Tackling Unconscious Bias and the ‘Old Boys Club’
Inga Beale joined Lloyd’s of London in January 2014, as the first female chief executive officer in the insurance market’s 325-year history. Prior to joining Lloyd’s, Inga was the group chief executive officer at Canopius, a prominent Lloyd’s managing agent. She has been an outspoken advocate of diversity in the workplace, openly supporting the view that diverse boards help companies make better decisions, and is she is an active and enthusiastic role model for women wanting to reach senior positions in the industry. In 2015, she topped a power list of the world’s leading 100 LGBT executives, the first time a woman has been at the top of the annual list, which has been compiled by the networking group OUTstanding and the Financial Times.
Was it always your ambition to lead a company? If so, why?
My career has come about by being in the right place, at the right time, and on having the courage to take the opportunities that came along during my professional life. Some people plan their careers, but that wasn’t my style and still isn’t. When I started working in the 1980s I was more interested in sport than anything else and certainly didn’t have any professional ambitions. I was lucky enough to work for a major global corporation that had a proactive talent management programme that demanded managers develop and promote women and ethnic minorities. That, coupled with the courage to say ‘yes’, to move countries and to do things I never thought I could do I was promoted into the most amazing jobs that have led me to where I am today.
Who or what gave you the opportunity to sit on a board? What do you think they were looking for? What were your initial feelings when you were appointed?
My very first board position was on a group subsidiary board and this was due to the management position I held at the time and a proactive stance to develop people by exposing them to board roles. This is an excellent way to learn about corporate governance and what is expected of being on a Board while being in a relatively safe environment. My first exposure to being on a board in an independent non-executive role came later and I was appointed for my insurance i.e. technical knowledge and experience. As I had held subsidiary board roles before I had an idea of what to expect and was excited about how I could contribute with my knowledge whilst learning about another business and learning from my peers on the board.
How many women sit on your board? Are they executive or non-exec appointments?
The Lloyd’s Franchise Board has three female members, out of the total 12 – equating to 25% which hits our publicly stated target. Two are non-executives and one, myself, is executive. There is no doubt that we need to do more here and, since signing up to the UK Women in Finance Charter launched by the UK government in the first half of 2016, we have published targets for gender balance in our senior management. We aim to achieve a better balance than we have now with at least 40% women, at least 40% men.
Do you see benefits in term of better business performance through having a gender balance on your board? If so, what?
The innate attributes that women bring to the boardroom provide a more diverse and holistic approach – one that is increasingly being recognised and valued in business and governments across the world. We’ve all heard the statistics – but the simple reality is that businesses are the most successful when they have diverse teams operating in an inclusive environment. People that feel comfortable, are encouraged to be themselves, and feel really valued are the most engaged and the most productive. Creating an environment where people feel confident in themselves, to be the best they can be is the key to success.
Do you actively promote women through the company or do you currently recruit mainly from outside?
It is a mixture of both – it’s all about getting the best talent in, and also retaining them. I’m a firm believer that proactive talent management within a business changes people’s careers and lives. This is why I don’t get hung up on when people talk about targets and quotas. I benefitted from that because I worked for a company who had targets for promoting women. I don’t see anything bad about that because of the unconscious bias that is all around us, and despite best efforts will still continue to exist. We’re all human after all, we need to challenge ourselves. Firms who have proactive talent management can do amazing things.
For Lloyd’s, as we continue to grow our global presence, I want to make sure we have a diverse talent base which is much more reflective of customers and new markets that we are going into. We need to make sure we have got people that understand those cultures, speak the language, and can get on in business cultures that are unique to the countries we do business in. So I’m really determined to push the talent agenda. This includes hiring more tech savvy people, ensuring that people aren’t just hiring people like themselves, getting out to a new talent pool, and making sure we have a really inclusive workplace, whatever your background is – where you feel included and therefore you can contribute to your full potential.
Does your company offer any support to aspirant board members e.g. mentoring, director training?
On the mentoring side, we have an employee network group: Inspiring Women in Lloyd’s (I-WiL). It was launched in December 2014 as a forum for women working in the Corporation of Lloyd’s to network and share information, promote an understanding of issues relating to women in the workplace amongst colleagues and senior leadership, develop their professional and leadership skills, and also promote Lloyd’s as an employer of choice.
We also have the Developing Leaders at Lloyd’s programme which is run at the London Business School, which aims to develop future leaders from across the Lloyd’s market. While we don’t have a specific programme related to taking on board positions, there are several organisations that provide this within the UK.
What do you think are the main barriers to women progressing down the executive route?
There are numerous barriers, many based on behaviours and practices that have been around for years that aren’t conducive to encouraging women to move up the career ladder. However, I also think sometimes women can create their own barriers. Throughout my career, both for myself and in hiring people, I have noticed that women tend to think they are not good enough for a role. While this is very much a generalisation, there are gender differences and, on the whole, men are may have only done part of role before but are absolutely confident they can do the job. Women need to believe in their ability, to get out there and take on those challenging roles.
Aside from technical competency are there any generic skills and/or personal qualities that help make a good director? Which of those qualities, in your view, are required of a good leader/CEO?
I look for people who have a good track record on the performance side – as every CEO would naturally – people who have been decisive and made things happen. But equally, if not more important, is that person’s character – I look for leaders who are authentic, and will be able to lead teams in a way that empowers employees to do their best work. It’s also important that you balance the skills on a board.
In your experience, why aren’t more women appointed CEOs of companies in your sector?
I think a lot of it comes back to self-confidence, and believing in your ability to do the ‘big’ jobs. The doors are being opened, but women have to believe in themselves enough to first knock, and then walk through it. Of course there are other influencing factors such as inbuilt unconscious bias and also the fact that insurance really has to get over this ‘old boys club’ mentality. I think we are definitely getting away from it, but there is still a lot more change needed.
I took part in the launch of the Insuring Women’s Futures HeforShe campaign across the profession, to give everyone the opportunity to see where they can personally make a difference in reinventing insurance for women and making all of our lives, and those of whom the industry serves, more inclusive. I think it’s important that we recognise the gender imbalance at the top is everyone’s problem, and this is just one initiative where we can get that message out there.
What are the most valuable lessons that you have learned?
The best way to make sure people see your best side is to be authentic. It is a quality prized by employers, and will help you get on in your career. You should also believe in your ability and be confident. If you know you are good at your job, own it. Demand more! Getting exposure to the right people and situations within your organisation and outside of your organisation is also incredibly important. I would encourage anyone who is given the opportunity of something new and different to be flexible in your career choices. Take a chance, give it a go – it takes some courage but it can really pay off.
It is about taking responsibility for your own career development, in a way that achieves your objectives as well as those of the company you work for. This is just as important as the CEO putting in place the strategy that helps you do it.