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.

Digital Insurance - - VOICES - By Amy Friedrich, Pres­i­dent, United States In­sur­ance So­lu­tions, Prin­ci­pal Fi­nan­cial Group

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.

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