling cyber insurance to small businesses needs a platform such as that provided by Slice — we can get to customers in a discrete, seamless manner, and the partnership offers potential to open up other products.”

Slice Labs’ CEO Tim Attia added: “You can roll up on-demand cover in many different areas, ranging from contract workers to vacation rentals.

“The next leap forward will be provided by the new economy, which will create a range of new risks for on-demand insurance to respond to. McKinsey forecasts that by 2025, ecosystems will account for 30 percent of global premium revenue.


“When you’re a start-up, you can innovate and question long-held assumptions, but you don’t have the scale that an insurer can provide,” said Attia. “Our platform works well in getting new products out to the market and is scalable.”

Slice Labs is now reviewing the emerging markets, which aren’t hampered by “old, outdated infrastructures,” and plans to test the water via a hackathon in southeast Asia.

Collaboration Vs Competition

Insurtech-insurer collaborations suggest that the industry noted the banking sector’s experience, which names the tech disruptors before deciding partnerships, made greater sense commercially.

“It’s an interesting correlation,” said Slice’s managing director for marketing, Emily Kosick.

“I believe the trend worth calling out is that the window for insurers to innovate is much shorter, thanks to the banking sector’s efforts to offer omni-channel banking, incorporating mobile devices and, more recently, intelligent assistants like Alexa for personal banking.

“Banks have bought into the value of these technology partnerships but had the benefit of consumer expectations changing slowly with them. This compares to insurers who are in an ever-increasing on-demand world where the risk is high for laggards to be left behind.”

As with fintechs in banking, Insurtechs initially focused on the retail segment, with 75 percent of business in personal lines and the remainder in the commercial segment.

“Banks have bought into the value of these technology partnerships but had the benefit of consumer expectations changing slowly with them. This compares to insurers who are in an ever-increasing on-demand world where the risk is high for laggards to be left behind.” — Emily Kosick, managing director, marketing, Slice

Those proportions may be set to change, with innovations such as digital commercial insurance brokerage Embroker’s recent launch of the first digital D&O liability insurance policy, designed for venture capital-backed tech start-ups and reinsured by Munich Re.

Embroker said coverage that formerly took weeks to obtain is now available instantly.

“We focus on three main issues in developing new digital business — what is the customer’s pain point, what is the expense ratio and does it lend itself to algorithmic underwriting?” said CEO Matt Miller. “Workers’ compensation is another obvious class of insurance that can benefit from this approach.”

Jason Griswold, co-founder and chief operating officer of Insurtech REIN, highlighted further opportunities: “I’d add a third category to personal and business lines and that’s business-to-business-to-consumer. It’s there we see the biggest opportunities for partnering with major ecosystems generating large numbers of insureds and also big volumes of data.”

For now, insurers are accommodating Insurtech disruption. Will that change?


“Insurtechs have focused on products that regulators can understand easily and for which there is clear existing legislation, with consumer protection and insurer solvency the two issues of paramount importance,” noted Shawn Hanson, litigation partner at law firm Akin Gump.

“In time, we could see the disruptors partner with reinsurers rather than primary carriers. Another possibility is the likes of Amazon, Alphabet, Facebook and Apple, with their massive balance sheets, deciding to link up with a reinsurer,” he said.

“You can imagine one of them finding a good Insurtech and buying it, much as Amazon’s purchase of Whole Foods gave it entry into the retail sector.” &

Graham Buck is a UK-based writer and has contributed to Risk & Insurance® since 1998. He can be reached at