6th February 2018 marks 100 years of the Representation of the People Act 1918, a legislation which enabled all men and some women over the age of 30 to vote for the very first time, and paved the way for women striving for equality ever since. Significant change can be seen since this legislation, especially in the 2017 general election when more than 200 female MPs were elected to House of Commons for the first time, winning 208 out of 650 seats.
The position of women in the insurance industry has also changed dramatically as well during this time, positively moving women towards a position of recognition, and equality.
In the first half of the 19th Century, the insurance office was exclusively a male dominated workplace. Women were only allowed into the office if their husbands had passed away and they were taking on the family business, however, accounts of these are minimal. The earliest known female agent to work within the insurance office was Ms Barnes, who was appointed in 1822 to take over her late husband’s business. Following this, the insurance office became ‘feminised’, as women were employed exclusively in clerical roles. In 1871, the first female clerks were hired at The Prudential, providing ‘Industrial Insurance’ (life insurance) during the Industrial Revolution. This opened women’s entry into the insurance industry.
However, women working as clerks enabled other males to easily ‘climb the insurance ladder’ whilst maintaining a cheaper female labour force. Not only were the employment limitations taking its toll on the female work force; they also had the challenge of Victorian notion of gender roles. The ideal surrounding women was that they should remain at home, providing for their husbands and children. Any kind of employment was carried out within the home, therefore making office work ‘unfeminine’.
Many attitudes began to change during the First World War (1914-18), with the majority of young males being enrolled into the army, women were relied upon to preserve the workforce at home. This experience encouraged the suffragettes to fight for equal rights, including the right to vote. This consequently lead to the Representation of the People’s Act in 1918, after the war had ended, and women continued to integrate themselves into the insurance industry. The CII bar on women sitting exams at the CII was lifted in 1919, and the first female fellow of the CII was appointed in 1921.
Lloyd’s of London was the final barrier that women had to overcome in the insurance industry. Prior to 1970, women were not permitted to underwriting memberships and it wasn’t until 1973 that women were permitted to work in the underwriting room. Liliana Archibald was the first female broker to be appointed by Lloyd’s. She then became Lloyd’s first female ‘Name’ (this term was used to describe rich individuals who backed policies written at Lloyd’s with all of their personal wealth and took on unlimited liability).
The Sex Discrimination Act was passed in 1975, which protected people from discrimination on the grounds of sex or marital status. Margaret Thatcher also became the UK’s first female prime minister in 1979.
The 2000s marked a huge change in women’s position in the insurance industry. Lillian Boyle was appointed the first female CII president in 2001, and was succeeded by Amanda Blanc in 2012. Sian Fisher became the first female CEO for the CII as well in 2016.
Lloyd’s of London also appointed Inga Beale as their first female CEO in their 328-year history. A third of Lloyd’s workforce are now female. Beale has spoken about creating diversity in the industry, stating: “What you do is, you de-genderise every statement you make. You’re in a business environment; you de-gender everything. You never say he or she”. Beale has been heavily involved with the Inclusion@Lloyds initiative, and has launched the Pride@Lloyds, which is an internal LGBT resource group.
Despite these successes, there is still a long way to go before true equality is achieved. Lloyd’s of London is currently two-thirds male, 90% white and 90% British, and Beale has stated her ideas and initiatives to tackle this. The gender pay gap is also another major issue, which has recently been raised by major corporations such as the BBC, with women earning around 76 to 80 per cent of what their male colleagues make, according to a 2017 survey by Glassdoor. According to the World Economic Forum’s 2016 Global Gender Gap Report, this gap would not be closed for another 170 years.