The insurers that lead in a digital future will be able to continuously innovate to find solutions that address the new and complex threats and opportunities that are arising. Accenture’s research shows that in the most equal and diverse cultures, innovation thrives. The insurance sector, one of the oldest and most unequal, needs a make-over.

Despite recognition of the need for change, there’s been little progress in the sector in terms of gender equality. Companies are trying to improve female representation at senior level through various initiatives, such as the appointment of executive sponsors for diversity and inclusion, inclusive recruitment practices, and mentoring programmes for women. It is not enough.

The Association of British Insurers’ research shows that while women make up 54 percent of all workers in the sector, only 39 percent of management positions, 27 percent of executive teams and 20 percent of board roles are filled by women. In addition, the pay gap in the sector continues to hover at 23 percent. This slow, incremental change has consequences.

Sally Helgesen, co-author of How Women Rise, says in this Forbes article that companies are running out of excuses. “[The lack of women in senior leadership roles] used to be considered a pipeline issue, but many companies have now been hiring at parity for nearly two decades.”

The pay gap breeds toxicity and widens the trust gap, she points out, “especially when a woman learns after years in a job that a man at a comparable level, or even a level or two below, is being paid more for similar work. When that happens, the women in the company lose trust in their leadership, and it becomes very hard to regain.”

One company has got the pay part of the equation right.

In this insurancebusinesssmag article, specialist motorcycle insurance provider MCE Insurance reports a zero percent median gender pay gap for a second year—men and women at the firm are effectively earning the same. The company says it’s achieved this through 90 percent internal development of management in a gender-blind environment and by accommodating different staff requirements—e.g., flexi working.

MCE CEO Julian Edwards’ statement is telling in terms of the company’s culture: “While we are phenomenally pleased with these figures … we are prouder to be an employer that hires the best people for the job, regardless of gender or any other factors. It’s a huge part of our identity as an authentic and transparent company.”

Source: Accenture’s 2019 Getting to Equal research

The case for culture

He echoes a statement by the CEO of another company that is committed to—and is benefiting from—a culture of equality. Mastercard’s stock soared over 35 percent last year, and the company is growing rapidly here in the UK and abroad as we shift toward a cashless society.

Says Mastercard President and CEO Ajay Banga, “I will create the feeling of my hand at your back, not in your face, and then you should run with it. When you’re on a level playing field, you can win what you’re capable of winning—and you deserve every single win that you get.”

To find the balance it needs to progress to equality and drive innovation, the insurance sector requires a more radical approach than just fixing the pay gap and appointing more women in senior positions (though it needs these too).

Accenture’s 2019 Getting to Equal research offers some guidelines.

Building a culture of equality

A culture of equality is built on three pillars:

  • An empowering environment—one that trusts employees, respects individuals and offers freedom to be creative and to train and work flexibly.
  • Bold leadership—a diverse leadership team that sets, shares and measures equality targets openly.
  • Comprehensive action—policies and practices that are family-friendly, support all genders and are bias-free in attracting and retaining people.

Of those three, an empowering environment is by far the most important when it comes to enabling innovation. In fact, eight of the 10 strongest factors underpinning innovation are about empowerment.

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Source: Accenture’s 2019 Getting to Equal research

Join me next week as I take a closer look at these factors and the practical effort and actions required to build a diverse, equal and innovative insurance workforce.

Meanwhile, for more on creating an environment in which an innovation mindset will thrive, read Accenture’s 2019 Getting to Equal research. For more on the issues surrounding gender parity, read my colleague Sarah Kruger’s blog, The ultimate guide to gender parity 2019 edition.

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