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Insurance industry firms work to put women in executive positions

Sponsorship efforts closing gender gap in highest ranks

Insurance industry firms work to put women in executive positions

PHILADELPHIA—Although the number of women entering the risk management profession is growing, women remain under-represented among senior management on the insurance industry side of the business.

But at least two companies—Chartis Inc. and Aon P.L.C.—are taking steps to change that.

Most women who make it into the ranks of middle-management get stuck there, due largely to the lack of sponsorship within their organizations, Carol Murphy, managing director at Aon Risk Solutions in Chicago, said during a session on “Women's Leadership in Risk and Insurance” at the Risk & Insurance Management Society Inc. conference in Philadelphia.

Citing the 2011 “Women in the Economy” report by McKinsey & Co., Ms. Murphy said “there is a huge drop-off between middle management and senior management.”

According to the consulting firm's report, fewer than 3% of Fortune 500 CEOs are women. In addition, while women's share of corporate jobs is 53% at the entry level, their representation falls to 14% at the executive-committee level.

“The solution is for companies to actively sponsor women in middle-management roles to help them make that leap,” Ms. Murphy said. “So many of our customers are women, it helps to have that diversity of thought.”


In an attempt to groom more women for leadership positions within its organization, New York-based insurer Chartis established an Executive Diversity Council and a Talent-Steering Committee, said Chandra Metzler, Chartis' product line executive for financial lines and executive liability in the United States and Canada.

Both programs create development plans for women with potential, evaluating their strengths and weaknesses, and tracking their progress as they move up the corporate ladder, she said.

Similarly, Ms. Murphy said, Aon just last month formed a Women's Leadership Governance Board with representatives from all three of the organization's business units inside and outside the United States: broker Aon, benefit consultant Aon Hewitt and reinsurance intermediary Aon Benfield.

Aon Hewitt, based in Lincolnshire, Ill., historically has had greater representation of women than either of the other two units, she noted.

Aon's Women's Leadership Governance Board will “look at the metrics and challenge some of the assumptions that we have about why some women leave” or don't advance in their careers, she said.

In fact, she said, the McKinsey research already has dispelled one common misconception—that most women take time off work to start families.

“Women aren't leaving to stay home after having children. They are changing jobs to find more supportive environments,” Ms. Murphy said.

The session was moderated by Sarah E. Pacini, vp of risk management and insurance at Advocate Health Care Network in Oak Brook, Ill.