As a female executive in the re/insurance sector, I often reflect upon the many opportunities I’ve been given throughout my career. I never felt like these were made available to me “because I am a woman” but rather a result of my demonstrated capabilities and determination. I spent the majority of my career as a reinsurance broker – a position few women held during the early stages of my career. This was an added incentive for me to succeed. It also taught me how important it is to be available for other women – whether as a formal mentor or simply to encourage and provide support.
Early in my senior leadership journey, I was invited to participate in an executive meeting at one of the companies where I worked. It was a last-minute decision to include me. By the time I arrived at the meeting, all of the chairs around the table were occupied. So, I sat in one of the chairs framing the room. I was the only female in the room, and one of the executives quickly stood up and said, “Theresa, you need to be at the table – bring your chair over.” This made a lasting impression on me and reinforced my commitment to bring more women “to the table.”
In 2014, I left my reinsurance broking career to start a strategic consulting practice. I also considered pursuing board seats at that time. My enthusiasm to seek a board position dampened when I realized that most organizations were looking for experienced public board members. In order for me to be considered for a board seat, I would need specific coaching and a targeted network. Fortunately, I was introduced to Sheila Ronning, founder and CEO of Women in the Boardroom (WIB), an organization committed to translating the intellect, skills and expertise of their members into inaugural or additional powerful corporate director roles. After spending time with Sheila and her organization, it became evident that her platform presented a tremendous development opportunity for the re/insurance sector.
To better understand the issues, let’s refer to a recent survey by Ernst & Young (E&Y) on gender diversity in the financial services industries. The survey polled 350 business leaders to get an understanding of how businesses are addressing the impact of diversity and the advancement of women. The findings reveal that only 17% of banking and insurance executives expect to see a significant increase in the number of women in leadership roles in the next five years, and only 39% of insurance companies are formally measuring their progress towards gender diversity. Most companies in the financial industry are focused on counting the number of women in leadership now, rather than on analyzing the pipeline of future leaders.
EY identified four hurdles that are preventing financial services from achieving gender parity. The hurdles all take the form of disconnects:
- The reality disconnect. Business leaders assume the problem is nearly solved, so they don’t do enough to correct the situation.
- The data disconnect. Businesses fail to measure the progress of gender parity.
- The pipeline disconnect. Businesses fail to create a pipeline for future female leaders.
- The perception and perspective disconnect. Men and women don’t view the problem in the same way.
To get over these hurdles, EY came up with a list of actions businesses can adopt today, including developing sponsor and mentor opportunities, getting more men to champion diversity and making sure networking activities are in an environment that suits everyone.
Effective boards are diverse boards – in gender, ethnicity, age and the broad global experiences. However, according to EY’s Center for Board Matters, only 16% percent of S&P 1500 boards had female members. And yet, a report from the Peterson Institute found that 30% female representation on boards can increase company profits by 6%. For a woman to gain board membership, she needs to take charge of her career path, raise her hand more for opportunities, and understand and pursue the skills and experience she needs to serve on boards.
To date, WIB has a limited number of members from the re/insurance sector. As a result, I decided to partner with WIB. In doing so, I bring my extensive re/insurance network to WIB to broaden its corporate sponsorship and membership reach. The re/insurance industry is well positioned to capitalize on this opportunity. This partnership offers a tangible and unique development experience to senior-level women in the industry.
I wish I had been provided this type of development experience as part of my executive journey. The application is extremely timely and relevant for the re/insurance sector. It also has the ability to impact future generations. I’d love to see my daughters benefit from this type of development program down the road.
It’s time to pull up a chair!
Thanks to Theresa Schugel for giving us permission to share this article. The opinions and experiences expressed by the author or subjects do not necessarily reflect those of Women in the Boardroom.