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No quick fix for UK insurance industry's 'uncomfortable' gender pay gap

It could take several years for British insurers to close their gender pay gaps, but doing so will reap rewards, according to industry trade bodies.

Companies with 250 or more employees had to report their gender pay gap statistics by midnight on April 4. These show that most of the U.K.'s largest insurers by gross written premium have gender pay gaps in favor of men that are far in excess of the national average, with the banking sector also reporting great gaps.

The U.K. Office for National Statistics puts the median gender pay gap for companies with 250 or more employees across all sectors at 19.3%. Only two of the top 10 insurers — Bupa and Scottish Widows Ltd. — have median gaps below this.

The statistics reveal the gap between the combined pay of men and that of women across a company, but they do not show whether men and women doing the same jobs are paid equally.

Wide range of pay gaps

Integro Insurance Brokers Ltd., the U.K. division of U.S. broker Integro Ltd., reported a mean pay gap of 75% — the biggest among companies identified as either life insurance, nonlife insurance, life reinsurance, nonlife reinsurance or activities of insurance agents and brokers in the U.K. government data as of April 5. Integro's median pay gap of 53.9% was the third largest in this group of companies. The biggest median pay gap in this group was reported by Lloyd's broker Price Forbes & Partners Ltd., at 57%.

The median takes out the significantly higher pay in an organization's top ranks to avoid distortion.

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At the other end of the spectrum, broker Acorn Insurance and Financial Services Limited reported the smallest mean gender pay gap, at 3.4%. Its median score was negative 5.9%, meaning it pays women more than men according to that measure. One other company in this group, motorcycle insurance broker Carole Nash Insurance Consultants Ltd., also reported a negative median gender pay gap.

Judging by big insurers' comments, the industry is broadly not happy with its gender pay gap and is keen to close it. Lloyd's of London CFO John Parry described his firm's mean gender pay difference of 27.7% as "a gap we feel uncomfortable with" when speaking to journalists about Lloyd's annual results on March 21.

Meanwhile, Integro said in an emailed statement: "Achieving an improved gender balance at all levels (and therefore improving our gender pay gap) is a priority for our organization. We are committed to ensuring that all roles in our business are accessible to those with the skills and experience who wish to work with us, regardless of gender. We are also committed to taking meaningful action to improve the pay gap, and this will happen with sustained commitment over the long term."

The company added that its pay gap was mainly driven by the fact that it had more men than women in senior positions and that it is "confident" that the gap is not related to inequality of pay for work of equal value.

Price Forbes said in a March 26 report that "our gender pay gap results are not where we would like them to be." Measures the broker is taking to close the gap include committing to the "development of future senior female leaders throughout the business through mentoring and training."

Pay gap 'not representing our consumers'

Yet tackling the issue will take time. Tali Shlomo — the people engagement director at the Chartered Insurance Institute, a body charged with improving professionalism and standards in the U.K. insurance industry said it could take five years to get balanced pay because gender differentiation is still so ingrained in the industry.

"The reason I say five years is it will take time to start to break down misconceptions and stereotypes, to break down the biases and for the new generation to walk into our profession and start challenging [those of] us who have worked in a very traditional environment," she said.

But she added that the effort would improve the industry's reputation, which will help it in its fight to attract both customers and employees.

"Insurance is here to represent broader society," she said. "If we have got this gap favoring men — one of the more significant gaps compared to other professions — then surely we are not representing our consumers."

Huw Evans, director general of the Association of British Insurers, added: "Improving our sector's diversity and inclusion is vital to our future success, not a 'nice to have.' To meet the fast-changing and increasingly complex needs of our customers, we need to have the most effective possible workforce at all levels, and that means a workforce that reflects the wide range of consumers we deal with on a daily basis."

While closing the gap may take time, the new data has set the ball rolling.

"What the gender pay gap [data] has done is provided a catalyst to start being transparent and have a conversation and debate," Shlomo said. "That debate and conversation will then lead to action."