Swiss Re co-sponsors Women in Leadership forum

Insurance industry leaders point out several keys to creating diversity of leadership in companies.

More than 180 women and men gathered in New York on 1 November  2011 for the insurance industry’s third annual Forum on Women in Leadership, co-sponsored by Aon and Swiss Re.

Aon’s CEO Greg Case opened by saying that all participating companies shared the same sense of urgency to increase the number of women in leadership within their companies.

Eric Smith, President & CEO of Swiss Re Americas, summarised the lunch discussion and gave a progress report on the commitments made last year by returning companies.

From Swiss Re, these included a decision to ensure a diverse slate for recruitment at all levels and in all locations around the globe.  At Aon, Smith reported, gender requirements had been added for all leadership development programmes. It was also decided that CEOs share their diversity programme metrics, in order to “encourage pioneers to create best practices for others to follow.”

The conference identified several keys to creating diversity of leadership in companies, under the headings, sponsorship, ownership and addressing unconscious bias.

Chartis US & Canada CEO Peter Eastwood, and Catalyst SVP Meryle Mahrer Kaplan said that sponsorship could be defined by the “Four A’s”: 

  • Advocacy: to actively ensure sponsorees  get a seat at the managerial table
  • Access: to help the sponsoree network with people in authority
  • Advancement: to push for promotions and more responsibility for the person in question
  • Accountability: to take responsibility for the sponsoree’s success

Name it and claim it

Another aspect of ownership – how to own your own career advancement – was addressed by Cheryl Francis, Co-Chair of the Corporate Leadership Center, who told participants to leverage the leadership strengths that gender difference affords women.

She said, “Women tend to be very effective negotiators for others but less so for themselves; but you can be more effective if you embrace the unique approach your gender difference gives you, and make requests for yourself in the context of what’s best for the organization.”

Overcoming bias

Sometimes though, not even sponsorship can help overcome the “unconscious biases” that stand in the way of female advancement. Commented Swiss Re's Head of Global Diversity & Inclusion, Nia Joynson-Romanzina: “While we all deeply know we should be treating all people fairly, in reality it is extremely hard to do so on a consistent basis.”

These biases, she said, become even more powerful when turned into group dynamics because social identity then comes into play. We are naturally attracted by similarities in such things as gender, race or age.

Taking it to the next level

Rounding off the day was a panel discussion with senior industry leaders sharing their own views and experiences. 

Panel member Elaine Caprio-Brady, Manager of Ceded Reinsurance at Liberty Mutual, said women in leadership positions should take responsibility for helping other women advance, driven by the imperative to change the face of the workforce as economies globalise.

“It won’t happen if you sit back and wait,” said Executive Managing Director of Aon Benfield, Kelly Smith.  She urged women to tell their bosses they want to take it to the next level, and not allow them to assume disinterest on the woman’s part.  

Swiss Re’s Jayne Plunkett applauded her own firm and others for committing to diverse slates and for ensuring that they also apply to succession plans at leadership level.

Image ordering: NYC Photos

Prestigious companies in attendance

Allied World Assurance Company
Arch Insurance Group
BMS Group
Corporate Leadership Centery
Endurance Reinsurance Company
Ernst & Young, LLP
Goldman Sachs
Greenlight Reinsurance Ltd
Griffin Risk Capital Partners
Guy Carpenter & Company
Harbor Point Limited
Holborn Corporation
Lexington Insurance
Liberty Mutual Group
Lockton Companies
Milbank, Tweek, Hadley & McCloy LLP
Munich Re
Partner Re
Princeton Insurance Company
Sidley Austin LLP
Swiss Re / Swiss Re Underwriters
Target Corporation
Third Point
TigerRisk Partners
Towers Group Companies
Towers Watson
Transatlantic Reinsurance Company
United Educators Insurance
V3 Insurance Partners
Willis / Willis Re
XL / XL Re

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