Login Register Subscribe
Current Issue

Senior executives need to promote diversity in insurance industry: Duperreault

Reprints

NEW YORK — Despite recent, modest indications of progress, insurance industry veteran Brian Duperreault says much work remains to be done in promoting diversity within the industry, particularly among its senior ranks.

“We've come a long way from the overt discrimination of the 20th century, but 14 years into a new century we still have significant issues with how women and minorities fare in the workplace,” Mr. Duperreault said Tuesday during a keynote address at Business Insurance's 2014 Women to Watch Leadership Conference and Awards in New York. “The intention has been there, but not the results.”

While the number of Fortune 500 companies led by female chief executives has tripled in the last decade, they still account for less than 5% of the total group, said Mr. Duperreault, CEO of Hamilton, Bermuda-based Hamilton Insurance Group Ltd. and a former president and CEO of Marsh & McLennan Cos. Inc.

“In our industry, the figures are even worse. Just 1.3% of CEOs in finance and insurance are women,” Mr. Duperreault said, adding that women also earn as much as 30% less than their male counterparts, depending on their industry.

Mr. Duperreault outlined several factors that often conspire to undermine gender equality in corporate America, including inherent biases regarding gender roles and demeanors, lack of self-confidence among female professionals and disparate favoritism toward male professionals for key “stretch” assignments.

“These assignments are an important part of performance appraisals and can make a difference in assessing who qualifies for a promotion,” Mr. Duperreault said. “Generally, men look for these assignments and actively lobby for them, whether they're qualified for them or not.”

Conversely, he said, “women generally don't seek out those assignments, even if they have all the qualification they might need.”

Another critical factor impeding gender equality in the workplace, Mr. Duperreault said, is a lopsided work/life culture that still places most domestic responsibilities with women.

“One of the most complex issues facing women and their potential for advancement is maternity leave and child rearing,” Mr. Duperreault said. “As much as we like to think that we're an evolved society in which men pull their weight with raising kids and share responsibilities around the household, we know that that just doesn't reflect reality.”

Mr. Duperreault said while administrative and operational managers can implement some changes on their own — including adding diversity training programs, management tools and performance incentives — much of the responsibility for effecting meaningful progress toward greater equality between male and female professionals within a corporate culture will fall to the most senior executives.

“As with any organizational change, things need to start at the top,” Mr. Duperreault said. “We need to make sure our senior executive teams know that this is an important issue. Without the executive stamp of approval, nothing will change.”