It is hardly a secret that men are generally paid more than women over their working lives. But what does that mean? Are women paid less simply because they go for lower paid jobs? Is it because more women work part-time than men do? Or is it because women tend to be the primary caregivers for children and, whether willingly or unwillingly, make career sacrifices to stay at home with their brood?
Although median and mean hourly pay (excluding overtime) provide useful comparisons of men’s and women’s earnings, they do not reveal differences in rates of pay for comparable jobs - the main focus of the equal pay legislation. In November last year, the Office for National Statistics released provisional results for their Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings. It showed that in the previous financial year, the gender pay gap had actually decreased from 10.0% to 9.4%, with men (working full-time) earning an average of £558 per week, compared with £462 for women. Although this is actually the lowest gap on record, sadly for women, the higher you work your way up the ladder and the longer your continuing work record, the fact still remains that, statistically, you are likely to experience a greater differential between your pay than that of your male colleague, however equal the role.
Perversely, many women ‘expect’ to be paid less than their male counterparts and most just accept the situation. But why? There are some superb instances of extremely successful females in industry, and General Insurance is no exception. Some exceptional successes come from relatively humble and inspired beginnings. Carole Nash is a fine example of this.
Carole Nash Insurance Consultants Ltd was founded by Ms Nash in 1985 from her home in Greater Manchester using a redundancy pay out of just £2,500. Turnover in the first month totalled £834.
By 1995, the company had 30,000 policy holders, predominantly insuring classic and vintage motorcycles.
By 1997, they were one of the leaders in the UK’s motorcycle insurance markets, having built up a close association with motorcycle clubs, such as the Vintage Motor Cycle Club(VMCC). This was mainly achieved by the attendance of grassroots events and shows on the Classic Motorcycle circuit. Further success came when the company introduced a theft reduction scheme, providing a sophisticated combination of microdot and Digital Nanoparticle Authentication (DNA) technologies, free to any biker who renewed their policy. The company eventually went on to be sold for an undisclosed sum and in 2012 Carole was awarded an OBE.
Home start-ups are still a popular choice for Mums trying to find the right work-life balance. But can SME’s really tackle the issue of female staff retention once the baby’s start to boom?
A research project was recently launched to highlight the added value to organisations that re-engage with women (particularly senior women), lost when the demands of a career and childcare just don’t fit. What happens to them? Why don’t they come back when the children are older? Called ‘She’s Back’, the team claim that by unleashing the full potential of women in the UK, they could be worth as much as £23 billion to the Exchequer.
Leading this issue from the front is another award winning female and the Chief Executive Officer of AXA Commercial Lines and Personal Intermediary – Amanda Blanc.“At AXA, we see a roughly 50/50 split between male and female employees at entry level and above, but that pattern is not replicated as the roles become more senior. We don’t have clear indicators of why this might be which is why we are putting our full support behindShe’s Back.”
In a recent blog she commented that “it is vital that we have an understanding of this leakage of talent and do everything we can to stem the flow. This is not simply preventing the flow of women from our workforce because it is the right thing to do. There are cold, hard business benefits that should be compelling us to tackle the issue.”
Ms Blanc has held a number of roles within the insurance industry, beginning at Commercial Union in 1989, where she famously became the first woman to be appointed a Regional Manager of Underwriting and Sales. She followed this with Senior Distribution and Customer Service roles, both at AXA and Groupama, before joining Towergate in 2006 as CEO of their retail division. Now back at AXA, Amanda feels very strongly that working in an industry with a customer base that is diversified, requires a working population that reflects that across the pay grade: “Alignment with our customers is crucial if we are going to make any headway in tackling the trust issue that finance is struggling with, particularly insurance.”
Amanda is now the driving force behind various initiatives at AXA, in line with the ‘She’s Back’ findings. One workshop will explore why women leave corporate life immediately prior to, or after having children. The second, amongst women who have had children and continued to succeed in their careers, will identify what was in place to help them to return to work which will, in turn, help them to understand how organisations can help to better accommodate other women in the workforce.
But there is still work that needs to be done elsewhere. Although the number of women in work is at a record high and, encouragingly, the percentage of women working within managerial roles is higher in the UK than the EU average, female graduates are still more likely to work in a slightly lower-skilled occupation group, and men make up the majority of workers in the top 10% of earners for all employees.
Thankfully, the world is evolving: we now have female Premiers and Presidents; major sports brands specifically target women with single sex ads, which is no doubt a response to ladies in the national squads quietly filling their trophy cabinets. Even Disney has a lead that doesn’t need a man to live ‘happily ever after,’ just the ability to harness her own talents.
Trail blazers, such as Blanc and Nash, pave the way for females to forward their careers in all industries, not just General Insurance. And if the Globals, like AXA, are prepared to ask the right questions in order to ‘better accommodate women in the workforce’, we can positively contribute to business, our own bank accounts and beyond.