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]

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