Why International Women’s Day is important for everyone

By Ninette Meyer, Link Committee Member, Head of Validation and Risk Intelligence at MS Amlin and Cochair of Open and Out, MS Amlin’s LGBTQ+ Employee Resource Group

Ah, International Women’s Day. Yet another event in the calendar which prompts eye rolls from those who just can’t see the point of it. Or who don’t like the politics. Or who – along with 54% of respondents in this global survey – believe that efforts to achieve gender equality have gone “far enough”.

Of course, this is evidently untrue. The gender pay gap remains stubbornly wide in the UK. There are fewer than 10 female CEOs at FTSE 100 companies, while more than half of women in the UK workplace are likely to experience sexual harassment. Does this really seem like the drive for gender equality has gone too far? If anything, recent evidence suggests that things are going backwards by some measures. As reported last week, the UK slipped from 13th to 17th in the PwC’s Women in Work Index in the wake of successive widenings of the gender pay gap.

Gender equality benefits us all – not just in the UK, where I live and work, but all around the world. The impact of improved gender equality on economic, environmental, and social outcomes is the topic of significant research.

The business benefits of greater workplace diversity are also well publicised by now, not least in the very famous McKinsey research on the topic. Within financial services, we can see the efforts of the regulators – the FCA, the PRA, Lloyd’s – to drive gender equality. The reason they find it necessary to intervene is that years of waiting for things to improve organically have not worked.

Representation still matters

One very important reason why International Women’s Day matters is because representation matters. Yes, this has become a hackneyed and overused phrase, but that doesn’t make it any less true. When I first entered the insurance industry in South Africa, there was very little visibility of women in senior roles, never mind women who were also openly LGBTQ+! It’s much more difficult to imagine yourself in a role if you’ve never seen someone like you doing that role first.

Being a woman actuary working in insurance can also be lonely. Even at university I was often one of the only two or three women in a class. Many women and many in the LGBTQ+ community will be all too familiar with feeling the odd one out in meeting after meeting at the office. Talk about imposter syndrome!

That’s why today it’s great to have role models such as Inga Beale, former CEO of Lloyd’s. When she came out as bisexual in 2016 while she was still CEO, that wasn’t just brave, it was inspiring. To have an openly bisexual female business leader in one of Britain’s oldest financial institutions feature in a long lifestyle piece in the Evening Standard went an awfully long way towards normalising being out and open. Her doing that made a lot of people feel like they belong – or can belong – in this market.

At the same time, we have some amazing women here at MS Amlin whom I really admire and look up to, including Rebecca Mason, the first openly Trans Woman in the Lloyd’s market.

Although there is still work to be done on equality, we have moved the dial pretty significantly from when I started in this industry not all that long ago. And the impact of having a growing number of inspiring female leaders in significant roles should not be discounted.

What insurance leaders can do to be more inclusive

It’s apt that the theme of this year’s International Women’s Day is #InspireInclusion. If we’re honest with ourselves, inclusion of diverse experiences, backgrounds, and opinions is something the insurance industry could do better. It often feels like we’re trying to do things the way we’ve always done them – especially in the London Market.

We can’t underestimate just how important it is for people in senior leadership positions to speak out very clearly about the importance of inclusion, to normalise it for those who might feel left behind in the conversation around diversity and inclusion because they don’t fall into any one specific diversity category. People may feel excluded from these conversations or that D&I doesn’t have anything to do with them, when it really does.

This is why it’s important to bring everyone along. It’s not just about women, and not just about the LGBTQ+ community. It’s not just about any one group. It’s about people. So inclusion is for all, and leaders have to lead from the front on this. There are already many leaders in our industry who are passionate about inclusion, but the more of them who join in, the stronger the call will be and the more normalised it will become.

This again is a key benefit of International Women’s Day, because if business leaders aren’t talking about the benefits of diversity on a day like this, when will they? It shouldn’t be seen as an obligation, or a box to tick, but rather a reminder of the need to show support for diversity at a time when people as a whole are likely to be more receptive.

That said, diversity and inclusion aren’t just for certain dates in the calendar. They’re year-round, continuous efforts. Clear visibility of diverse leaders and employees is a big part of this. This is why I feel a certain responsibility to be visible and to support others. It makes a difference. Even inspiring only one or two people to pursue a career in insurance or to help them feel like they belong is enough of an impact to make it worthwhile.

Advice to women just entering the industry

While I do believe it’s important for women in the industry to stand up and be visible, there’s a lot that women just entering our industry can do to help move the needle on inclusion and improve their chances of having a satisfying career.

The advice I wish I’d got when I first went into insurance is that it’s ok to sometimes feel like you don’t fit in or haven’t earned the right to contribute. Everyone feels like that at some point, so don’t let it get you down. Focus on the contribution you’re making. You have a right to feel you belong and to be part of the conversation.

Also, remember where you came from. Support others where you can and think of those people coming after you. What can you do to support them and what can you do to leave your company and our industry a better place?