The last three totally different insurance events I attended made something very clear:

  • Publisher event in the Lloyd’s market: 1 woman out of 10 professionals on stage.

  • London InsurTech: 1 out of 4.

  • European C-suite symposium: 1 out of 10.

How come that in times of gender pay gap, equal pay, and everything else that is being discussed when it comes to culture change and diversity, there are still so many events with panels dominated by (white) male speakers?  McKinsey told us the numbers and business performance is better if the environment supports diverse thinking hence, I want to offer a few observations and, more importantly, constructive ideas how to change and make it better.

When speaking to CEOs and event organisers about this a few common themes appeared (quotes!):

  1. “There are no women.”

  2. “Women don’t want to speak when we ask them.”

  3. “There are not many women who speak and they are in high demand, so we did not get them.”

  4. “The female CEO we asked to speak lives outside of London and declined to give a speech in London in the evening because she wanted to be home by bedtime.”

What can be done to encourage balanced panels with innovative thinking – and better business performance?

  1. Whoever said there are no women just did not look hard enough. There are plenty of women with something to contribute out there; with a variety of backgrounds and at all levels across the profession. If you need help finding them, come talk to us.

  2. The responsibility to change society should be split between men and women. If women want to be heard and change the world, they need to step up, speak at events, and make sure their views are their own.

  3. Here’s to the men: what counts in other parts of life does not apply here: a no is NOT a no! Ask the women why they decline. What would make them change their views? Content, logistics, courage? What can be done to have them on stage? If it matters to you that you hear them speak, let them feel it.

  4. Yes, only 7% of FTSE 100 CEOs are female, but let’s be honest; how many events have you attended in the last 2 years where the key note came from one of the 93 men? Does your speaker need to be such a CEO or could it be an innovator, a tech founder, a senior underwriter or another inspirational woman from a place far far away from insurance?

Three more things I learned when talking to men and women about these observations.

Firstly
At one conference a notable number of women left quietly through the backdoor at around 5pm. Speaking to some of them I realized, they had childcare responsibilities which meant that they had to pick up kids by the time the nurseries and schools closed. This is not a cliché, it’s reality.

Why not organise your event over breakfast, lunch or early afternoon. Unless you don’t want tomorrow’s leaders in the room, who are not only up and comers in their job but may also be busy parents. And I’m sure some men would jump at the opportunity to see their children during the week if it was more socially acceptable and if someone gave them a bit of courage.

Secondly
Believe it or not, chairs matter. One senior executive who speaks regularly at events checks out the chairs before she decides what to wear. “Nothing worse,” she said, “when you sit on a panel and instead of concentrating on what you say, you constantly have to check whether your dress is in the right position.”

Reclining chairs, bar stools and low sofas are more comfortable in trousers than in skirts.

Thirdly
Microphones are a great invention, in particular for those of us with quiet voices. A headset might be easier than a clip on (including the more reliable sound quality) but who thought that everyone wears a belt that can hold the sender with the battery?

Until better solutions are found, maybe event organisers can give out lanyards for the sender.

All in all, here’s to conference organisers:

  • Be resilient

  • Look harder

  • Ask “how can we make it happen?”

  • Consider your timing

  • Chose the chairs wisely

  • Attach lanyards to the batteries

And to the women:

  • Say yes more often; they not only want you, they need you!

Lastly, whilst networking is an important aspect of any conference, consider modern technology. If Cambridge University can arrange for Queen Máxima of the Netherlands to hold her keynote via Skype there must be other ways for the insurance profession as well. And whilst you are doing something for culture change, you are also reducing your carbon footprint.

 

The Author

Ulrich Seega is Managing Director of Schonhofer, an international London based talent advisory business that supports individuals and businesses to reach their full potential.

 

1 Comment
  1. Debbie 4 months ago

    The FT had an interesting column this, too: “Ending men-only panels is a spur to creativity”

    https://www.ft.com/content/7766db38-46dd-11e8-8ae9-4b5ddcca99b3 (sorry it’s behind a paywall)
    The writer concludes
    “I understand the distaste for quotas… But whenever we are required to add new people to our list of potential candidates, whether for a conference panel or a board of directors, it pushes us to look not only for new people to do the job, but for more creative ways of doing the job.”

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