Gender diversity at work – stories from actuaries

In celebration of International Women’s Day on Thursday 8 March, the Diversity and Inclusion Working Group ran an Insights session to look at gender diversity in the workplace and where to go from here as a profession and a society.

Facilitated by the Institute’s 2017 President, Jenny Lyon, attendees were enlightened by personal stories which told of the trends we are seeing in women joining the actuarial profession, the benefits of achieving gender diversity, how we can create leadership opportunities for women, and the role of male champions in promoting gender diversity. Presented by Adam Butt, Alice Huang, Jennifer Lang and Michael Rice, we were very lucky to hear from a range of different perspectives, and benefit from their past experiences and learning.

“…we need to be a profession that encourages equal opportunity to ensure that the Institute is relevant to the society it serves” – Jenny Lyon

Kicking off the session, Jenny highlighted the notion that as individuals, we all bring a different frame of reference that we can harness to drive better outcomes – the ultimate benefit of achieving diversity. However, in a country such as Australia, the fight for gender diversity is quite trivial when compared with the feminist battles being fought all over the world. Jenny noted that it was only six months ago when Saudi Arabia allowed women to drive, a daily activity for women in Australia that we could not imagine ever being prohibited. Taking advantage of the opportunities we do have in Australia, we need to be a profession that encourages equal opportunity to ensure that the Institute is relevant to the society it serves.

As an Associate Professor at ANU, Adam brought insights into the proportion of female enrolments in actuarial courses. For ANU, this proportion is consistently around:

  • 35% for undergraduate domestic students; and
  • 50% for undergraduate international and postgraduate students.

While the figure for undergraduate domestic enrolments may seem low, Adam highlighted that this aligns with the proportion of female enrolments in advanced mathematics in Year 12 in Australia (also 35%). With this context, we aren’t doing too badly as a profession in terms of attracting a gender diverse cohort.

Following on, Alice shared her experiences and anecdotes from her education and professional working life. Alice’s experience throughout school was one that encouraged women to be ‘career women’, however it was a slightly different story at university. While her experience was positive, she observed a ‘boys club’ culture that existed at college and was normalised among the students. This can permeate through to the workplace, as young men and women graduate and move into their careers. The discrimination may seem only slight, but it can be a result of unconscious bias of which we might not be aware of. As a result, it is important that we question our own actions and those of the people around us, and are part of the group instigating change.

“…single women living on the age pension in rental accommodation make up the largest poverty group in Australia” – Michael Rice

 

As a very successful female leader in the financial services industry, Jennifer spoke about how we can support more women into leadership roles, as individuals and as employers. There is a common misconception that women are poorly represented in leadership roles as a result of their choice to have children, go part time, and so on. However, it is not entirely down to this choice. We work in a society which doesn’t support women in the same way it supports men. Therefore, it is important that we build a fairer workplace for everyone, which allows for the flexibility that is required in today’s modern society. Jennifer highlighted the role of performance management systems in addressing unconscious bias and existing misconceptions. Employers and their recruitment staff need to think carefully about the behaviours and skills that they are looking for, developing specific role requirements which help to foster a fair and unbiased process. Despite this, Jennifer noted that while it is still difficult to achieve gender diversity in the profession, it is a lot better today that it has been historically.

Looking ahead to retirement outcomes, Michael shared his perspectives on how we can drive better retirement outcomes for women. Noting that single women living on the age pension in rental accommodation make up the largest poverty group in Australia, Michael talked through how the typical career path between men and women generally differs, with many women taking time off to have children and also tending to retire earlier than men. To address these differences and improve retirement outcomes, Rice Warner have developed a Valuing Females Policy which provides additional SG contributions to women, SG contributions while staff are on parental leave, paid parental leave, flexible working conditions and an education programme for staff. Michael commented that it is necessary for individuals, employers, the government and society as whole to address retirement adequacy and take action that will make a positive change.

Where to from here?

It’s all good and well to talk about gender diversity and how it will drive better outcomes, but how are we going to get there? Some of the suggestions raised during the session include:

  • Target all-girls schools to increase awareness of actuarial science and the career opportunities it presents.
  • Represent the Institute and the profession as a gender equal community as perception is reality.
  • Implement quotas to fast-track a shift in culture in the short-term.
  • Create a plan and set goals, communicating this throughout the organisation.
  • Amend recruitment practices to require men and women on every job shortlist and interviewing panel.
  • Increase awareness and provide education on gender diversity.

Ultimately, a cultural change starts with each and every one of us, so we must be aware of our behaviour, be part of the group that instigates change and lead by example.

CPD: Actuaries Institute Members can claim two CPD points for every hour of reading articles on Actuaries Digital.

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