"There is an acceptance among most intelligent people that a person’s genitalia is one of the least important factors in determining their ability to perform their job."
- Phil Jeynes, director of corporate strategy at ReAssured
One of our foremost modern philosophers, Beyoncé, once asked the question: “who run the world?” The answer, as I’m sure you know, is “girls (girls).” Indeed, the world is full of inspiring role models for women, from pop stars to politicians and athletics to academia.
However, one area in which equality appears to remain out of reach is the Boardroom. There are currently nine female CEOs heading up firms in the FTSE top 100, up from six in 2016 but still, that’s 91% of major businesses favouring a man in the big chair.
This could be because major companies don’t think women are up to the task and undoubtedly there are some people who feel that blokes are good at certain jobs and girls are better suited elsewhere; you want a tough decision made? Ask a man. You need some help with a tricky HR issue? A woman is your best bet.
Increasingly, however, there is an acceptance among most intelligent people that a person’s genitalia is one of the least important factors in determining their ability to perform their job.
The fact that these 91 companies have made it into the list of the top 100 might mean that this lack of diversity at the very top isn’t a problem, and herein lies the biggest hurdle with changing the status quo: if a very senior position falls vacant, do you fill it with someone with a proven track record of success, or take a risk on someone with less experience? If you choose the former (and why wouldn’t you?) you’re picking from a field which is potentially 91% male and thereby the imbalance persists, despite best intentions.
Focusing on the Protection market, the argument of ‘it isn’t broken so why fix it?' is tougher to make. The sector boasts some phenomenal success stories: brokerages delivering outstanding service and support to millions of customers, insurers with track records dating back centuries, products which have stood the test of time and continue to change lives. But it has struggled to grow. Indeed the sector shrank in 2022 and has been largely flat for half a decade or more, despite the growing population.
I’m not suggesting that parachuting women into the top jobs would solve this conundrum, but I do believe we would benefit from more truly innovative and fresh thinking, something which is unlikely if we continue to populate our top tables with similar people.
At this point, you’d be justified in asking why I, pale and male, feels in any way entitled to pontificate on this sensitive subject. The answer is because I regular meet people who, precisely because they look and sounds just like me, think we’ll share the same views.
Often they’re right: I liked football without VAR, think wearing shoes without socks looks weird and get angry about needing to download an app to perform even the most mundane of tasks. Yet aside from these and other cliches of the middle-aged man I, like many others, don’t conform to the stereotype. I don’t think everything was better in the old days, in fact I realise how charmed my life has been and how difficult it’s been for others, for no other reason than they aren’t as white or male as me.
This doesn’t mean, of course, that white men like me haven’t worked hard, made good decisions and possess a myriad other attributes which make them assets to this and other industries. It simply means we have an innate head start – unseen and unrequested but equally undeniable. We had role models which reflected ourselves and therefore we could believe that their success could be ours, too.
The value of role models is evident in all walks of life, with football a prime example. Female player registrations rose sharply in the wake of England’s Euro success in 2022 and a similar influx is expected following their high profile progression to this year’s World Cup final. The local club of which I am a committee member didn’t even have a girls’ section five years ago, now it is our fastest growing youth division. Seeing is believing.
In this respect I suppose you could call me ‘woke’, a word which in recent years has become bizarrely divisive, with one extreme insisting we all accept every challenge to social norms without question or risk being labelled a bigot, and the other using it to demean and decry any attempt to progress the rights of minority groups.
If we ignore the loud fringe elements, we should all aspire to be as woke as possible. After all the alternative is what? To be asleep?
There will be those who question whether we need more awards focused solely on women in financial services, viewing that in itself as a kind of sexism. We have some amazing women in senior positions in this market – a huge improvement even over my relatively short tenure – but until young women in our industry can see senior role models in the same abundance as their male counterparts, these awards and others like them serve a vital purpose in showcasing and celebrating those women who are blazing a trail others might follow.