For decades, women across the globe and in India have been fighting stereotypes, unconscious bias and societal norms that restrict their development. From breaking the glass ceiling in the corporate world to making a mark in so called male-dominated careers, women continue to fight for their place even in the modern world. The theme of this year’s international Women’s Day - #BalanceforBetter was also designed to drive conversations on making the world more gender balanced and our workplaces more gender diverse.
Findings of the World Economic Forum 2018 Report make gender a relevant conversation for organizations to have today. The report indicates that the world is 202 years away from bridging the Global Gender Gap and ranks India at 142 among 149 countries on the economic participation and opportunity factor.
At 48%, women constitute almost half the population in India. How can we afford to leave out this significant proportion of the populace from entering or flourishing in the workforce? Though we are eons away from attaining gender balance, it is never too late to take concerted steps toward bridging the gap.
Delivering gender diversity in the insurance industry- are we there yet?
Gender diversity is important for new age insurance companies, especially because diversity brings healthy competition and challenges the thinking process to enable innovation and creativity in the business approach. Most importantly, it helps to weed out complacency.
In India, the insurance industry is still among the many sectors striving to achieve a balanced workforce and deliver diversity. As per the annual report 2017-18 of the Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority of India (IRDAI) , women constitute around 27.81% of the total life insurance agency force as of early last year.
Today, insurance has gone beyond crunching numbers, it involves a lot of soft skills like creativity and communication, for effective customer service and relationship. With the increasing focus on customer satisfaction, the sector is eager to hire employees who can be empathetic, patient and caring. Besides possessing these traits, women are also naturally intuitive and sensitive to the concerns of others. They are excellent multitaskers, a skill largely acquired due to societal expectations, women bring a lot more to the table.
Empowering greater work-life balance for women on the block
The serious gender gap also stems from the sudden departure of women employees mid-career which impacts an organization’s functioning and profitability. Societal norms typically expect a woman, rather than a man, to take on the responsibility of families’ growing non-work needs hence matters such as marriage, motherhood, caring for children or aging parents, and family commitment are likely to steer her from the career path. Over and above these personal reasons, there are a host of other factors too that compel women to drop off mid-career, giving up on their dreams halfway.
It is therefore important for companies to ensure that diversity does not merely end at employing women but also retaining the female workforce, in a productive manner. The insurance industry could do a lot more to retain and encourage women toward career progression in their respective fields.
- While allowing flexible working hours can help manage both personal and professional tasks, for cases where women employees may want to take a longer break for personal emergencies, sabbatical facilities should be rendered handy to encourage them to resume work.
- Regulatory intervention has already helped women garner maternity benefits in terms of six months leave and on-campus day care centers. To bring back working moms into the workforce the concept of “Half day” on “half pay” must be deliberated upon. In an extension of this, mothers joining work immediately after availing full maternity leave (up to a maximum period of 3 months) should be allowed an option of working half day while getting paid for the duration of work done.
- Additionally, on-the-job recognition of women in the form of annual awards could be another step to maintain the motivation among female employees. To further train and encourage women to become insurers of tomorrow, companies could look at campus placements and hire candidates from top B-Schools as Management Trainees, thereby looking for equal representation of men and women.
With 1 in 10 companies having women at the helm , and no global banks run by a woman, the insurance sector needs to stay consistent in its approach to double this number. To effectively overthrow societal norms of women taking a backseat in their careers as life progresses, organizations will have to step up and create an environment which is more conducive to work-life balance for their women employees. Deployment of forward-looking in-house policies can positively help companies retain the female workforce and maintain diversity effectively.