Elevating gender equality from mere conversations to meaningful actions and investments – truth or dare?
This International Women’s Day, I’m reflecting on my passion to help other women step into their own power and be the inspiration to others that follow. I can’t do it on my own, though. I dare you to be the spark and to push your organization to renew its commitment to achieving gender equality in the insurance industry.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 61.3 percent of insurance employees are women. Moreover, a 2017 Saint Joseph’s University study found 58 percent of surveyed insurance companies had two or more women on their boards, as opposed to only 34 percent in 2013. The insurance industry is in the midst of a monumental demographics shift and at long last is breaking away from its male-dominated legacy.
Despite recent progress, we have significantly more work to do to achieve true workplace equality. Men still hold the overwhelming majority of senior-level roles, and historically only a very few women end up on the path to becoming CEO. Even today in the finance and insurance industries, women’s median earnings are only 60.4 percent of those of men. The current efforts toward gender equality are not enough and we need to accelerate now.
If we were building a DIY toolkit for gender balance, workplace equality and inclusion acceleration, the building blocks would be relationships and networking, mentorships, and male allies.
As Inga Beale once said, “Trust goes hand in hand with inclusion.” Remarkable accomplishments are possible when women support each other. Women often believe they have to do everything on their own. We don’t. Embrace networking and build trusted communities of friends and personal advisors. By intentionally working together, we can remove biases industrywide and eliminate barriers to a truly inclusive work environment.
As women climb the corporate ladder, we labor under our own impossible expectations, striving to be “the best” at all times. The pressure of the “perfect gene” deters many talented women from voicing their opinions and stepping into their own power. Instead of celebrating accomplishments, many high-achievers singularly focus on their own limitations or perceived failures.
The truth is nobody is perfect. It is OK to make mistakes and to share those lessons so others on similar journeys can learn from us and dare to take risks. This life lesson must be passed down to female students considering careers in the industry. We should educate and coach these students to speak up confidently and understand what they can achieve. It will be too late to break the perfectionist curse if we wait until they’re on the job.
Mentorship may be the secret weapon to permanently shattering the gender divide. As a grassroots movement, mentorship encourages professionals to share meaningful dialogues, identify opportunities and ignite positive changes. Mentors and mentees come together to learn, challenge and lift each other, collectively serving as a catalyst to fuel shifting bias, shape industry leaders and instill confidence.
Perhaps insurance can take a page from larger STEM initiatives when it comes to inspiring young women. For example, famed mentor Edie Fraser, founder of Million Women Mentors and STEMconnector, has inspired many professionals, including myself, to mentor and sponsor women for break-out careers. By connecting young women with their role models, the initiative sparks the interest and confidence of girls and women to pursue and succeed in STEM careers and C-suite leadership opportunities.
Fortunately, men have joined our cause and now stand as workplace allies for gender equality. They publicly advocate for workplace inclusivity and partner with women to convert misconceptions. Men are proactively encouraging other men to participate in women employee resource groups and conferences to identify and shift underlying biases. We must continue inviting enlightened males of all generations to join us. Their candid perspectives keep us honest. We learn from their fresh outlooks and they, in turn, learn much from us.
Despite recent victories, a glass ceiling still persists, but its cracks are visible and growing. Change sometimes happens one relationship at a time. Dare to build our support networks, invite male colleagues to join us and inspire female students to create a new reality. Collaborative, bold and intentional actions can ignite everlasting changes and bring true workplace equality to the industry.