• Laura Hay, Leadership |

Over the course of this blog series, I have spoken with 12 extraordinary KPMG women about their paths into STEM, and how they built dynamic, professional careers solving big challenges and serving people in the sector. So, the question remains, since insurance sounds like an amazing place for STEM women to build their careers, why are there still so few of us?

I posed this question to our panel and together we’ve come up with an action list of must-do items for both insurance organizations and individual leaders at all levels. No matter your position or experience, there is work we can all do, to make the industry more accessible, improve recruitment pipelines, and support our colleagues in building their careers.

After in-depth conversations with women across three continents, my office whiteboard is full of ideas for insurers to bolster their complements of women with STEM backgrounds, but the first major theme to emerge from the scribbles is clearly ‘culture’.

  • Culture: “If you build it, they will come:” There was broad agreement that culture is the foundation that insurers should construct to attract and keep more STEM women. “It’s really about working culture first, since women need to be treated fairly and equally, and given the respect and appreciation they deserve,” says Holly Ou, Partner and Actuarial Lead, KPMG China. “Culture, from the top down, drives a lot of things, like encouraging work/life balance and flexibility for individuals.” Culture ultimately forms a virtuous circle with ‘visual representation.’ Explains Alison Rose, Partner and Actuary, KPMG in Canada: “When you have a culture that makes advancement more accessible, with role models as the proof, women can see themselves in these roles. If you want more women here, visual representation matters.”
  • Build the pipeline: Just as culture-building takes time, so does the necessary task of growing your recruitment pipeline. That pertains to both ready-to-hire candidates for today’s roles, and also the next generation of employees who are yet to choose STEM and insurance careers. Our panelists listed ways that insurers can plant the recruitment seeds early - These ranged from scholarships and student work placements to sponsoring girls’ STEM competitions and college hackathons. Encouraging and investing in talent can give insurers a fighting chance to win that top talent as they start their careers.
  • Rethink organization structures: Next, once you attract STEM women, how do you keep them growing and not going (out the door)? While we’ve already spoken to the value of diverse, equitable cultures, why not rethink the way we deploy STEM people in the organization? Jessica Hong, Digital Transformation Director, KPMG China, shares her view: “Typically, you see the life and data sciences people assigned to a data analytics team as part of IT or Tech departments, but we’re starting to see more companies place their data scientists within the business to bring their perspectives to business decisions. It helps a company connect the dots better and creates more opportunities for STEM women.” Similarly, panelists pointed out the importance of injecting STEM roles at the operating level of the organization into all three lines of sight, from the business, to compliance, to audit.
  • Help STEM’ers evolve in their roles: The previous point alludes to the need to help STEM colleagues grow within the organization, so they don’t seek opportunities elsewhere. Jeanne Johnson, Principal at KPMG's US member firm, points out: “Insurers need to start evolving role definition to encourage more STEM inclusion in job profiles. For example, much of the underwriting and broker role is traditionally viewed as judgement and relationship-based but we need to recognize the importance of data skills across these roles in the future. Similarly, insurers should consider the contribution that math and actuarial professionals can make and encourage lateral and upward career movement. In fact, panelists observed how, in recent years, women actuaries are increasingly earning promotions into c-suite roles in the business, finance, risk management and other functional areas.
  • A bit of marketing magic: With all these pillars in place, insurers should look to revamp their HR marketing efforts to better portray how STEM women are solving important problems for employees, customers and society at large. And they need to put the face of diversity and inclusion front and center in these campaigns. Helen Stijnen, Partner and Head of Insurance at KPMG in the Netherlands, comments: “Young women need to see role models and see that they can enjoy healthy work/life balance. We need to spark their interest and show them that this isn’t only an older white man’s world.”

How you can guide STEM women:

While most of the tasks described above require enterprise-wide effort, there’s no shortage of things that each of us can do, at the ground level to build our STEM women population across the insurance industry.

  • Walk the talk: First and foremost, each of us can help bring to life our organization’s vision and efforts to grow an inclusive culture.  To name a few steps, make sure that you are projecting inclusivity in your words and actions. Learn about unconscious bias and practice ways to eliminate these old beliefs and assumptions from your work style. And encourage your entire team to explore your company’s workplace resources and benefits, such as hybrid or flexible work options. 

  • Improve local representation: When assembling a work team or committee, seek diverse participation and make everyone feel comfortable contributing their thoughts and ideas. When hiring or promoting in your group, challenge HR to provide more diverse candidates and encourage a wider range of employees to apply.
  • Develop potential talent: To boost confidence among next generation female talent, prompt them to upskill, recommend them for stretch assignments, or offer work rotations to prepare for their next career move. Alissa Ristic, Advisory Managing Director at KPMG in the US suggests: “It can be as simple as encouraging women to get involved in professional groups, both inside and outside the organization, by covering their memberships or promoting them as guest speakers, so they can form helpful communities.” Laura Gray, Partner and Head of Actuarial at the US firm, agrees, adding that, “You can also nurture women by creating an employee network where they meet, build their leadership skills by organizing activities or events, to form connections that support and motivate them.”
    Leanne Allen, Partner from KPMG in the UK, notes that, “Managers should be mindful of Imposter Syndrome among women. That means you sometimes need to offer your hand to ‘pull-up’ a talented person, rather than waiting for the individual to ask.”
  • Be a mentor or sponsor: Finally, panelists point out that the gift of time can be invaluable to up-and-coming STEM women, so managers and executives can offer to mentor high performing employees and then serve as sponsors when the time comes to help them gain visibility and access new opportunities. Keep in mind, that individuals value mentors and sponsors at each rung in their career, not just in the early days.

Looking back at this list of recommendations, it’s clear that there’s many opportunities to help the insurance sector grab the attention of talented STEM women and keep them inspired throughout their careers. And the future of the industry relies on the actions we collectively take now, to help STEM women discover their place, contribute to their fullest, and enable our industry to shine and succeed in the years ahead.

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