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Great minds think alike? I don't think so

Years ago, I traveled to Italy for Swiss Re to meet with a government representative, accompanied by two Swiss Re colleagues. As a group of three professional women, we entered his office. You could see he was disappointed that the company wasn't sending a more senior and seasoned team; an instinctive reaction based on our gender.  His perception turned when the two colleagues started to talk. It was clear that they knew what they were talking about, speaking from in-depth research and knowledge. But it took time to change the initial perspective. We had to overcome an emotion, a bias. To take an extra step. The same extra step to overcome the initial perception of a female executive as a 'quota woman'.

The push for diversity is not just about creating a more just world or being politically correct. It's also about corporate performance. As the recent Swiss Re Institute report "Gender diversity in the re/insurance industry: for a sustainable future" notes, a more gender-diverse senior leadership team is associated with return on equity (ROE) outperformance of 3-5 percentage points in re/insurance companies. This represents an opportunity for improvement, as currently women only represent a fifth of re/insurance company executives in 2019, and just 10% of CEOs.

That means current leadership has an actual financial and performance incentive to make their workplaces more welcoming to a wider range of talent. This may include enacting more flexible working hours, allowing for remote office policies, and actively fostering the development of a diverse talent pool.

Diversity is not only a matter of gender or ethnicity; it encompasses age, beliefs, sexual orientation, background. An ethnically and gender diverse group of ten people who all studied at the same university aren't all that diverse. I recall an ad campaign a few years ago, insisting that 'great minds think alike'. I disagree. Creativity and innovation flourish in an environment where people think and act differently. As a leader I want to surround myself with people who have different ideas and can challenge the status quo.

In part, these attitudes are generational. Many of the people in current leadership roles have reference points based on traditional family roles. It takes a conscious effort to overcome some of those stereotypes and this will only happen with the support of those leading today, most of whom are men. And it's great to see that support continues to grow. In fact, as the Swiss Re Institute gender report notes, in the case of gender, insurance brokers have grown their share of C-suite level women the most, and reinsurers raised representation of women on company boards the most, over the past decade. Progress has been made, but we need to keep up our efforts to move even further as an industry.

As the stereotypes are gradually loosened, the next generations won't need to be taught about diversity: instead they will live it. My 13-year old niece does not seem to be bothered by gender related limitations, and this is a great thing.