Gender Diversity in Leadership Roles

Gender Diversity in Leadership Roles

Carrie Burns

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In mid-August of this year, I wrote a blog about an event that was held at Guidewire – Girl Geek X. In it, I lauded the women who have endured the ups and downs of insurance technology. I’m still inspired by the tenure of many women in this industry, especially when I hear some experiences of slow movement to leadership roles.

The stats of the number of women in insurance companies show promise and should be celebrated. According to a Million Women Mentors (MWM) white paper, “Women drive the insurance industry, with over 60 percent of the workforce (1.6 million workers strong).”

However, there’s work to do in the area of women in leadership positions and on corporate boards. The MWM white paper – Women in Insurance: Leading to Action – states that women occupy 19% of board seats, 11% of named inside officer positions, and 12% of top officer positions such as CEO, COO, and CFO.

Two events that took place in October made this even more clear.

Guidewire Connections 2018

During a keynote session at Guidewire Connections in Las Vegas October 14–17, Guidewire’s Vice President of Professional Services, Sandia Ren, facilitated a panel discussion with three customers — Debbie Smith, Vice President of Business Solutions Delivery, Aviva Canada; Tammy Craig, SVP, CIO, Commercial Lines & Agency, Nationwide Insurance; and Marc Beaujean, Director – Member of the Management Committee, P&V Group.

All three panelists agreed that the discussion of gender diversity – especially women in leadership roles – in the insurance industry is important to have, not just in one’s own organization but in the home and during industry events such as Connections. Ren shared some research that shows diversity in a company will produce many benefits. Gender diversity will help attract top talent, increase employee satisfaction, and even have a positive effect on financial performance.

“There are huge gains to be had, but only if we all work together,” Ren said. Nationwide’s Craig agreed, saying “It would be silly to not explore all of the talent out there.”

Advice for women was to put yourself out there and power through some of the uncomfortable and intimidating moments that arise at times. And, for men and leaders, look broadly for talent, identify potential leaders, mentor them, and help them grow.

Women in Insurance Leadership

A couple of weeks later, I went to Chicago for Digital Insurance’s 11th annual Women in Insurance Leadership event. The energy at this event is always different than other industry events. There’s not a lack of networking, that’s for sure!

However, this year felt a little bit different from past years. I talked to many women LEADERS — some wanting to start their own companies, many making a difference in the industry’s technology landscape, and even a few heading up insurtechs. It’s a different group from the one at the very first conference in 2007. These women radiated empowerment and eagerness to enable and drive innovation. This progress, in just 11 years, is a testament to the men and women of this industry, an industry I’m proud to be a part of.

European Women in Technology

I was again proud to see that Guidewire sponsored and participated in European Women in Technology in Amsterdam November 28–29. While I didn’t attend this particular event, it was great to see some of the agenda topics not just about diversity but also around leadership topics, such as “Getting a Seat at the Table” and “Turbo Charge your Executive Presence.”

To get to the leadership role, we have to start somewhere though. Guidewire Principal Architect Roz Sermons presented a session, “Girls Can! Inspiring the Next Generation of Female Technologists.” Sermons issued a call to both individuals and organizations to address the shortage of young girls choosing IT as a career, especially in a time when there are huge shortages in vital IT skills that are costing the industry billions worldwide.

One of the things Sermons emphasized in her presentation was the fact that many girls as young as 7 have already decided that STEM subjects aren’t for them. The general call was for women to be role models to every young girl they meet; be living proof that girls can enjoy and excel at STEM subjects. Show them that women can thrive in technology careers.

And for the men? Speak highly of the women you work with, so the girls you talk to know that they can be accepted in a technological career. Change starts with leaders.