Clear call for action at women’s forum

Held at Swiss Re’s New York office and co-sponsored by Swiss Re and Aon, the recent Women in Leadership Roles Forum attracted 120 of the best and brightest minds from the insurance and reinsurance industries. All in attendance shared a commitment to improving their performance by objectively identifying and championing true talent in their organizations.

“This forum is about mobilizing the industry to address and strengthen inclusion and diversity as prerequisites for successful business practices and profitable growth,” said Pierre Ozendo, Chairman and CEO of Swiss Re Americas. “If you miss out on the talent pool, you lose.”

Greg Case, President and CEO of Aon, said that hiring and promoting women is part of a larger strategy for success.

The views expressed by Ozendo and Case were underpinned by data presented to the conference by Katherine Giscombe of Catalyst, a leading research firm. Her statistics revealed that companies with more women in the C-suite and on boards of directors are more financially successful, as measured by ROE (return on equity) and total return to shareholders.

One theme that emerged from the forum is that the insurance industry is moving too slowly when it comes to elevating women to leadership roles.

This sentiment was summed up perfectly by one of the keynote speakers, Mike McGavick, CEO of XL Capital who observed: “I stand before you worried,” he said. “Against the pace of change, our pace is just too damn slow.”

Commenting on the barriers in the way of stronger female representation on company boards, Swiss Re’s Head of Investor Relations Susan Holliday said: “I am concerned that regulation may actually end up restricting companies' thoughts about who could sit on boards. I think we need to think more broadly about who we tap for boards. Frankly, I think we’d benefit from having someone like Christiane Amanpour, because of her perspective and experience.”

Liz Mitchell, President & CEO, Platinum Underwriters Reinsurance gave companies important food for thought by commenting: “Women opt out of an environment where attending a parent-teacher conference is frowned upon and gravitate to a workplace that accommodates it. It doesn't mean working fewer hours, it means working different hours, like checking email at 11 at night.”

The CEOs agreed to take the discussion of women in leadership roles beyond “should”, to “how”. They also committed to improving the industry by requiring a diverse range of candidates at senior levels. In addition, each company established its own set of commitments for the next 24 months and will report back on their progress in a year.

As a thank you to the guest CEOs, Swiss Re and Aon made a charitable donation to Dress for Success, a nonprofit organization that promotes the economic independence of disadvantaged women by providing professional attire, a network of support and career development tools.

To learn more about what the experts had to say at the Forum, please see 'Voices of experience' at the right.

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