March 10, 2021 by Jason Contant
Monica Ningen, President, CEO, Swiss Re Canada and the English Caribbean
Women at all stages of their careers in the insurance industry continue to face barriers such as higher performance standards, harsher judgement for mistakes than their male counterparts, and persistent gender stereotypes, said Monica Ningen, president and CEO of Swiss Re Canada and the English Caribbean.
Unconscious bias often keeps women one step outside the “inner circle” at work, prohibiting them from becoming trusted partners naturally. It’s a double whammy, because at home women also tend to carry more household and caregiving responsibilities, Ningen said.
The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic is exacerbating these challenges by reversing progress made on gender equality, Ningen told Canadian Underwriter. “[The pandemic is] increasing women’s vulnerability to job loss and intensifying the challenges women already face.”
Ningen was recruited out of university into an insurance industry training program at a reinsurance broker. She said this experience provided her with a strong foundation of property and casualty insurance and reinsurance, and enabled her to experience the industry firsthand.
“Throughout my career, I’ve had some great mentors and have worked for some fantastic leaders who have coached me through tough challenges, encouraged me to step into bigger responsibilities, and fostered my thirst for personal growth,” she said.
Mentors can create a space for women to give voice to their career aspirations, which then then translate into serious consideration for senior leadership roles, Ningen suggests. “Women often struggle to admit and verbalize their ambitions,” she said. “Without a known career goal, they’re often not thought of and considered for roles.”
Although women’s representation in leadership positions within the P&C industry is improving, there’s more work to be done, Ningen said. The first step is to identify barriers women face, such as persistent gender stereotypes and unconscious bias, so that support can be provided and solutions implemented.
“Working together, we can build gender-diverse companies that will attract and retain women,” Ningen said. “If you’re a woman, you can and should support other women and their careers. If you don’t already, start today.”
To help women overcome barriers, companies should be developing diversity strategies that drive change, Ningen says. Many companies are improving their recruiting and hiring practices to source more diverse candidates.
“Hiring more diverse candidates is a start, but companies also need to retain this talent with an inclusive culture that provides a sense of belonging for all employees,” Ningen said. “A focus on training, uncovering and overcoming unconscious bias, and sponsoring female talent can further support women with career aspirations at all levels of the organization.”
Implementing flexible work options is also key, because this supports all employees trying to balance work and family life, Ningen said. “This includes women and the partners who are often working alongside them, trying to balance the household and caregiving responsibilities.”
While gender diversity has “arguably been the most prominent diversity push over the last few years,” Ningen says, the industry must also strive for diversity in the categories of race, religion, sexual identity and sexual orientation. Creating an inclusive environment that brings to life diversity of thought and life experiences makes individual companies stronger, as well as the industry as a whole.
“We must take ownership in proactively addressing inequalities that we see. We must educate ourselves on important diversity and inclusion topics and practice ally-ship,” she said, referring to the practice of supporting marginalized groups.
“The path to inclusiveness is a journey and it’s up to all of us to come together, to listen, and to put in the work needed to make the future better than the past. As an industry, I firmly believe that the more diverse we are, the stronger we are.”