The South African short-term insurance industry is still largely a boys’ club, with women in perilously short supply at board and C-suite level. But if a growing number of women in the industry have their way, this is going to change – sooner rather than later.
Just ask Natalie Graham, partner of broker business at King Price, who says it’s high time women started taking hammers to the glass ceilings in the industry.
“The local insurance industry is still extremely male-dominated, but there are some really successful and inspiring female leaders in our industry who we can look up to and learn from, including Santam CEO Lizé Lambrechts, FIA CEO Lizelle van der Merwe, the FCSA’s Caroline da Silva, and Thokozile Mahlangu, CEO of IISA,” says Graham.
“We need to take their lead, put our heads down and set an example for others. Luckily, at King Price, we have a culture that doesn’t see gender as much as ability. And it helps that we have a lot of amazing strong female leaders who inspire us daily!”
Business relationship administrator Boitumelo Senwelo says the challenges facing women in the insurance industry aren’t unique.
“The biggest challenge facing women in corporate SA is that we have to prove ourselves more than men before taken seriously. Women have to fight more to get into top positions. But I’m fortunate to work in an environment that actively promotes women into management positions, thereby paving the way for other ‘leader capable’ women to follow them. It’s slow, but we’ll get there,” she says.
For IT business analyst Filiano Tukani and underwriting administrator Reabetswe Tlale, the gender balance in the workplace is no problem – it’s at the top where change is needed.
“The challenge that I see is in leadership, where I don’t think women make up even 20% of the board seats in the insurance industry – and I don’t know of any formal programmes to bring strong women into those positions. Pay inequity is another challenge that we always face. The question is, who drives these changes from the top?” says Tukani.
Tlale agrees: “Within our company, women enjoy the same opportunities as men, and there are a number of creative female leaders. But the industry is mostly male-dominated, and women can’t be seen as empowered or in-charge until this changes.”
King Price brand development manager and spokesperson Siyamthanda Williams says that gender equality in the workplace starts with hiring the right people. “We pride ourselves in sourcing the best talent for each job. Gender plays no part in being the best in your field. The bigger challenges are around ensuring equal recognition for women, and fair compensation for maternity leave,” she says.
The biggest challenge facing women in corporate SA, says retentions AQA analyst Amori Lemley, is time. “We have to be able to balance our personal lives with our corporate lives. We need to work harder to achieve our dreams, to make people understand we are strong and can handle through situations with the correct solutions, that we are creative and proud,” she says.
So how do women in insurance start changing the status quo, and driving greater professional opportunities? One way is to have mentors, both in and out of the business.
“It’s so important to make that extra bit of a difference, provide the relevant support when needed, and go the extra mile where I can. Because let’s be honest, you can’t be there to help others when you battle to keep yourself afloat,” says Senwelo. “It’s also important to give females a platform to share their views and be recognised. We’ve got to find ways of giving each other a leg up in this industry.”