Steps to rectify gender inequality in SA insurance sector must be ‘meaningful and measurable’
27 Aug, 2022

Steps to rectify gender inequality in SA insurance sector must be ‘meaningful and measurable’

Thato Monaheng, Liability Underwriter at SHA Risk Specialists

Historically, a number of barriers have stood in the way of women entering the insurance sector. While transformation towards gender equity has become more evident over the last decade, there is still much work to be done, specifically at boardroom level, where women remain under-represented. Greater inclusion at the level of compensation, leadership and treatment within the workplace should therefore be adopted as a business imperative for all role-players in the industry.

This is the opinion of Thato Monaheng, Liability Underwriter at SHA Risk Specialists, an organisation that not only has five women in key leadership positions, but which is also committed to empowering women both in their business and the industry as a whole.

Monaheng, who herself is part of a mentorship programme at SHA, offers her perspective on gender diversity in the South African insurance industry.

As an advocate for the proportionate representation of women in the sector, Monaheng explains that in a traditionally male-dominated industry, women have faced a number of hurdles – some insurmountable until only a few years ago. “While several proponents of gender equality in the sector are making significant inroads into driving change, real transformation will only occur when leaders in the insurance industry realise that there is a strong business case to be made for gender diversity.”

Women face significant barriers to entry

Commenting on the gender-specific barriers faced by women in the sector, Monaheng noted the fact that it was only in 1947 that female graduates were issued with fully validated degrees. Up until this point, women were discriminated against at the level of tertiary education and faced closed doors when they tried to enter the industry. Discrimination at this fundamental level catalysed a vicious cycle of exclusion, where women in insurance were deemed as less qualified and therefore not worthy of the same earning potential as men.

Furthermore, as Monaheng asserts, women are more often than not the primary caregivers and can find it difficult to juggle the demands of a career and domestic responsibilities. And although the discrimination may not be plainly evident and explicit, South African corporates have been known to hire men instead of women to avoid needing to grant paid maternity leave.

Women also do not enjoy the same level of access to established professional networks. And in reference to the corporate axiom, “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know,” women have always been on the backfoot. According to Monaheng, these are the major barriers that women wishing to enter the insurance industry have had to contend with, over and above discouraging gender biases and stereotype around women’s roles.

A more equal industry is a better industry

While gender-based activism has done much to highlight these issues as social requirements, the more important aspect that needs to be emphasised and quantified is the business case that can be made for greater inclusion in the workplace.

“Research continues to show that women’s unique qualities and characteristics bring equilibrium to the workplace – women are more inclined to consider all the factors involved before making decisions and are less prone to impulsiveness. And we also know now that women engender workplace cultures that are more conducive to mutual cooperation, due to their ability to see and treat their colleagues like family,” says Monaheng.

Female leadership teams have also been found to be more emotionally intelligent, empathetic and more cognisant of the importance of their team’s mental wellbeing. They have also therefore been found to be more balanced in terms of showing dedication both to their careers and their own leisure time.

The undeniable existence of the gender pay gap, which remains one of the most topical issues around gender, is one of the major perpetuates of inequality. Narrowing this gap could reap several rewards for businesses across a range of sectors, such as increased productivity, better attitudes towards work, improved talent attraction and retention rates, better profitability and ultimately a stronger economy.

Industry role-players need to take practical action and be held accountable

However, as Monaheng explains, another aspect that is severely lacking from much public discourse around gender equality in the workplace is the practicality of potential solutions. “In order to take meaningful and measurable action towards better representation of women in the insurance sector, we need to take meaningful and measurable steps towards these goals.”

For Monaheng, these steps include providing equal support to all genders in the workplace in terms of emotional support and counselling as well as providing equal hiring opportunities and broadening the talent pool in a way that accurately reflects the makeup of South African society.

Furthermore, corporates should be encouraged to report on their compensation packages for all genders and demonstrate a much larger degree of transparency in this regard. “What we need,” as Monaheng asserts, “are a few of South Africa’s most ubiquitous corporates to make public statements about the status of the gender gap in their organisations and to set examples for other industry players.”

Concluding her thoughts on the subject, Monaheng adds that the establishment of cross-gender mentorship programs will help women and men to learn from each other and encourage skills and knowledge transference that provides employees with a fresh and different perspective. Skills-based assessments and structured interviews during the hiring process will also aid in reducing discrimination and give women a platform to demonstrate their talents and be selected as worthy candidates based on their expertise and abilities, free from discrimination.

ENDS

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