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Industry Spotlight > Women in Wealth

The gender gap in company C-suites: unacceptably wide

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Industry pundits often lament the fact that women are not adequately represented among insurance and financial service sales professionals. What’s less often discussed is another fact: the lack of women holding executive and managerial positions at the companies that employ these advisors.

The issue is growing in prominence, in part because of a talent gap — both in home offices and in the field — that revised corporate recruiting strategies targeted to women could help bridge. The specifics on such initiatives, and the obstacles to be surmounted, received their due at last month at IICF Women in Insurance Global Conference, held in New York City.

A report unveiled at the forum and published by Mercer, “When Women Thrive, Businesses Thrive,” is based on 178 survey submissions from 164 organizations in 28 countries, including First American Financial, Northwestern Mutual, Pacific Life and Principal Financial Group. Covering also 1.7 million employees, report makes for sobering reading.

Globally, women account for less than 5 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs and hold fewer than a quarter of senior management roles. Female representation in the board room is pegged at just 19 percent.

Life insurers stand to benefit by increasing representation of women, both within their homes offices and among advisors in the field. And a key reason is one that C-suite execs can’t ignore: the ability to boost sales.

Research undertaken during the past decade clearly identifies a positive link between female representation in the workplace and measures by which companies judge performance. Among them: improved return on sales, equity, invested capital, operating results and stock price appreciation.

Why might that be? Whereas corporate watchers commonly associate certain attributes with male managers — strategic vision, technical skills and managing the bottom line — women generally hold a competitive advantage in respect to other traits. To name a few: being inclusive leaders, promoting teamwork and cooperation, and being flexible and adaptable to change or hardships.

These skill differences are evident in the positions for which men and women are most valued, and to which they navigate. As the Mercer survey points observes, whereas male managers and execs tend to work in “tight clusters,” enabling the exchange of information within these groupings, women are more likely to serve as “connectors,” facilitating collaboration across the enterprise.

Rolling out new programs

Those kinds of benchmarks are driving organizations, not least insurers and financial services firms, to kick-start or enhance innovative programs aimed at recruiting, rewarding and retaining top female talent. Example: Retirement and health solutions customized to the financial behaviors, attitudes and needs of women.

If well designed, such programs can go a long way to closing the gender gap in the workplace — which remains significant.

Progress is more likely to happen at a faster pace outside North America, one of three regions (in addition to Europe/Oceania and Latin America) from which the survey respondents hail. The report forecasts that women in Europe/Oceania will account for nearly half (47 percent) of executive positions in 10 years, up from 18 percent currently.

In Latin America, female representation will rise to 39 percent from 12 percent over the same time frame. In contrast, North America will hold just 26 percent of top-tier positions in 2024, up from 24 percent currently.

There also needs to be a heightened focus on programs that emphasize diversity and inclusion, both for women and ethnicities whose representation in the workplace is lagging: African-Americans, Asians, Latinos and others who may be better attuned to the needs of their respective cultural markets.

This focus has to be matched by financial incentives tied to outcomes. In the Mercer survey, while more than half (56 percent) of the respondents insist that senior leaders promote diversity and inclusion, just 15 percent offer bonuses linked to achievement of these aims.

Financial carrots also extend to pay equity — a critical driver of gender diversity. Unequal pay for women affects their decision to join and stay with a particular company. Employers that fail to recognize this, should not expect to attract and keep talented workers, most especially those whose skills are most needed in roles affecting profit and loss.

And, ultimately, the bottom line of a balance sheet is the benchmark by which all companies, irrespective of industry, get judged.

See also:

How to best communicate retirement planning to female clients

10 of the wealthiest U.S. women

All mothers are leaders