We speak to Adrian Furness of CovÃ©a Insurance about their commitment to the recruitment, development and progression of female talent.
Tell us more about CovÃ©a's role in supporting gender parity in insurance
As a company, we are trying to focus on some key deliverables. We signed up to the HM Treasury's Women in Finance Charter and we have set specific targets about the number of senior females working in the organisation -- the objective is to increase the representation of women in senior positions by at least 30% during the next five years. We're also looking at how we engage with people and the language we use, as well as flexibility of working conditions.
Also, we had traditionally received fewer applications from women than men for our graduate and apprenticeship programmes so we have been looking at why that's the case and what we need to do to change this.
Why do you think there is such a low number of women working in senior roles in the insurance industry?
I don't doubt cases of male chauvinism are still going on in insurance and many other industries too, but attitudes are changing and it's becoming increasingly socially unacceptable. However, I don't think this is the main issue. Flexibility is key -- not just for women but for men. Flexible working options are widely available and frequently taken up by women, which is great and helps retain women in the workplace who might otherwise have chosen between career and family, but this can work against them in the workplace because men have not had the same flexibility. For this to change, we need to see more men working flexibly so that it becomes an accepted norm.
Is insurance a profession that's ready to change and is there still work to be done in raising awareness?
We are certainly seeing a commitment from organisations that we haven't seen before and it is very much on the agenda for a lot of companies and members of the profession. It is now a very topical issue, which is fantastic to see. However, I don't know if you can say it is completely embraced industry-wide; there are still a number of people who don't see it
as an issue.
When you walk into many boardrooms or attend certain industry events, it is still apparent that it is massively male-dominated. People can sometimes be afraid of change and there will always be cynics, but this is all part of the process of change. There was a time when drink driving was 'semi' socially acceptable but do you know anyone who thinks so now?
We need to take people with us, which means communicating and making sure that we don't patronise our existing female leaders or discriminate against male employees. The best person for the job must always get the job, irrespective of gender. This point is absolutely key.
What improvements do you believe reducing the gender gap will bring to the industry?
If you imagine the talent pool we have, why restrict it? And also, look at it in terms of meeting the needs of our customers -- who are made up of an extremely diverse population -- if you're not representing your customers then you're not necessarily making the right decisions for them.
If you have a diverse workforce that reflects your customer population, you will be far more in tune with your customers from the outset. That means you'll be more effective, efficient and ultimately more successful at delivering products and services to meet their needs.
Adrian Furness is claims & operations director at CovÃ©a Insurance
WHAT CAN BE DONE?
Being part of positive change
- Promote flexible working at all levels -- options are a desired benefit among both men and women and can ensure more equal opportunities, regardless of choices and responsibilities outside of work.
- Lead from the top -- our senior leaders, both male and female, can show the rest of the organisation that building diverse teams, taking advantage of flexible working and championing the progression of more junior members of staff is the norm and best for business.
- Succession planning -- encourage collaboration between managers and both female and male talent, to build a talent pipeline with clear progression pathways and development plans in place for how these ambitions will be realised, so everyone is working to a clear goal.
- Networking groups and mentors -- inspire up-and-coming talent across the organisation through a variety of events and workshops and through the sharing of experiences. Appoint mentors to support and champion their cause and ensure they get development opportunities to help achieve their goals.