'If we don't deal with gender inequality, we will be left with a huge burden of care'
Marking International Women’s Day, the CEO of the Chartered Insurance Institute speaks to PoliticsHome on what the insurance industry can to do alleviate gender equality.
Last year at the Women of the World festival in March, the Chartered Insurance Institute launched a new programme.
The initiative, Insuring Women’s Futures (IWF), was set up with the aim of promoting and enhancing the insurance sector’s role in relation to women and risk.
Gender issues may not seem like natural focus of an insurance organisation, but as the CEO of the CII and Chair of the IWF committee Sian Fisher told PoliticsHome, the industry has a great competency to have a positive impact in society.
“Insurance covers life insurance, income protection and long term build-up of savings to create financial resilience. It also covers pensions and long term care, things that are needed to give people some protection for their lives.
She added: “When I'm talking about insurance, I'm talking about that whole spectrum. There is the opportunity for insurance to be a great force for social good.”
IWF wishes to seize this opportunity with both hands and in this vein, they launched a report in December of last year: Women’s Risks in Life.
The report revealed that although both men and women face risks in life, women are both more vulnerable and have less resilience. As a direct result of this, they are more likely to be trapped in poverty later in life.
The data also demonstrated that women are victims of a significant pay gap. An average woman earns 16% less than a man of the same age and is more likely to be in more insecure employment. A woman typically spends time caring, in an unpaid capacity, for her children and elderly parents which has an impact on her financial future and negatively affecting her pension.
Ms. Fisher told PoliticsHome: “Women have a lot less resilience to risk than men do, and that's largely to do with financial empowerment.”
She said the reason for the disparity was both societal and historical. The Sex and Discrimination Act came into being in 1975 and women have only acquired their own legal entity at the beginning of the twentieth century.
“A lot of systems for creating financial resilience, such as financial services and banking, have been very much focused on men or the family unit. The reality of many women needing to deal associated risks of life in their own right is something that has probably only been fully appreciated for maybe as little as the last ten years.”
When asked if the situation for women had improved recently, or at least was on track to do so, Ms Fisher said no on both counts. However, she said she was encouraged by the amount of attention given to the disparity in the last two years.
“There's quite a lot of focus on the fact that women are in a disadvantaged position and that action needs to be taken to improve that situation. If you just accept things the way they are, then clearly they don't get better. ”
Ms Fisher explained she did not believe there was a silver bullet capable of solving inequality.
“Who knows what the solution is? But one thing we need is empathy. There's often a feeling that somehow society has to solve these problems without having to engage with the subject matter. That seems totally wrong to me. Clearly we've got to be talking to women a lot more in their own right about why the position is the way it is and what we can do about it.”
Following the publication of Women’s Risks in Life the CII began work on a cross market task force in order to help women empower themselves against the risks they face. The committee will bring together the insurance profession with other sectors and bodies - including the Government - to consider solutions to tackle the issue.
Ms Fisher explained one thing the task force will examine is how to educate women about risks they may face. She said men are repeatedly told throughout life what risks they will come across, and how to make provisions for them, but that treatment has not been extended to women.
“We're not starting from the stance that there aren't solutions there, but what we need to work out is why they're not being engaged with in the right way.
“But if we do discover that there are issues that are not being properly catered for, then clearly this is a major opportunity for us to work out what we do about it.”
She added: “I also think the Government and financial services providers and people in society who deal with both men and women need educating. They need to be looking at everything that they do through a gender lens so that they're not just seeing the male perspective.”
On top of this task force, the CII has signed up to the government Charter designed to improve gender diversity in senior positions in financial services.
Ms Fisher concluded: “We need to fix this inequality because it is not a problem about women for women, this is an issue for society. Everyone has a mother, everyone has a grandmother, a sister, an aunt or a daughter. If we don’t deal with it, we will be left with a huge burden of care.”