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Joanne Wojcik

COMMENTARY: Gender diversity in insurance industry isn’t just a women’s issue

December 29, 2013 - 6:00am

During this year's Business Insurance Women to Watch Leadership Workshop, I suggested that those who attend next year's event bring their daughters to introduce them to possible careers in the insurance industry. However, after some reflection, I think women in our industry might be better served if more of their male colleagues attended Women to Watch. The composition of the audience, as compared with that of the CEO panel, pretty much reflected the shakeout that has been occurring among women in the insurance industry.

But I guess some men feel threatened by the prospect of attending such an event, based on the reaction I received from one high-level male industry executive I had invited to attend.

“That's for women, isn't it?” he replied with a shudder.

“Well, it's about women, but it's not exclusively for women,” I said, explaining that the event focuses on the challenges women face in shattering the industry's glass ceiling.

Another, more enlightened industry CEO, who has actually attended every Women to Watch Leadership Workshop since its inception in 2011, had this to say: “It is definitely the most uncomfortable industry event I attend all year, but it is also the most beneficial.”

Indeed, companies that place a high value on workforce diversity — particularly at the senior management and executive levels — consistently outperform their competitors on a range of metrics, including their overall returns on sales and investment capital, Aon Hewitt CEO Kristi Savacool — a 2011 Women to Watch honoree — reported during the CEO panel at this year's workshop.

Unfortunately, just 5% of leadership positions across the industry are held by women.

Women throughout the industry also are not compensated commensurate with their contributions. Women in insurance made just 62.2 cents on the dollar earned by their male counterparts in 2011, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Yet every one of the individuals who have been identified by Business Insurance as Women to Watch have consistently performed above and beyond the call of duty, oftentimes making significant personal sacrifices to help bolster their employer's bottom lines. Unfortunately, only about 25% of men are aware that women still earn less than them, according to other research presented at Women to Watch.

I have long held the belief that women's liberation would be equally liberating for men. I know many fathers who would relish the opportunity to spend more time with their children if not for the fact that they are their family's major breadwinners. But if women were paid on par with men, more of them might ascend to the top of the corporate ladder.