The Business Case for Promoting Women to Leadership Roles
The numbers are in, and they solidify something many people in our industry have known for years: having women in leadership positions drives business results.
A McKinsey & Company article published late last year revealed that company profits and share performance can be close to 50% higher when women are well-represented at the top. Data from S&P Global released in 2019 show that firms with female chief executive officers saw a 20% increase in stock price 24 months post-appointment, and firms with female chief financial officers saw a 6% increase in profitability and 8% larger stock returns.
These numbers send the message that emphasizing diversity, equity and inclusion isn’t just the right thing to do. It’s the right way to do business.
Not so long ago, women in leadership roles were a rarity in our industry. This I know because I was there. When I became a field sales manager, very few women had that role. When I moved into product management, I was the only female product manager. When I became a regional vice president at Nationwide, I was the second woman in that role — and I can’t tell you how delighted the existing female vice president was to have me there.
I’ve taken each step in my career as an opportunity to champion other highly qualified women for leadership roles. When women ask me for my advice on how to attain a leadership position, I tell them three things:
- Do outstanding work at the job you have right now. Become a great contributor and develop a proven track record of success.
- Look inside and outside your organization to build leadership skills. A few years ago, I mentored a woman who wanted a managerial job but had no leadership experience. So, she took a leadership role in a project at her church and showed me how effective she’d be at the job.
- Build your networks. Look outside your company for networking opportunities. Events like the Insurance Industry Charitable Foundation’s International Inclusion in Insurance Forum this June will provide a valuable forum for women — and all professionals in the industry — to help each other rise up.
The power to be a leader lies within each of us. But potential troubles are on the horizon. In the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, as working women continue to struggle with work-life balance, as many as two million women are now considering leaving the workforce, according to McKinsey. Such an exodus would set our industry’s progress in this area back for years.
I was fortunate in my career; I have a wonderful husband who was a stay-at-home dad before it was a common practice. But I’m one of the lucky ones. For most families today, both spouses must work. That’s why insurance organizations must do a better job of supporting women and associates of all genders, races and ethnicities. Four best practices for company leadership to consider include:
- Review your recruiting strategies and make sure they are inclusive of all.
- Bring women into positions that require foundational and technical expertise. Actively recruit females in underwriting, pricing, information technology and claims. Develop females as functional technical experts in these areas.
- Offer benefits and flexibility that address total wellness. Leading organizations allow for flexible scheduling and provide benefits that go beyond physical health — from mental health resources to pet insurance and everything in between. Several years ago, when my father was fighting cancer, I was able to work out a plan with my Nationwide leader that allowed me to work four days a week and care for my father the other three days. That flexibility meant everything to me.
- Go beyond formal mentoring programs. Providing dedicated development, training and mentoring opportunities is a must-have. It is even better when those mentors truly sponsor and advocate on behalf of other women.
At Nationwide, one of our most important diversity, equity and inclusion resources are our Associate Resource Groups (ARG). There are 15 associate-initiated and associate-driven teams that come together voluntarily to assist in advancing diversity, equity and inclusion, and enhancing Nationwide’s business success. Currently, 18,000 of our associates are members of our ARGs. Our All-Women ARG — at nearly 4,500 associates — is our largest.
When COVID-19 first hit, our Nationwide Moms (Parents) ARG was a sounding board to help us understand how we could help associates juggle homeschooling, day care, eldercare and work. Pre-COVID, Nationwide Moms helped us to inform our new-parental leave policies for natural-born and adopted children.
Our industry has made great strides in developing female leaders for more than 30 years on both the carrier side and, more recently, on the broker and agency side.
We should all strive to reach 50% female representation in leadership industrywide. And there’s plenty of work to be done — especially when it comes to promoting women of color to senior leadership roles.
At the end of the day, helping all employees — regardless of gender or ethnicity — develop a sense of belonging within your organization will drive business results.
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