By the 100th word of “Why Are Women Leaving the Tech Industry in Droves?”, a February article in the Los Angeles Times, readers meet two women who, after more than a decade each in the industry, decided to leave forever because of “a hostile and unwelcoming environment for women.” The Guardian followed up two weeks later, in “Silicon Valley is cool and powerful. But where are the women?” which opened with the statement, “Sexist behaviour in the valley is widespread and well-documented.” Late in the summer, the New York Times wrote an article about the “bruising workplace” at Amazon.com, which, though it focused on all workers regardless of gender, included a paragraph noting that the retail giant lacked even a single woman on its top leadership team and said that “Motherhood can be a liability.”
With the technology industry at large embroiled in this crisis, now is the time for insurance companies to step up and offer talented women in technology a clear alternative, according to several of this year’s Women in Insurance Leadership honorees. The industry faces a dearth of qualified tech employees, and is competing against other industries for the best talent. So insurers can pull ahead by projecting a clear message to the qualified women who may be turned off by the toxic technology sector at large: We welcome you.
“People want to be in a place where they feel respected and where they feel they can grow their talents and are a huge contributor,” says Heather Wilson, chief data officer of AIG and a volunteer with the Girls who Code organization.
When Wilson invited girls from the group to an immersion event at AIG, she “saw them portray different leadership features” compared to boys, or even girls that are sharing a class with boys. That different perspective is valuable to the industry, she asserts, and she wants to make AIG a “destination” for women in data science and technology.
“I wanted to make sure we had them see the doors are open, and it’s a comfortable place to come as well,” she says.”
Julia Davis, Aflac’s CIO, says that the industry is shifting in a direction more favorable to women. In previous stops over her career, she notes, “many times I was the only female officer in the room.” At Aflac, half of the leadership team is female. And specific to technology, Davis says, insurance isn’t making the kind of demands that had people up in arms at Amazon. That doesn’t mean that the sector isn’t innovating of course.
“It’s not a sweatshop type of environment, where you have to put in your 60 to 80 hours a week,” she says, “Where we actively recruit from colleges, we tell them, “You can have the life you want, and we’re still doing fun stuff.”
Flexibility is key to attracting women to the industry, says Chubb’s Sharon Ashton – an increased emphasis on remote work, especially in tech, can be a selling point. In addition, she says, women are able to explore much “richer” degrees in college, specific to insurance technology. They come out “blended beings with both an insurance and technology background, and are highly sought after,” she explains.
“An insurance company has opportunities in so many different avenues – underwriting, claims, sales, marketing, technology – and as we get more data driven, we are competing more with other financial institutions as well as retail for talent,” adds Teresa Cracas, chief risk officer of Cincinnati Insurance. “We need to do a better job of helping people understand the noble purpose of insurance. We are the ones that are there first, saying ‘how can I help you?’ after a crisis. That’s why I was attracted to it.”
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