The Blog Spot: Insurance – where women are still second class citizens

Sian Barton

Siân Barton explores the impact of ingrained sexism in the insurance sector and reveals the incident that prompted her to speak out.

I’ve rarely experienced overt sexism while working in the insurance sector. But a recent incident has prompted me to explore gender diversity more deeply.

At an event I was happily chatting to three men, ironically about sexism in the sector and the lack of females in management positions, when a senior manager of an insurance firm came over to say hello.

He introduced himself to the first man, shook hands, introduced himself to the second, shook hands, and then the same with the third. When it came to me he totally blanked me and continued talking with the men.

Assessing the situation, and struggling for any other reason, I can only conclude that this was due to sexism.

I can only imagine that if I were a man then I would have received a handshake and a hello too.

Perhaps he thought interacting with me as an equal would diminish his own standing? Maybe we’re all just servile replicants to him?

If this is the behaviour of those in leadership roles then how can we ever expect equality in the workplace? Who are these ‘leaders’ accountable to?

Is it any wonder that the industry has a ‘stale, pale, male’ reputation? Incidents such as this only serve to highlight the toxicity of white male privilege that STILL permeates the sector.

My colleague Rosie Quigley, a reporter on our sister publication Post, has previously discussed the appalling sexism and harassment she has faced and she’s quite correct to describe it as a “lingering stain”. Other female colleagues have been the victim of or experienced similar.

Sexist men – if you’re sexist or creepy towards us we WILL talk about it privately and publicly. We know who you are even if we don’t always shout about it.

But not everyone has the luxury of a media platform to share their experiences and women still worry about their career prospects being damaged if they do speak out. It’s just wrong and it’s why projects such as Everyday Sexism and, specifically for insurance, the Dive In Festival are needed.

Clearly there is good work being done around this issue, and I am certainly not saying all males in position of power behave in this despicable manner.

However, the incident in question happened shortly after Dive In and, despite his firm being involved with the Festival, the person in question clearly didn’t get the memo about inclusion. It just highlights that some quarters are merely paying lip service to cracking down on sexism and encouraging diversity.

I think organisations that don’t promote diversity and leaders who don’t actively demonstrate how to be inclusive are shooting themselves in the foot. It’s been proven so many times that employing people from different walks of life boosts businesses, fosters innovation and drives profits in the right direction. If leaders don’t treat all people with respect staff will go elsewhere.

Everyone should be responsible for equality and for managers it goes further than simply giving somebody a job. Leaders must also work to ensure a culture of inclusion is delivered across the board.

New faces, with different experiences, drive improvement and that’s why it’s so important for managers to deliver and believe in diversity.

People in insurance are proud of the legacy of the sector. This legacy will only be eroded if those in leadership positions allow the nasty taint of sexism to remain and fail to treat women with the same respect they would a middle-aged white man.

Siân Barton is deputy editor of Insurance Age

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