Narrowing the C-suite gender gap
It can be a little isolating for the women who do make it to the top levels of insurance, but diversity of all kinds — gender, race, ethnicity, age and thought — is necessary to create and learn problem solve for our customers.
In the U.S., the financial services industry has historically been populated largely by men. Recently, that has begun to change – with women now accounting for more half of the entry-level workforce in financial services. While the gender gap may be closing at the industry level, we continue to see a lag in the number of women who hold to senior executive positions. As someone who's worked in the industry for 20 years, I've learned it can be a little isolated for women at the top. About two in 10 members of the financial services C-suite are women. Even fewer lead a profit and loss center. When I scan the crowd at industry conferences, it's still, by and large, a room full of men. Things are a little different where I work. At Principal Financial Group, women are 60% of our global employee base, and they outnumber men at the management level. Half of our C-suite is female, and five of our 11 board of directors are women. We stand in contrast not just to our peers in financial services, but to companies across the Fortune 500 list. We're one of the longest-standing members of the Top Companies for Executive Women list, annually named by the National Association for Female Executives. And recently, Forbes named us America's Best Employer for Women. It's not lost on me that we have something really special here. It's by design, and it's something we don't take for granted. The more companies can recognize the value of diverse talent, the better they'll be able to help their customers.
The business imperative
For financial services organizations, gender diversity isn't just a moral responsibility, it's a business imperative. Diversity of all kinds — of gender, race, ethnicity, age, thought — is necessary to create and learn problem solve for our customers. There's plenty of research to indicate that more diverse companies outperform their peers on profitability and value creation. We need fresh ideas for engaging a growing segment of our customer base. Women increasingly act as the head of household, taking the lead on major financial decisions. And they tend to live longer than men, which (at least in theory) means a longer relationship with an insurance provider. Yet, industry-wide, we see fewer women buying insurance. When they do buy insurance, they're buying less of it than they used to. Because they're living longer than men and marry later in life than they used to, they don't feel a rush to invest in insurance solutions that provide financial protection for their spouses and families. (What's more, when they opt not to invest in insurance, they aren't turning around and investing their money in retirement savings, either.) It's a tough – but important – nut to crack. By committing to 100% of the talent pool, we open ourselves up to more ideas to help solve our toughest problems, just like this one, which in our case helps people protect what they've built.
The keys to advancement
There's no shortage of prescriptions for increasing gender diversity at the senior leadership level, but I think there are two major things that Principal has done to create an environment that lends itself to gender diversity among senior executives: First, we whole-heartedly embrace the value of diversity and inclusion, and ensure all employees continually live and articulate those values. It's not just a thing we say, it's something we live. An inclusive culture comes from the top and is driven through every area of Principal's business, including talent acquisition, employee development, board and supplier diversity and social responsibility. Our chairman, president and CEO, Dan Houston, explained these efforts in more detail in his contribution to the Business Roundtable's recent Diversity & Inclusion Report. This culture has been nurtured over decades — Principal hired its first female company officer in 1971 —and we're never satisfied with the status quo. We always ask how we can do better. And additionally, we want people to bring their best selves to work. There are a lot of ways to help do this. Principal offers benefits and resources to help people balance the demands of their life. For example, we offer flexible time off, prenatal programs, on-site childcare services at our corporate campus, and other resources that allow our team members flexibility and convenience. It helps overcome some of the barriers that have historically caused new parents — and especially new mothers — to postpone career advancement or even exit the workforce. We also encourage and enable connected conversations through a number of Employee Resource Groups, which provide critical opportunities for mentorship, career development, and community outreach. There are groups for Women in Leadership, Women in Sales, and Women in Technology—which, like all of our employee resource groups, are open to all employees. As more organizations make a steadfast commitment to the value of diversity and inclusion, I look forward to seeing more women in the c-suite.