Women in Leadership

Breaking the Glass Ceiling

Women remain poorly represented in executive and leadership positions at insurance companies.
By: | May 21, 2014 • 7 min read

Women’s leadership development and promoting gender diversity is more important than ever in the insurance industry.

“There are two reasons for that,” said Deborah Giss Stalker, deputy general counsel for the ACE Group-North America in Philadelphia.

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“Part of the answer is making sure you have the right people in the pipeline and that you have diversity of thought and diversity of leadership so that you are always keeping the industry fresh,” she said. “You want different opinions and different ways of doing things and part of the way of doing that is through diversity and inclusion.”

The other part of the answer is, “If not now — when?” she asked. “The community at large is changing and ACE as well as others in the insurance industry have to keep pace. If it’s good for ACE, it’s good for the community and it’s valuable for the greater good.”

More than 1,200 attendees are expected at four regional forums on women’s leadership and gender diversity presented by the Insurance Industry Charitable Foundation in June.

“While employment of women in the insurance industry is high, women remain poorly represented in the top positions.” — Mike Angelina, executive director, Academy of Risk Management and Insurance, Saint Joseph’s University

There’s solid statistical basis for such a turnout.

Mike Angelina, executive director, Academy of Risk Management and Insurance, Saint Joseph’s University

Mike Angelina, executive director, Academy of Risk Management and Insurance, Saint Joseph’s University

Groundbreaking 2013 research by Mike Angelina, executive director, Academy of Risk Management and Insurance, Saint Joseph’s University, showed that only 12.6 percent of women in the insurance industry hold board of director positions, 8 percent are named inside officers and only 6 percent hold C-suite positions.

To conduct his market research, Angelina analyzed publicly available data of 100 companies, including 91 publicly traded and nine mutual companies.

“While employment of women in the insurance industry is high, women remain poorly represented in the top positions,” he said.

Angelina said top insurance executives were both surprised and disappointed at the findings.

“There was a general awareness of the lack of gender diversity but most executives felt more strides had been made in this area,” he said. “This research will hopefully give the industry the data they need to work toward a sustainable solution, in which many executives are very interested in taking part.”

In research for this article, Risk & Insurance® found encouraging signs of more action on the women’s leadership and gender diversity fronts.

A number of major companies are active in the IICF, which will hold its four regional events in June: in Chicago on June 3 at the Holiday Inn Mart Plaza; on June 12 in Los Angeles at the Westin Bonaventure; on June 17 at the New York Hilton; and on June 19 in Dallas at the Hyatt Regency.

“The forums are open to anyone,” said New York-based Elizabeth Myatt, executive director of the Northeast division of the organization. “Along with the significant turnout of women we’re expecting, we are also encouraging men to attend because we think it’s important for men to be part of the discussion.”

Myatt said the IICF’s mission is to pull together the resources of the entire insurance industry to give back to communities where its members live and work. “We do that through grants, volunteer service and leadership,” Myatt said. “The Women in Insurance Series is one of our leadership initiatives.”

Myatt said the IICF has given back more than $21 million in grants over its 21 years of existence, and has provided about 180,000 hours of volunteer service. “And we’re just getting started,” she said.

Community organizations that have received donations include Covenant House, the Wounded Warrior project and Starlight Children’s Foundation.

Next year, the IICF plans to open its first international division, based in London. “We will also be hosting a three-day Women in Insurance Global Conference in June 2015,” Myatt said.

Effective innovation requires that gender diversity be addressed. — Barbara C. Bufkin, chief operating officer, global strategic advisory, Guy Carpenter & Co.

Barbara C. Bufkin, chief operating officer, global strategic advisory, Guy Carpenter & Co.

Barbara C. Bufkin, chief operating officer, global strategic advisory, Guy Carpenter & Co.

One of the IICF’s enthusiastic supporters is Barbara C. Bufkin, New York-based chief operating officer, global strategic advisory, Guy Carpenter & Co. The organization, she said is “speaking with a common voice, identifying the social values of our industry.”

Effective innovation requires that gender diversity be addressed, she said, noting that her organization demonstrates its commitment to diversity and inclusion, and benefits through it.

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“Our firm has established Employee Resource Groups (ERGs), which are networks of colleagues who are connected by a common understanding of diversity,” she said. “We have four dedicated ERGs: Equal (LGBT); Women LEAD; RED (racial and ethnic diversity); and Emerging Leaders.

“Our ERGs are open to all colleagues and have the full support of the Diversity Council and Executive Committee,” said Bufkin, who is co-chair of the IICF Forum set for Dallas, and will soon join the IICF board of governors.

“I think we’re more likely to design products and services to respond to the needs of each new environment if we have a diverse culture and workforce,” she added.

When Deborah Aldredge, Los Angeles-based chief administrative officer for Farmers Group, joined the carrier about five years ago, reporting directly to CEO Jeff Dailey, she “was the only senior woman at this level. Today, we have four senior women in the C-suite, largely due to our CEO’s desire to make talent a priority at Farmers.”

Initiated three years ago, the Farmers Women’s Network has grown to more than 1,700 women out of a total employee base of 21,000, operating throughout the United States in 18 chapters.

“At the direction and guidance of the CEO, chapter leads and their members are actively engaged in mentoring, networking, career management and community outreach efforts.

“The grass roots support and interest we have experienced through our Women’s Network at Farmers has been significant,” Aldredge said.

Added Laura Rock, head of human resources at Farmers: “We have leveraged the chapter lead roles to support our talent efforts by working with senior business leaders to identify high potential women to serve in these ‘stretch’ leadership roles for one year while maintaining their ‘day jobs.’ ”

Aldredge said that the business case for enhancing women’s leadership and gender diversity is more compelling than ever in the insurance industry.

“Over 60 percent of new entrants into insurance are women, while only 12 percent are serving in leadership roles,” she noted. “At Farmers, one-third of our people managers are women. So the demographics are taking you there.

“Customers, other key stakeholders such as boards and shareholders, regulators and government are increasingly taking an interest in diversity and inclusion to promote greater diversity of thought, better leverage of available talent pools, and, ultimately, the achievement of better business outcomes,” she said.

Aldredge serves as a Western division board member of the IICF. She noted that Farmers is one of the IICF’s sponsors.

ACE is also a strong supporter of the organization, said Giss Stalker, noting that it “was one of the sponsors for the IICF’s first global women’s conference in 2013, and in 2014 is sponsoring three of the IICF regional women’s conferences this June in Los Angeles, Chicago and New York.”

Giss Stalker is president of the ACE Women’s Forum (AWF). “I lead all of the AWF regions,” she said. “We started off with nine different regions throughout the U.S. and now we have somewhere between 23 to 30 regions participating.”

ACE’s senior management has been essential to the growth of AWF and other gender diversity initiatives at the company, said Giss Stalker, starting with support from CEO Evan Greenberg and including Chairman Insurance-North America John Lupica and Chris Maleno, division president, ACE USA.

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AWF has several committees, including a mentoring program and a business development committee.

“In addition, we have women in various offices across the country, Canada and Bermuda who act as the regional leaders and are responsible for engaging women, and men, for professional networking, mentoring, and ways for women to connect,” Giss Stalker said.

“As president of the AWF, I sit on various panels, help raise awareness of the AWF both internally and externally, shape the vision and strategy for the AWF along with regional leads, and participate in various outreach activities within our communities, and with clients and brokers of ACE,” Giss Stalker said.

“It’s a way for all of us to get out there and meet everybody,” Giss Stalker added. “I know a lot of women who have been involved with AWF who have made contacts they would not ordinarily have made. The exposure to other women within ACE and within the industry is unparalleled.”

Steve Yahn was a freelance writer based in New York. He had more than 40 years of financial reporting and editing experience. Comments can be directed to [email protected]

More from Risk & Insurance

More from Risk & Insurance

Exclusive | Hank Greenberg on China Trade, Starr’s Rapid Growth and 100th, Spitzer, Schneiderman and More

In a robust and frank conversation, the insurance legend provides unique insights into global trade, his past battles and what the future holds for the industry and his company.
By: | October 12, 2018 • 12 min read

In 1960, Maurice “Hank” Greenberg was hired as a vice president of C.V. Starr & Co. At age 35, he had already accomplished a great deal.

He served his country as part of the Allied Forces that stormed the beaches at Normandy and liberated the Nazi death camps. He fought again during the Korean War, earning a Bronze Star. He held a law degree from New York Law School.

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Now he was ready to make his mark on the business world.

Even C.V. Starr himself — who hired Mr. Greenberg and later hand-picked him as the successor to the company he founded in Shanghai in 1919 — could not have imagined what a mark it would be.

Mr. Greenberg began to build AIG as a Starr subsidiary, then in 1969, he took it public. The company would, at its peak, achieve a market cap of some $180 billion and cement its place as the largest insurance and financial services company in history.

This month, Mr. Greenberg travels to China to celebrate the 100th anniversary of C.V. Starr & Co. That visit occurs at a prickly time in U.S.-Sino relations, as the Trump administration levies tariffs on hundreds of billions of dollars in Chinese goods and China retaliates.

In September, Risk & Insurance® sat down with Mr. Greenberg in his Park Avenue office to hear his thoughts on the centennial of C.V. Starr, the dynamics of U.S. trade relationships with China and the future of the U.S. insurance industry as it faces the challenges of technology development and talent recruitment and retention, among many others. What follows is an edited transcript of that discussion.


R&I: One hundred years is quite an impressive milestone for any company. Celebrating the anniversary in China signifies the importance and longevity of that relationship. Can you tell us more about C.V. Starr’s history with China?

Hank Greenberg: We have a long history in China. I first went there in 1975. There was little there, but I had business throughout Asia, and I stopped there all the time. I’d stop there a couple of times a year and build relationships.

When I first started visiting China, there was only one state-owned insurance company there, PICC (the People’s Insurance Company of China); it was tiny at the time. We helped them to grow.

I also received the first foreign life insurance license in China, for AIA (The American International Assurance Co.). To date, there has been no other foreign life insurance company in China. It took me 20 years of hard work to get that license.

We also introduced an agency system in China. They had none. Their life company employees would get a salary whether they sold something or not. With the agency system of course you get paid a commission if you sell something. Once that agency system was installed, it went on to create more than a million jobs.

R&I: So Starr’s success has meant success for the Chinese insurance industry as well.

Hank Greenberg: That’s partly why we’re going to be celebrating that anniversary there next month. That celebration will occur alongside that of IBLAC (International Business Leaders’ Advisory Council), an international business advisory group that was put together when Zhu Rongji was the mayor of Shanghai [Zhu is since retired from public life]. He asked me to start that to attract foreign companies to invest in Shanghai.

“It turns out that it is harder [for China] to change, because they have one leader. My guess is that we’ll work it out sooner or later. Trump and Xi have to meet. That will result in some agreement that will get to them and they will have to finish the rest of the negotiations. I believe that will happen.” — Maurice “Hank” Greenberg, chairman and CEO, C.V. Starr & Co. Inc.

Shanghai and China in general were just coming out of the doldrums then; there was a lack of foreign investment. Zhu asked me to chair IBLAC and to help get it started, which I did. I served as chairman of that group for a couple of terms. I am still a part of that board, and it will be celebrating its 30th anniversary along with our 100th anniversary.

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We have a good relationship with China, and we’re candid as you can tell from the op-ed I published in the Wall Street Journal. I’m told that my op-ed was received quite well in China, by both Chinese companies and foreign companies doing business there.

On August 29, Mr. Greenberg published an opinion piece in the WSJ reminding Chinese leaders of the productive history of U.S.-Sino relations and suggesting that Chinese leaders take pragmatic steps to ease trade tensions with the U.S.

R&I: What’s your outlook on current trade relations between the U.S. and China?

Hank Greenberg: As to the current environment, when you are in negotiations, every leader negotiates differently.

President Trump is negotiating based on his well-known approach. What’s different now is that President Xi (Jinping, General Secretary of the Communist Party of China) made himself the emperor. All the past presidents in China before the revolution had two terms. He’s there for life, which makes things much more difficult.

R&I: Sure does. You’ve got a one- or two-term president talking to somebody who can wait it out. It’s definitely unique.

Hank Greenberg: So, clearly a lot of change is going on in China. Some of it is good. But as I said in the op-ed, China needs to be treated like the second largest economy in the world, which it is. And it will be the number one economy in the world in not too many years. That means that you can’t use the same terms of trade that you did 25 or 30 years ago.

They want to have access to our market and other markets. Fine, but you have to have reciprocity, and they have not been very good at that.

R&I: What stands in the way of that happening?

Hank Greenberg: I think there are several substantial challenges. One, their structure makes it very difficult. They have a senior official, a regulator, who runs a division within the government for insurance. He keeps that job as long as he does what leadership wants him to do. He may not be sure what they want him to do.

For example, the president made a speech many months ago saying they are going to open up banking, insurance and a couple of additional sectors to foreign investment; nothing happened.

The reason was that the head of that division got changed. A new administrator came in who was not sure what the president wanted so he did nothing. Time went on and the international community said, “Wait a minute, you promised that you were going to do that and you didn’t do that.”

So the structure is such that it is very difficult. China can’t react as fast as it should. That will change, but it is going to take time.

R&I: That’s interesting, because during the financial crisis in 2008 there was talk that China, given their more centralized authority, could react more quickly, not less quickly.

Hank Greenberg: It turns out that it is harder to change, because they have one leader. My guess is that we’ll work it out sooner or later. Trump and Xi have to meet. That will result in some agreement that will get to them and they will have to finish the rest of the negotiations. I believe that will happen.

R&I: Obviously, you have a very unique perspective and experience in China. For American companies coming to China, what are some of the current challenges?

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Hank Greenberg: Well, they very much want to do business in China. That’s due to the sheer size of the country, at 1.4 billion people. It’s a very big market and not just for insurance companies. It’s a whole range of companies that would like to have access to China as easily as Chinese companies have access to the United States. As I said previously, that has to be resolved.

It’s not going to be easy, because China has a history of not being treated well by other countries. The U.S. has been pretty good in that way. We haven’t taken advantage of China.

R&I: Your op-ed was very enlightening on that topic.

Hank Greenberg: President Xi wants to rebuild the “middle kingdom,” to what China was, a great country. Part of that was his takeover of the South China Sea rock islands during the Obama Administration; we did nothing. It’s a little late now to try and do something. They promised they would never militarize those islands. Then they did. That’s a real problem in Southern Asia. The other countries in that region are not happy about that.

R&I: One thing that has differentiated your company is that it is not a public company, and it is not a mutual company. We think you’re the only large insurance company with that structure at that scale. What advantages does that give you?

Hank Greenberg: Two things. First of all, we’re more than an insurance company. We have the traditional investment unit with the insurance company. Then we have a separate investment unit that we started, which is very successful. So we have a source of income that is diverse. We don’t have to underwrite business that is going to lose a lot of money. Not knowingly anyway.

R&I: And that’s because you are a private company?

Hank Greenberg: Yes. We attract a different type of person in a private company.

R&I: Do you think that enables you to react more quickly?

Hank Greenberg: Absolutely. When we left AIG there were three of us. Myself, Howie Smith and Ed Matthews. Howie used to run the internal financials and Ed Matthews was the investment guy coming out of Morgan Stanley when I was putting AIG together. We started with three people and now we have 3,500 and growing.

“I think technology can play a role in reducing operating expenses. In the last 70 years, you have seen the expense ratio of the industry rise, and I’m not sure the industry can afford a 35 percent expense ratio. But while technology can help, some additional fundamental changes will also be required.” — Maurice “Hank” Greenberg, chairman and CEO, C.V. Starr & Co. Inc.

R&I:  You being forced to leave AIG in 2005 really was an injustice, by the way. AIG wouldn’t have been in the position it was in 2008 if you had still been there.

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Hank Greenberg: Absolutely not. We had all the right things in place. We met with the financial services division once a day every day to make sure they stuck to what they were supposed to do. Even Hank Paulson, the Secretary of Treasury, sat on the stand during my trial and said that if I’d been at the company, it would not have imploded the way it did.

R&I: And that fateful decision the AIG board made really affected the course of the country.

Hank Greenberg: So many people lost all of their net worth. The new management was taking on billions of dollars’ worth of risk with no collateral. They had decimated the internal risk management controls. And the government takeover of the company when the financial crisis blew up was grossly unfair.

From the time it went public, AIG’s value had increased from $300 million to $180 billion. Thanks to Eliot Spitzer, it’s now worth a fraction of that. His was a gross misuse of the Martin Act. It gives the Attorney General the power to investigate without probable cause and bring fraud charges without having to prove intent. Only in New York does the law grant the AG that much power.

R&I: It’s especially frustrating when you consider the quality of his own character, and the scandal he was involved in.

In early 2008, Spitzer was caught on a federal wiretap arranging a meeting with a prostitute at a Washington Hotel and resigned shortly thereafter.

Hank Greenberg: Yes. And it’s been successive. Look at Eric Schneiderman. He resigned earlier this year when it came out that he had abused several women. And this was after he came out so strongly against other men accused of the same thing. To me it demonstrates hypocrisy and abuse of power.

Schneiderman followed in Spitzer’s footsteps in leveraging the Martin Act against numerous corporations to generate multi-billion dollar settlements.

R&I: Starr, however, continues to thrive. You said you’re at 3,500 people and still growing. As you continue to expand, how do you deal with the challenge of attracting talent?

Hank Greenberg: We did something last week.

On September 16th, St. John’s University announced the largest gift in its 148-year history. The Starr Foundation donated $15 million to the school, establishing the Maurice R. Greenberg Leadership Initiative at St. John’s School of Risk Management, Insurance and Actuarial Science.

Hank Greenberg: We have recruited from St. John’s for many, many years. These are young people who want to be in the insurance industry. They don’t get into it by accident. They study to become proficient in this and we have recruited some very qualified individuals from that school. But we also recruit from many other universities. On the investment side, outside of the insurance industry, we also recruit from Wall Street.

R&I: We’re very interested in how you and other leaders in this industry view technology and how they’re going to use it.

Hank Greenberg: I think technology can play a role in reducing operating expenses. In the last 70 years, you have seen the expense ratio of the industry rise, and I’m not sure the industry can afford a 35 percent expense ratio. But while technology can help, some additional fundamental changes will also be required.

R&I: So as the pre-eminent leader of the insurance industry, what do you see in terms of where insurance is now an where it’s going?

Hank Greenberg: The country and the world will always need insurance. That doesn’t mean that what we have today is what we’re going to have 25 years from now.

How quickly the change comes and how far it will go will depend on individual companies and individual countries. Some will be more brave than others. But change will take place, there is no doubt about it.

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More will go on in space, there is no question about that. We’re involved in it right now as an insurance company, and it will get broader.

One of the things you have to worry about is it’s now a nuclear world. It’s a more dangerous world. And again, we have to find some way to deal with that.

So, change is inevitable. You need people who can deal with change.

R&I:  Is there anything else, Mr. Greenberg, you want to comment on?

Hank Greenberg: I think I’ve covered it. &

The R&I Editorial Team can be reached at [email protected]