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Diverse workforce expected by new recruits, drives performance

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LONDON — Insurance industry companies seeking to attract young professionals to the sector need to create work environments that welcome diversity or risk losing talent to competitors, a panel of experts said.

In addition, companies that actively promote diversity may perform better financially, they said.

There is a “dawning reality” that corporate culture has fundamentally changed, said Dominic Christian, CEO of Aon U.K. Ltd., a unit of Aon P.L.C. in London.

Young people entering the workforce assume that multiculturalism and gender equality are part of corporate culture, he said, and most executives’ approach to management encourages diversity, he said during a panel session at Business Insurance’s 2017 Women to Watch EMEA Awards and Leadership Conference in London last week.

“The leaders of companies today in corporate life, for the most part, are intensely consensual, they are very open, and openness and receptivity are at the heart of diversity,” Mr. Christian said.

Those companies that don’t promote diversity will lose coveted young employees to rivals, said Harsha V. Agadi, president and CEO of Crawford & Co. in Atlanta.

“These young executives will learn to jump, and there will always be a net,” he said.

To improve diversity in senior positions, companies should focus on their talent “pipelines” to ensure that diversity efforts are sustainable, said Romaney O’Malley, head of U.K. regions and industrials and commercials in Europe for American International Group Inc. in London, and one of Business Insurance’s 2017 Women to Watch.

AIG in Europe has committed to having a pipeline that is composed of 50% women within the next two years, she said.

“That’s really getting at succession planning — and succession planning at all levels,” she said.

FM Global is seeking to increase gender diversity in its talent pipeline, which targets graduate engineers, but in the U.K. only 15% of graduates with degrees in engineering are women, said Angela Kelly, vice president of diversity and international human resources for FM Global in Windsor, England.

To try to improve gender diversity, the insurer established a program with 20 women around the globe appointed as “engineering ambassadors,” with responsibility for working with their business leaders to address the challenge of attracting and developing women engineers. The program, which included networking, mentoring and presenting to senior management, has been in place for two years, and 50% of the women have been promoted into higher-level positions, Ms. Kelly said.

In addition, while historically only 20% to 25% of FM Global’s engineering recruits have been women, last year 50% of the recruits were women, she said.

“I’ve got to think that by putting these formal programs in place, putting some rigor behind it, getting that executive support and buy-in, that’s got to have contributed,” Ms. Kelly said.

As they promote more women to senior positions, companies may need to look outside of their own organizations for mentors for women executives, said Mr. Agadi of Crawford.

“You can promote women, you can have them on the executive committee, but guess what — when they get to the top, you might not be the best mentor for them,” he said.

At another company, Mr. Agadi said he asked the female CEO of another company to mentor an Iranian female executive who was promoted to a senior position based in the southern United States rather than one of her six male colleagues in the U.S.

“If I had her being mentored internally, it would have been a big, big miss,” he said.

Swiss Re Ltd. has a structured program for increasing diversity within the organization, including an active female sponsorship program, with every line manager held accountable for meeting diversity targets, said Frank O’Neill, CEO of U.K. and Ireland for Swiss Re in London.

The benefits of diversity initiatives can sometimes be seen in financial results, he said.

Prior to his current position, Mr. O’Neill ran Swiss Re’s Africa and Middle East business and was based in Cape Town, South Africa. When he took the job in 2012, the executive team was made up exclusively of white males and the business was performing badly. In the next year and a half, he rebuilt the team so it was 60% female, and 60% of those women were women of color, he said. When he left the position last year, revenue had increased 100% and earnings had increased 120%.

“If you build the right team with great talent, you can really drive the business forward,” Mr. O’Neill said.