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Female Leaders: Choosing to Challenge

My colleague Orit Golbari recently told me a story that I think perfectly encapsulates a key challenge faced by women who are poised to take positions of leadership. At a point when Orit was at a career crossroads, she was offered a role as the head of innovation for one of the largest insurance carriers in Israel. Her first reaction was to say “Me? How can I do that?” The hiring manager responded that if he were to offer this position – or any other position – to a man who had only 50% of the skills required, the man would jump at the opportunity. But when the same job was offered to a woman who had 99% of the necessary skills, she hesitated. “Wait a minute. I need to think. I’m not sure.”

This month marks International Women’s Day, which takes place annually on March 8. The theme this year is Choose to Challenge, based on the notion that “a challenging world is an alert world and from challenge comes change.” As a woman in a position of leadership in the insurance industry, the co-founder of the gender equality advocacy group P51, and a former UN speaker on women’s issues, I love this idea that the time has come for us to challenge both our own beliefs, ideas and behavior and those of the industry as a whole.

According to a recent Spencer Stuart survey, among the 499 most senior executives employed by 29 leading insurance companies, only 18% are women. That works out to three per company, a pretty sorry figure. And it’s not just that women are excluded from the highest levels of senior management – they are also losing ground in average pay, largely due to the lack of gender parity in leadership roles. As an industry, we are not doing our best for

women. But as women, we have the potential and the opportunity to do things in a different way.

Orit took that job I mentioned earlier, the one that felt overwhelming - and today, she is the COO of LeO. I challenge anyone facing a similar turning point in their career to dive in too. Collectively and individually, we can rise to the challenge of reaching our own leadership potential, and in the process, we will surely elevate insurance as a great place for a diverse workforce to make their mark.

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