Ncumisa Mtshali, Group Head of Human Resources, Bryte
Every Women’s Month, in roll the platitudes about the importance of women and the multitude of roles we play in society and industry.
Promises are made to address the issues that plague us, from the corporate world to our interpersonal relationships, often the same ones every year. In 2021, it is time for action, and the insurance industry has a part to play in moving the dial on the advancement of women, both within our industry and in the way we service our women customers.
While the representation of women has increased in the insurance industry, gender disparity in the industry is still prevalent. According to 2019 insights from management consultancy firm McKinsey & Company, women are still not equally represented in leadership positions in the insurance industry. This has an impact on how well the industry’s offerings address the specific needs of women. McKinsey aptly notes that diversity within leadership bolsters the range of perspectives and quality of decision outcomes of an organisation. If our voices are not represented in the spaces where policies are being formulated and decisions are being made, this reflects in what is ultimately offered to the consumer.
However, in the spirit of taking action, rather than lament the under-representation of women in the insurance industry, let us rather focus on what we can do to forge a different future.
- Push for equity: organisations need to aggressively drive equity within their organisations, across race, gender, ability, sexuality, and the intersection of those identities, and push to improve the lived realities within the corporate world
- Spread the word: make a concerted effort to market the industry to young women at high school and university level and encourage them to go into financial services by communicating the phenomenal opportunities available to them in the industry
- Change the culture: alongside bringing more women into the industry, it is imperative that companies ensure their culture is one that respects the immense value women add to the industry, as equals to their male counterparts
While increasing the presence of women in the insurance industry will be a slow, but hopefully steady, progression, there are actions that can be taken now to improve how insurance companies better acknowledge the unique needs of their women customers. There are certain things insurance providers can start taking cognisance of and shifts in policies that can be made now to improve the quality of the cover we offer.
Most insurance offerings exhibit an understanding of the risks present in the South African context, such as crime, environmental, and cyber risks. However, more insurers should take note of and offer cover for risks that disproportionately affect women. For instance, given the prevalence of gender-based violence in South Africa and the higher safety risks faced by women, roadside assistance covers should come with a standard safety offering, where someone arrives promptly to ensure they are not alone while awaiting assistance, across the industry. Another example would be maternity offerings, which tend to offer great pre- and post-natal healthcare services but could drastically improve on offering cover related to other risk possibilities, such as miscarriages and related mental health support, health-related abortions, or mental health resources to deal with post-partum depression. Addressing the range of unique risks and experiences faced by women should be embedded in insurance products, as an industry standard.
Rethink ‘Pink Tax’-style add ons
Insurance offerings which do include aspects that specifically address women’s unique needs are available, however, at times these are at an additional cost. Much in the same way the pink tax – which refers to the tendency for products marketed for women to be more expensive than those marketed for men – is criticised, structuring packages in a way that would cause women customers to disproportionately pay more for cover than their male counterparts should be rethought. It can be argued that there are instances where women pay less than men on insurance premiums – motor insurance is often cited as an example of this. However, these premiums are calculated based on risk and studies have shown that the behavioural, and not gendered, differences in driving style is what is behind this. This is different to insurers charging an additional premium for women-centric add-ons. The structuring of insurance offerings and pricing models should be re-developed to ensure that cost parity is not unfairly disrupted on the basis of gender.
Women have made and continue to make great strides in the insurance industry, with the number of women occupying leadership positions growing and the industry becoming more inclusive, however, there is still some way to go in creating a more equitable industry. However, continued progress in this regard is not impossible.
By growing the number of women in insurance, not only will the industry become more diverse but the quality of cover and amount of value we add to our female customers will increase.