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International Women's Day – Time to Act!

In this blog, Chika Aghadiuno, Chair of the IFoA Diversity Advisory Group, talks about female representation in the actuarial profession this International Women’s Day.

In the context of gender equality, there is much that we could point to as a sign of progress over the years. Since the 1950s the face of the profession has changed dramatically. Monica Allanach, the first woman on Council is pictured below left as the sole female in the room. The photo below right, at the Monica Allanach event in 2015 is in stark contrast.

 Monica Allanach, the first woman on Council is pictured below left as the sole female in the room. The photo below right, at the Monica Allanach event in 2015 is in stark contrast.

The profession benefits from c40% female intake and we are now led by our third female president. Across the profession there are outstanding female members, operating at all levels, holding their own and getting on with work and life.

Beyond the profession, the UK is this year celebrating the 100 year anniversary of the Representation of the People Act when some women were given the right to vote. The Equal Pay Act was introduced nearly 50 years ago.

And yet something is still not right. Decades after having achieved such landmark victories, we are still seeing low female representation in many areas. Here are some numbers from the profession:

     

 

 

 

 

The Diversity Advisory 2015 Survey found that the proportion of female students and Fellow members is increasing and projecting recent growth rates indicated equal numbers of male and female Fellows by 2034. However, the survey also identified a higher attrition rate for women (excluding death and retirement) such that the average age of non-retiree females leaving the IFoA was 40, compared to 53 for males.

Across all organisations, board room representation is increasing at a slow rate, despite the considerable and high profile focus. After a year of stagnation, the percentage of women on the FTSE100 boards has risen to almost 28%. This offers the prospect of achieving the 33% target by 2020, although the situation for pipeline senior women does not bode well, there having been little change in 2017 in the female make-up of the combined executive committees and direct reports (25%).

The Gender Pay Gap required disclosures in the UK have highlighted some uncomfortable truths for many organisations and added to the current climate of dissatisfaction and increasingly vocal frustrations and campaigns across multiple industries. Financial Services is emerging as the worst sector in terms of pay gaps and the actuarial profession is likely to be playing its part here. At the time of writing, Financial Services had the dubious honour of reporting the highest gap at 27.1% (and a bonus gap of 55%) ahead of the mining and construction industries. With less than 20% of firms required to disclose having reported, the numbers are likely to get worse as investment banks and asset managers are still to report. Furthermore, some of the numbers from firms such as the large accountants have been flattered by the existence of a loophole allowing them to exclude (mostly male) partners from the disclosures.

All organisations have stated that they are not violating equal pay laws, and most talk in terms of being committed to equal opportunities.

So why are we not seeing the progress we might have expected?

If we accept that women are equally capable and have no less appetite and desire than their male counterparts, it suggests that societal norms and organisational cultures and processes have not moved sufficiently. Implicit and generally unintentional biases are in place.

Perhaps.

I am afraid it is too easy to hide behind such generic analysis which allows us to distance ourselves as individuals from the problem and therefore the solution. The hard truth is that, for the most part, we are simply not doing enough as individuals within our own respective worlds. The question is what are you prepared to do? It is becoming increasingly clear that to achieve real progress in a reasonable time frame, we need everyone to play a part. This is not just about women rising to the challenge, it is also about our male colleagues playing an active part – actively looking for the biases and inequalities and calling them out.  They may be big or small, but chances are they are there if you are prepared to look. The CMI Women Broken Windows campaign alludes to this and calls for men and women to recognise, acknowledge, and challenge the smaller moments and behaviours in the workplace that ultimately lead to larger gender inequalities.

In support of International Women’s Day, the Diversity Advisory Group is setting an ambition aligned with the 2018 IWD theme #pressforprogress. We are calling on our female members to seek out and put themselves forward for Practice Board and subcommittee membership, working party participation, conference speakers. We would also like to encourage all members to propose female nominations for honorary fellows this year. The aim would be to see if we can strive towards 30% female participation across the spectrum of engagement with the profession. I have been greatly encouraged by the words of support from many within the profession.

Passive support is not enough to move the dial - I urge everyone to commit to one positive action in support of progress.

Get it right for women, we will almost certainly get it right for the introverts amongst us, for black and minority ethnic colleagues, those with disabilities, the less socially mobile, indeed for all of us.

Chika Aghadiuno

Chair of the IFoA Diversity Advisory Group