Top risk managers talk about breaking the glass ceiling for minority groups in risk and insurance

Workforce diversity makes good business sense, yet the risk and insurance industry is suffering from a diversity deficit, according to five senior risk managers who took part in a panel debate moderated by StrategicRISK’s Kin Ly in Singapore last week.

The panellists – Geetha Kanagasingam, vice-president of group risk at Barclays Bank (pictured); Raziyah Yahya of Malaysia-based oil and gas company Petronas; Sandra Ong, assistant director, ERM, at a Singapore-based industrial estates company; Carolyn Snow, president of the Risk and Insurance Management Society (RIMS); and Julia Graham, president of the Federation of European Risk Management Associations (FERMA) – compared workforce diversity in the USA and Europe to that of the Asia-Pacific region.

During the discussion, conducted at the Pan-Asia Risk & Insurance Management Association’s (PARIMA) inaugural risk management conference, it was agreed that women were well represented up until middle management in all regions, but that there were few women in top management roles.

Asia appears to do better than Europe in terms of female representation in leadership roles, but a gender gap still exists in the region and needs to be narrowed, the panellists suggested.

Graham told StrategicRISK: “The majority of young risk manager are women, which might explain why a large proportion of the attendees at insurance or risk-related conferences are women. But further up the career ladder, in leadership positions, there are fewer women. Our survey found that 78% of professionals in leadership positions are middle-aged, of which 80% are men.

“We do not feel that the issue is that women take a break simply to have a family. There is some good research that supports a view that there are more complex issues at play; namely that women fall by the wayside for a number of stereotypical reasons. For instance, men are more likely to get promoted and headhunters are also quite likely to have stereotypical views.”

The role of culture

Yahya provided a different perspective and told SR: “From a Malaysian perspective, there are few women in risk management and insurance at the moment to progress up the career ladder. Anecdotally, there are maybe 20% to 30% of women currently at board level/top management.

“There are a couple of factors that may shed light on this trend. From a Malaysian perspective, culture probably plays a part, where at a certain stage in a woman’s career, family commitments take precedence over career ambitions.

“The other aspect is that there is currently a lack of talent and competency owing to the economic slowdown in the 1980s and 1990s. As a result, companies were not recruiting as many people, resulting in the dearth of women in leadership roles today. Women did not have as many opportunities in the 1990s, which to an extent has become an inhibitor to career progression today.”

The panel also explored the future of risk management, in particular how a risk management certificate could shape the future of risk management, and whether on-the-job experience was more valuable than a certificate.

Issues such as improving professionalism and how risk managers could prepare for the challenges of tomorrow were also examined.