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  • Julia Mather

WiRe Asks: Where Are All The Female Reinsurance Brokers?

In researching this article, I have concluded that is no match at all for the reinsurance industry! When asked “Where are all the female reinsurance brokers?” my male contacts often commented, “Well my wife was a reinsurance broker so she may have some views.” It’s clear from their responses that the Lutine Bell at Lloyd’s is where Cupid spends his days but that is fodder for a future article. My interest in those comments focuses solely on their use of the word “was”. Many women have worked as reinsurance brokers but males now dominate the profession. So the question is where did all of the female reinsurance brokers go?

Obviously, I started writing this with clearly defined views formed from my own experiences and observations so it was interesting to hear a wide array of opinions from males in the industry as to why they believed believe there are so few reinsurance brokers of the fairer sex. In contrast, I received what amounts really to just one reason from the ladies who used to be reinsurance brokers and are no longer, but I will discuss this reason later in this article. (As an aside, you’ll note that I keep trying to find a way of saying “former women reinsurance brokers” without it sounding like they used to be women rather than used to be reinsurance brokers….)

Interestingly, none of the men polled suggested the low number of female reinsurance brokers had anything to do with a lack of ability. In fact, some went as far as to outline strengths they believe women have such as “materially higher emotional intelligence” which is what leads to their success in the field. Others noted an apparent growth in numbers of women in the market which was “welcome’. I should note that there are currently the grand total of two female reinsurance brokers in Bermuda although I understand there are greater numbers in both the French and Turkish markets for example.

Some in the industry also commented that there is more gender balance at entry level and also greater female representation in the less outward facing roles. A lady underwriter suggested this could be partly due to a perception that women were not as good negotiators. At first blush I can’t see it. However if you dig a little deeper and recognize that women aren’t good at negotiating FOR THEIR OWN BENEFIT, the fact that women are generally paid less becomes a part of the problem.

One of the “former brokers” suggested that she had spent her career “trying to be accepted as a man". She said, "I would drink like a man, party like a man and do business like a man because I didn’t want to be seen as any different from my male colleagues”. In direct contrast, one senior male commented, “I believe that in a historically male-run business, women will and have succeeded when they don't try to replicate what is offered by a male, but show the advantages of the unique prospect of engaging with a woman.”

There was a laundry list of reasons why both men and women believe that the industry is still a tough place for women, particularly in the London market. Many commented that London remains a “Boys Club” (please note the women called it a “Boys’ Club”, the men called it a Gentlemen’s Club….interpret that how you will) although everyone agrees it is getting better.

Many reasons were given for the industry being a tough place for women. A few people commented that they felt the “tough working hours don’t suit women.” Another reason was male ego -- which was mentioned more than a few times (by both men and women). Also, there is an amusing view that women [brokers] are “adornments” -- a fact confirmed by myself when I was very recently referred to by that exact term while I stood in front of a room full of my former clients and markets. It made my career seem so worthwhile!!

Another topic mentioned by some was the “ease with which women get offended”. I can’t speak for everyone but I disagree. I think women can take, and indeed enjoy, banter as much as the next person. But there is a line and that line varies from person to person. Those who get easily offended are unlikely to last long in this particular profession and are likely to have been weeded out long before they become brokers.

However, as stated at the beginning, the ladies I spoke with all provided the same reason why they are no longer reinsurance brokers…and none of the reasons suggested above came close to being enough to make anyone give up on their career. On the contrary, all claimed to love the job.

No ladies and gentlemen, the sole reason why there are so few women left in the higher echelons of the reinsurance broking market….is children! Plenty have tried to juggle the demands of the job with the demands of family life but very few have succeeded. A lady underwriter with children told me she didn’t believe children were an impediment as she was able to adjust her schedule accordingly and would generally book dinners later so she could go home and put her children to bed first. I would counter that with the suggestion that it is much easier for an underwriter to do this than a broker. A broker tends to be with a client from breakfast through until the end of dinner (sometimes later) and leaving them alone is, according to some, too risky. By leaving them, you risk the client being poached by the competition. Do the clients expect this level of attention? Is it tradition, paranoia or just a lack of trust?

There was much discussion about how brokers are paid and how clients are your meal ticket. One male broker suggested that there is probably more travel than he needs to do and he could get away with less entertaining. To decline would (he concedes) impact his business. And what about maternity leave? In the UK you get a year – but by the time you come back you’ll have lost your clients. Personally, the first time out, I took just six weeks and my first week back I had a week-long visit from an American client who was fixated on whether or not I was lactating.

One respondent told the tale of trying to get her boss to agree to more flexible working hours but her request fell on deaf ears. Ultimately, both she and her husband agreed that sometimes you have to pick one person to work these antisocial hours and one to be home with the family. I will always think back to October 2012 when on two consecutive weekends my husband, an underwriter, and I met at Bermuda airport. One handed over the car keys and the kids and the other got on the plane the other had just flown in on. Gone were the days before children where we would try to arrange travel at the same time – instead it became a game of tag.

By all accounts the ladies are just as good at the job as the gentlemen, however referring back to comment earlier about pay, if women tend to get paid less than men then it makes more sense to pick the partner with the bigger salary to stay at work. From my own experience, I once calculated that approximately 90% of my salary was spent on paying for the help I needed on the home front to allow me to do my job. It’s a difficult thing to work out specifically because in Bermuda there is so much crossover between work life and home life (or as one person claimed “even a trip to the supermarket is a broking opportunity”). However, at the end of the day, you have to wonder if it’s worth the slog to keep only 10% of your salary?

As an aside, one senior lady gave me a slightly different response which adds extra colour to this topic. She is not and never has been a broker, however she was offered a job by one of the brokers and she offered two reasons why she turned the opportunity down. The second reason was, as stated above the demands of the job being incompatible with the demands of family life (something she doesn’t see as such a problem on the underwriting front). She said that would have been the nail in the coffin of this particular offer had something else not nailed it shut already. Her first reason was that she was not prepared to “demean” herself by having to potentially fawn all over someone she didn’t like and respect. She feels that women generally are more judicious in what they are prepared to put up with. There is also the concern that as a woman broker you leave yourself even more open to social cues being misread. She said (and I full agree),“It’s somewhere we’ve all been.” This point was further backed up by another former broker who said that once you get married, and specifically married to someone in the market, it feels inappropriate to spend that kind of time and investment in someone else and you wouldn’t want that to be misinterpreted.

I was brought up to believe that you can have it all. And I spent the first 40 years of my life believing that it could be so. But what I didn’t count on was whether you could have it all AND be happy. So again, when I asked the question “Where are all the female reinsurance brokers?” my favorite response was from a male underwriter who simply said, “Women would rather do something more interesting instead”. You can’t argue with that logic, although as it turns out, that’s still not the reason they drop out of the race!

About Julia Mather

Julia Mather wanted to be an insurance broker from the grand old age of 16 years old, when her father sent her off to a work shadow for a day with probably the only senior working woman he knew at that time, who happened to be a Willis broker. To this day she remembers everything about the day with Pauline Margrett and from that day aspired to work at Lloyd's.

She started underwriting at Lloyds in 1997, became completely disillusioned by the place by 1999 (despite having met her husband there) and left to work for a company where she had a fabulous female boss who was actually prepared to train her. Circumstances led to another change of stride in 2002 when she left to work on the D&O insurance team at Miller, a job she loved, with a team she also loved. When her husband was given the opportunity to move to Bermuda she was offered the option of setting up Miller Bermuda Ltd. and jumped at the chance. She remained in that position until the recent Willis 85% buyout of the Miller Partnership.

These days Julia has taken the definition of three years gardening leave to mean “build a house whilst serving on the Board of WiRe, on the boards of a number of Guernsey-based family companies (including a Protected Cell Captive Management company), become a television producer for the Family Centre Telethon (and other charitable endeavours) and generally try and try and get to grips with all those things she put off for a rainy day whilst she was working”. It’s going to take longer than 3 years…….

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