Building career momentum for women in insurance

Building career momentum for women in insurance

Building career momentum for women in insurance | Insurance Business New Zealand

Insurance News

Building career momentum for women in insurance

The ‘bad old days’ may be over but there are still plenty of career sticking points for women in insurance

Insurance News

Bennett Richardson

When Sharyn Reichstein first started out in insurance, she felt largely on her own in terms of finding an understanding for the types of pressures that women face in the workplace.

“In the early days of my career, with very little flexibility offered at the time, I struggled to find that support. I had few people to talk to about the problems I was having juggling family, work and childcare with no extended family support available [while] navigating a new city in Sydney,” she told Insurance Business.

Fast forward to post-pandemic New Zealand and the industry does a better job of being women-friendly. Initiatives from addressing pay gaps to improving parental leave are helping to make insurance into a more attractive playing field.

“These days, insurance companies have embraced diversity and inclusion so the environment is much more conducive to women flourishing at more senior levels than it may have been in the past. That said, we still have work to do to ensure we support women through senior leadership, management and board level,” said Reichstein, who is now chief risk officer at Tower Insurance.

Reichstein will be speaking on a leadership panel at the upcoming Women in Insurance Summit 2024 in Auckland on February 27, thanks to event sponsor Deloitte, gold sponsor Delta, and silver sponsor NIB. Book your tickets today

Lagging in some areas compared to global peers

Still, New Zealand lags in some key areas that tend to affect a woman’s career trajectory more than that of men.

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One is parental leave. Crayon’s State of Parental Leave in New Zealand 2023 report found that while nine in 10 employers are offering at least some primary carer leave and paid partner’s leave above the statutory entitlements, these entitlements are in the bottom quartile among developed nations in terms of generosity.

Insurance companies, such as Tower, are doing their part to help bring the country up to speed.

“We’re committed to helping people to be their authentic selves and enabling them to focus on family and activities that are important for personal wellbeing, while thriving in their careers. We offer flexible working, 16 weeks paid parental leave for primary carers and four weeks paid leave for partners,” said Reichstein.

Having strong parental leave provisions is key to making sure that women who may be emerging leaders aren’t disadvantaged if they are transitioning into a management role at the same time as starting a family.

“This juncture creates unique challenges for women, and I’ve seen some fabulous programmes for this cohort that have allowed women to share their concerns, reset and continue in their career journeys with new tools and the support of peers,” said Reichstein.

Fewer Kiwis work from home compared to workers in other English-speaking countries in the post-pandemic world, perhaps because COVID-19 was both postponed and substantially flattened here in terms of its severity. If insurance companies allow a greater degree of flexible working, more women would find it easier to climb the corporate ladder than if women are stuck in an office.

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Better transparency around gender pay gaps

The launch of the Pay Gap Registry just under a year ago has helped identify discrepancies in remuneration at companies and added pressure to close the gap.

A number of insurers have their pay gap data on the new registry, but there are also many that do not.

“[We] were one of the first 50 business in Aotearoa to join the Mind the Gap registry to publicly report on pay gap data, which is important for keeping ourselves accountable,” said Reichstein.

Aside from Tower, other large insurers whose pay gap information is publicly available include IAG, AA Insurance, and AIA. All four have female representation of at least 62% in their overall workforces, much higher than what is thought to be the average for the insurance industry. But except for AA Insurance, their gender pay gaps are conspicuously larger than the national average – by at least 10 percentage points in fact.

This pattern usually means that a firm has a bigger proportion of women in lower paying roles such as customer service, and a smaller proportion in higher paying roles. Sometimes the reasons are to do with specialist training in areas such technology and sometimes are related to a relative lack of females in senior roles.

More support needed, more women needed

To get more women into higher paying jobs and close the gap in insurance, a combination of practical policy changes and improving male-dominated internal cultures is needed.

“Parenting, childcare, flexible or part-time work arrangements are areas where businesses and leaders can that provide practical support, flexibility and understanding to help women prosper in their jobs and at home,” said Reichstein.

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Opportunities and confidence are also important.

“Opportunity builds confidence… I try to bolster this by helping women in my workplace prepare for new opportunities, [so] I provide feedback and enable further training to hone their skills,” she said.

A large enough quorum of women to produce role models for people to follow is critical.

“Learning how other women have dealt with obstacles can often set you free from self-limiting beliefs. I still carry nuggets of gold with me that I’ve collected from others, and I draw on these regularly for courage and conviction,” said Reichstein.

While 62% of employees at Tower are women, more are needed across the industry in general, both at entry level and mid-career.

“We, as an industry, could do a better job of ensuring insurance is more top of mind as a career both when women are completing their education and when they are looking for a career change… We need women from all backgrounds and disciplines to fill new and future roles, from technology and finance to executive and board levels,” she said.

Reichstein is positive there is a place for more women in the industry, and that those who take the leap will find fertile ground for their careers.

“The opportunities are endless,” she said. “There are roles for all women in insurance, it is one of the most exciting and rewarding industries I have had the pleasure of working in.” 

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