Virtual Summit Shorts: Identity in actuarial careers

Jules Gribble and Lesley Traverso reflect on the multi-faceted concept of identity, in the Concurrent session ‘Identity in Actuarial Careers’.

“We often think of identity as to what shows on the outside but of course, it is much more complex than that. Different aspects develop and change over time as we change our thinking and how we feel about those different parts of ourselves,” Lesley explained to commence the discussion.

Lesley explained that identity, “Matters in a workplace environment because an organisation that values diversity of thought and values the different perspectives that it can bring, will be able to create a place where people and businesses can thrive.”

“I chose the topic of identity in actuarial careers as during my masters’ studies – I’ve read about the primacy of a professional identity over a person’s social identity and wondered how that might play out in the actuarial profession,” Lesley recalled.

However, Lesley noted that she was curious to discover more factual information behind the informal conversations with her colleagues and the observations articulated over the years that there were signs of insufficient representation of Asian members in senior roles and an imbalance of male and female actuarial members.

“Were these observations a result of society or were they unique to the profession?” Lesley asked.

To answer this question, Lesley reflected on the concept of what happens when we – employees or Members – feel out of step? Historically noting that workplaces were built of the mentality of working the 9-5 regime in male domination roles, Lesley observed that, “it can be quite difficult for someone who doesn’t conform to what society deems as usual.”

Yet Lesley noted that in recent years workplaces have changed and the workforce has seen an increase in the need for diversity. However, Lesley provided caution to businesses treating diversity as a tick-box.

“Corporate diversity and inclusion policies can be in danger of becoming a tick-box rather that what an organisation really feels, lives and breathes. An often used analogy is that Diversity is being invited to the party, and Inclusion is being asked to dance.”

Lesley referred to her research and noted that the “key objective of the research was to find out how people viewed themselves professionally in comparison with their other identities and their reflections on that.”

“One of the things that came through really strongly was this sense of community in the profession.”

Lesley intertwined feedback from a survey participant who stated that, “Identifying as an actuary helped overcome any potential biases,” that may have arisen if they were not an actuary.

Lesley reflected on these comments and proposed the questions, what happens when somebody moves out of an actuarial role into a non-traditional area? Does this mean they have to cultivate a new identity? Is there still relevance in being a member of the profession if you are not in a traditional role or organisation? Lesley answered this question almost immediately through the inclusion of her academic research to state that, “there is a lot of evidence around pride, commitment and community in the actuarial profession.”

To answer her overarching question as to whether employees and members are treated differently because of their gender and ethnicity, Lesley asked the survey participants this question. Lesley discovered that over 50% of participants felt as though they were treated differently in some way, and interestingly, discovered that many self-identifying ‘white males’ acknowledged that they benefited from an advantage in their schooling and careers.

Lesley moved onto discussing the respondents’ views on quotas and gender targets by again, interlacing the respondents’ statements. One respondent viewed being female as an advantage as they could secure employment due to workplace quotas where another respondent felt as though the meritocracy wasn’t necessarily earnt and that workplace should always seek equality of opportunity rather than equality of outcome. Interestingly another respondent commented that female leaders are often judged too harshly, in which Lesley observed that, “leadership is often defined using a particular lens whether it is consciously or unconsciously.”

Concluding the discussion, Lesley answered the audience’s questions and notes that there is evidence of inequality of opportunity in the profession that could be used to encourage more females to start and continue their actuarial journeys. Lesley urged employers, members, and the Institute to value difference when hiring and support everyone on their own unique circumstances.

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