Talking women in insurtech with PwC's Khayala Eylazova

The insurance industry is often thought of as being slow to change – but does it deserve the reputation, particularly when it comes to gender parity?

The entire financial system suffers from a gender imbalance, with fewer female leaders in positions of power and less visibility for women in the boardroom. This is true of the insurance sector, too – although, for an industry that is often criticised for being slow to catch up – insurance is still a couple of steps ahead of the game.

“Insurance is more gender diverse but less racially diverse than the average industry in North America,” says Kweilin Ellingrud, a Senior Partner at McKinsey who leads the company’s research on global productivity. A 2022 survey from the consulting firm shows the state of gender equality in the insurance sector.

McKinsey found that, in insurance, two-thirds of entry level jobs are taken by women (lower than the average across other industries) yet women are 7-14 percentage points more likely to occupy senior roles. Indeed, insurance is 3-5 percentage points more diverse at the VP, SVP and C-Suite level than all industries taken as a whole.

Clearly, there is still work to be done encouraging women into insurance jobs – but the industry appears to have earned the right to be disassociated from any notion that it lags behind. At Insurtech Insights in London, we spoke to Khayala Eylazova, Commercial Director EMEA at PwC UK, about the state of gender parity in insurance.

Are there enough women in insurtech?

“We always say that insurance is slow to change, but 10 years ago we couldn't speak about these topics,” Eylazova points out. “Thanks to many initiatives like Dive In Global Insurance Festival and other D&I festivals, we managed to highlight some of the key issues like racism, xenophobia, the gender pay gap, disability, mental health and so many others.

“We are still on a journey. We don't have a magic answer. But I realise that if we don't change, nothing is going to change. We should take a step back and understand how we can use our privilege to open doors to people who are less privileged than us, to minimise the hardship on minorities and just to show them the way, be a role model out there and be an ally.”

McKinsey’s research shows that Europe is progressing at a similar pace to North America when it comes to achieving gender balance in the insurance sector. But there is still more work to do, and the European picture is very fractured. “The number of female top managers in insurance is still super-low,” explains Pia Schlüter, a Partner at McKinsey in Germany.

Some insurance organisations have virtually no female representation at board level, while others have built a board or management team that is 30% female. There is still a long way to go before management teams look equal in number, but progress to date depends on the organisation in question.

Do we need strong female role models?

With many women entering the insurance sector but failing to see a clear path to senior management – particularly in North America, as McKinsey’s data shows – is the need for strong female role models more important than ever? Must entry-level insurance workers and graduates be convinced of their own chances, and will that happen if they see women in senior roles within their own organisation?

Khayala Eylazova believes so. She tells us: “At the beginning it can be really challenging, but you have to look for these role models. If they're up there, you get inspired and you think you can do it. Somehow, I feel like we are not getting them. We are slow.”

Eylazova thinks there are female role models within insurance; she meets so many of them during the two days she’s at Insurtech Insights. But we must also be doing more to shine a spotlight on them, Eylazova says.

She is impressed by the turnout at this year’s event, praising organisers for making room in the diary for important panel discussions around diversity and inclusion. Eylazova explains that coming to events like Insurtech Insights has been really useful for her personally.

“If you come here, be present and network a lot” is her advice. “Listen, learn and try to dive in, try to take something back with you and think about what you're going to do differently. I can't wait for next year’s event to come because I think it’s a brilliant two days.”

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