In the first of a series of Women in Risk articles, FERMA president Julia Graham is on a drive to improve gender diversity in the risk and insurance profession. Here, she explains how and why

Julia Graham
FERMA president and director of risk management and insurance at DLA Piper UK

The profession, innovation and diversity are the main themes for my term as FERMA president. My focus here is diversity and gender diversity in our profession.

Here are two simple facts about women in business:

  • Women at senior levels are more likely to stay around the businesses for which they work and they are therefore a great investment. So why are businesses failing to maximise on these investments?
  • The gap in equality starts before women have children and, typically, increases above the age of 35. This weakens the argument that having children is one of the fundamental reasons why companies fail to achieve parity of women in senior positions and in salary.

Vive la différence

Gender diversity involves recognising and celebrating the differences between men and women and establishing how businesses can be encouraged to convert the opportunities these differences present. It is also about how women can be encouraged to search for these opportunities and rise to the challenge. Gender diversity does not involve ironing out the different characteristics and qualities of gender – vive la différence!

I will focus on: what I believe some of the gender issues are; how business leaders perceive them; and what risk and insurance professionals and FERMA can do about them. I can achieve only so much in this space but StrategicRISK has been generous in providing a platform to share the FERMA journey and to invite you to join me.

At a country level, progress on closing gender gaps has been slow – although those working in Iceland, Finland, Norway, Sweden, Ireland, Denmark or Switzerland may not relate to some of my words. All these countries, and others, fared well above the average in a recent global gender gap survey.

The World Economic Forum’s 2013 Global Gender Gap Report emphasises persisting gender gap divides across and within regions. The index points to potential role models by revealing which countries are leaders in the more equitable division of resources between women and men, regardless of the level of resources available. This does not mean all the countries that fare well have tackled the gender gap in the same way.

For example, there are notable differences in Scandinavian countries in their approach to the continued deficit in gender equality at boardroom level.

Increased gender diversity at the top of companies correlates with better company performance. Despite this, women are still underrepresented at top management levels. In France, for example, women account for only 9% of executive committee members.

Research by McKinsey last year showed that many companies have programmes in place, but have not yet achieved positive results. It found that one reason the initiatives have failed is that they are often not well implemented. In their discussions with a number of chief executives of gender-diverse companies about the measures they have taken, they heard that change takes time and that the quality of corporate culture is an important success factor.

McKinsey’s study upends the myth that female managers are less ambitious than their male colleagues. Women are as ambitious as men, but they tend to display less confidence about their chances to succeed. Here, confidence is defined as a perception of one’s chances of success in the current environment, rather than confidence in one’s own qualifications.

Confidence in success is most correlated with collective factors, meaning that the corporate environment effectively plays a role in raising the levels of confidence of its women leaders. They found that: corporate culture matters twice as much as individual mindsets with regard to women’s confidence about their potential to succeed; engagement and support from male colleagues are critical to overcoming these barriers; the current “anytime, anywhere” performance model penalises women more than men and should be addressed; and encouraging a diversity of leadership styles in a firm is helpful.

FERMA Making a Difference

When I became FERMA president last year, I made an observation at our conference. The event had been great – a fantastic turnout, good sessions, many opportunities to network – but one thing jarred. Out of 13 leaders who took part in risk manager, insurer and broker panel sessions, there was only one woman.

The leadership of FERMA and the special place this gives me – to go MAD and Make A Difference – is why diversity became one of my key objectives.

What we do must be sustainable, ownership must be shared and the diversity of cultures across Europe must be embraced. We have a cross-border team of people in the profession who have offered to be part of a focus group and act as diversity champions – this includes risk managers, insurance managers, brokers, regulators and academics. We have two FERMA board leaders in addition to me: Helle Friberg and Michel Dennery.

We are developing a statement about FERMA’s position on gender diversity, what we mean and why it matters. We are focusing our energy and resources on where we can make a sustainable difference and extract the most value.

FERMA is consciously thinking about the balance of our board, committees and working groups. When we organise events, you will notice a difference, including at our seminar in Brussels this October and the Venice Forum in 2015.

FERMA is organising events focused on diversity and we are actively supporting the events of FERMA associations and partners, where we can gather to listen, learn and network.

We are developing a database of diversity networks, which will explain what they are called, what they do, where they are located and how to join. The FERMA website diversity space will include papers, articles and publications that offer thought leadership.

Do you know how to become a mentor, do you know the tricks of drafting a great CV, do you need advice on negotiating or making effective presentations? We will share advice on business skills – association members and partners have access to, but others do not.

This is personal, this is emotional – but this is not a fad or a quick fix. It is a journey towards diversity with an objective for diversity to become a mainstream management issue.

We have some great role models in our profession, at all stages of their careers. We will be profiling them and celebrating their success and lessons learnt, starting here…

© Copyright Strategic Risk, August 2014,