The insurance industry’s gender inequality problem disadvantages women, though perhaps you wouldn’t think it at first glance over a company group photo. According to the US Department of Labor figures, women make up around half (47 percent) of the entire country’s workforce, and in the insurance industry women maintain the majority at 60 percent, which looks like a great start.

But the disparity becomes very clear as soon as you look closer at leadership positions. Women hold only 12 percent of insurance C-suite roles, and one 2017 report found that for every 100 insurance firms, 99 had male CEOs. In this article, we take a close look at the representation of women, specifically at the leadership level, and acknowledge there are also significant issues facing other genders and marginalized populations.

A survey of women in financial services reported 68 percent aspired to work in leadership positions and top-level executive roles, so the desire to lead is certainly there for the majority of industry women. Another survey from PWC found 60 percent of women working in financial services reported negotiating a promotion within the past two years, compared to just 48 percent of women surveyed across all industries.

But in a survey of C-suite leaders, when asked about barriers for women in leadership there was a clear split in opinion between men and women. Far more men than women believed conflicts with raising a family and a shortage of female candidates were the top barriers. Women, on the other hand, frequently pointed to unsupportive company culture and organizational biases.

The insurance industry is hundreds of years old, and with the wide acknowledgement of outdated processes and technology, it’s unfortunately unsurprising that the makeup of its leadership is stuck in the 20th century as well. With an estimated 85 percent of available jobs filled by networking and referrals rather than applicants, and the social aspect to senior leadership continuing to circle around male dominated spaces of golf courses and sports bars, many women continue to be shut out of the top offices and overlooked for promotions.

Within the industry, many of those 12 percent of women leaders are working to mentor and promote the talented women who may be overlooked by their male colleagues. The problem is certainly widely discussed in industry publications, and industry events for women are held in cities throughout the country. But until insurance leadership teams can move beyond the trope of a singular woman in an executive team to more equal representation, then diversity and inclusion policies are mere lip service.

For a woman working in the industry who is tired of waiting for the slow tide to turn, we wonder - what if insurtech is the opportunity for them to hack their way to the top jobs of insurance?

It may seem an unlikely solution, when the tech sector workforce itself is dominated by 75 percent men, and the women are twice as likely to quit the industry. The #metoo movement shined a spotlight on the sexism specifically in Silicon Valley, with multiple allegations of sexual misconduct grabbing mainstream media headlines throughout 2017 and 2018. And while there’s little research available on insurtech companies and their leadership specifically, it’s a troubling statistic that only 2.2 percent of venture capital funding across all industries goes to women-led startups. In a study analyzing transcripts from startup funding competition TechCrunch Disrupt New York, investors were found to have asked male founders questions which focused on hopes, achievements, advancement, and ideals. While questioning female founders, their language focused on safety, responsibility, security, and vigilance.

Industry accelerator programme Startupbootcamp reported that 23 percent of their 2018 applicants had at least one woman co-founder - which was up from 16 percent the previous year.

Despite this, is there an opportunity in the marriage of insurance and tech? Women may be able to take advantage of the insurance industry’s heavy regulations, using their industry expertise to become powerful and invaluable assets to insurtech companies, and gaining the leadership experience they struggle to get in traditional insurance companies.

Even in hypothetical, it’s not a perfect strategy by any means. The biases responsible for the imbalances in both tech and insurance leadership still exist. That being said, in the insurtech world, deep industry knowledge is currency, and there are a lot of women who are incumbent-trained and starved for opportunities to advance, and, as countless articles and career-advice books tell us, sometimes a lateral move opens up the path forward.

Of course, it’s not hard to argue that taking advantage of these opportunities wouldn’t be a lateral move, but a downwards one. While joining a startup can provide opportunity, responsibility and title, it also usually involves a significant pay cut, and much greater risk. It also means leaving the diversity of the wider insurance industry behind to deal with overwhelmingly male founders, coworkers, and male-dominated funding.

In short, there is an opportunity here for some women – but it’s nowhere near a magic fix. As lack of gender diversity in leadership becomes a more prominent/widely discussed issue, we as an industry have a lot more work, and a lot more discussion, ahead of us.

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