Helen Crofts and Chika Aghadiuno, the outgoing and incoming chairs of the IFoAs Diversity Advisory Group (DAG) talk to Richard Purcell and Memoria Lewis about how they hope to drive greater diversity in the profession, and discuss some of the challenges and achievements to date
Can you outline the IFoA's diversity strategy and the objectives of the Diversity Advisory Group?
Chika Aghadiuno (CA)
It stems from Nick Salter, past president of the IFoA, who identified three pillars of diversity as important to the profession: Diversity in the membership, diversity of the actuarial skillset and diversifying into new areas or sectors of work. This was followed up in February this year with the diversity strategy - covering the period of 2016-2020 - targeting the first of those three diversity pillars with a focus on gender in the first year.
The objectives are to create and support an inclusive environment, to embrace the value of diverse perspectives and to build awareness and understanding of diversity within the profession. All of these sit alongside the overarching IFoA values of community, integrity and progress.
In terms of the advisory group, Yvonne Alston and I have taken over from Helen Crofts as co-chairs, and we have set out eight objectives which we will be working on next year.
Helen Crofts (HC)
We are trying to encourage the profession's membership to become as diverse as possible. The DAG started as a working party, which generated a million-and-one ideas from people of all different backgrounds. We've pulled together the ideas, suggestions and desires that span areas such as education, parental leave, overseas working and charitable work. We chose gender diversity first as you have to start somewhere.
How is the profession doing in improving gender diversity?
(HC) Great things are happening. We have support from the top, the executive and the membership, particularly the president, who has been very on board. We also have a female president-elect keen to talk about gender diversity. We have held high-profile events with top-notch speakers, where both men and women wanted to talk about gender diversity. Awareness is way up there, so I am very pleased with where we have got to.
(CA) I feel a sense of momentum. It's very much at the heart of the profession. It's been an exciting time these past couple of years and hopefully we can sustain that. There are some stats which are not great and we shouldn't shy away from these.
If you look at some of the information that's been put out there in terms of numbers and board representation, it doesn't make for good reading. But there's a story there and there is a journey.
We have seen an improvement over the past few years. Some of that is because awareness has been raised and there is an appetite for change.
(HC) As an example, the Finance and Investment Board asked if DAG could help address the board's lack of gender diversity. The board membership had a good spread of ages and ethnic backgrounds, but the lack of females was something the chair really wanted to address.
We worked with them to find ways to encourage more women to apply for vacancies on the board. I think Colin Ledlie, the deputy chair of the board, was very pleased that some great candidates came forward, resulting in successful appointments. It shows that by using the right approach, it's possible to find suitable women for board positions. We often hear there aren't women on boards because there aren't enough women available at the required level of seniority, which I think is absolute nonsense.
Statistically, at the moment there are just not that many retired female chief executives or CFOs. And if that's your only criterion for a successful candidate, then you are going to fail. However, if instead you look at the attributes and behaviours you require, it will be possible to find suitable candidates. The message is that we helped the Finance and Investment Board to address gender diversity on the board with a 'toolkit' of approaches, which we hope to roll out to other boards and committees who might have similar issues.
(CA) Also women or, for that matter, other groups may need more encouragement to step forward and additional support so those things are equally important. As an example, I personally needed a little bit of persuasion to come forward to chair this Group.
Are we behind the curve compared to other professions?
(HC) We are probably sitting in the middle. The accounting profession does great things, but has the advantage of size. For example, they regularly organise events for (primarily) women returning to work after a career break. It's not something that we can offer with our much smaller membership population, so I think we are a little bit behind the curve compared with accountants. But if you look at architects, we are a little bit better, so I think we are in the middle of the pack somewhere.
(CA) Of course, we have to remember that our graduate intake is very strong in the maths and science realms, so we can only work with what's available at that point.
If you are only going to be presented with a ratio of 40% women doing maths or science subjects, then potentially you have more of a disadvantage than the accountants, as there may be a slightly broader skillset within that profession.
What does success look like in diversity?
(CA) Ultimately a 50/50 gender diversity at all levels of seniority would be great. Although the numbers are important, it is much bigger than that, however. It's about perception, behaviour, what it feels like. These may be a bit harder to quantify and to measure.
It's also about how women feel about themselves. If we no longer feel the need to be talking about gender, then you know we have succeeded.
(HC) Based on research we have previously done, the average age of a male retiring from the profession was 54, but for women it was 39.
You spend three or four years at university and another six or seven studying, by which time you've almost reached the age of 30, but then spend less than 10 years practising before disappearing off the radar. What a tragic waste of talent!
What we don't know is where these women go. I hope they continue to use their actuarial skills, but perhaps they are just not members anymore, I really don't know and I would love to find out.
Is a 50/50 the target achievable? What do we need to do to get there?
(CA) I believe so. I wouldn't be so active and enthusiastic about being involved if I didn't think what I was driving for was achievable. But it's hard to predict the pace of change.
We may need some more shocks to the system, like the Lord Davies review. Shocks like this will quicken the pace. For example, new strict targets, greater investment, and more engagement at all levels.
(HC) We need to carry on doing what we are doing. There are those who believe that we have all the necessary legislation in place, we just need to wait for it to happen. But if you wait, the pace of change will be slow, and I think we need to keep pushing and driving, educating and raising awareness.
(CA) One other obstacle is wider society, not just what we are doing as a profession. When young women set off on their careers, they are full of ideas and feel nothing will stop them. But they quickly stumble upon obstacles.
I'm astonished to see stereotypes embedded at quite a young age. If they are representative of the future generation, there are some already well-entrenched views, which might be considered quite challenging.
Very quickly certain mindsets set in, and certain beliefs and behaviours that could be limiting for females. So it's not entirely within the control of the profession in order to win this particular battle. There is also a lot of work that needs to be done externally.
What should members or employers be doing to improve diversity?
(HC) I think the onus is on all members to do their bit. When encountering 'casual sexism', say something! It's very easy just to roll your eyes, think 'here we go again' and do nothing. But these attitudes will be perpetuated if we don't do something to stamp them out and change attitudes and behaviour.
(CA) As women we can't do it by ourselves, we need to bring men with us on this journey. A call should go out to the entirety of the membership, to challenge themselves and to step outside their comfort zone and to ask the question 'is there something we can do about it'?
What are the quick wins?
(HC) Ensuring there is diversity in the speakers at conferences and events is definitely a quick win. And the example of the composition of the Finance and Investment Board mentioned earlier. For longer-term issues, we can't change the culture overnight, and there are workplace issues which we can't impact upon, but we can help encourage change in behaviours.
In terms of approaches to fixing diversity do you favour the carrot or the stick?
(HC) I think the carrot is better but we acknowledge that we might need a bit of a soft stick sometimes.
(CA) You definitely need both. A carrot may allow things to drift at a gentle pace. You run the risk of things not happening or not happening sufficiently quickly enough. So I think targets with teeth are also needed.
Can you cite some other examples of where there have been improvements
(CA) The Times top 50 employers for women has some examples of companies that have been successful.
For example, one organisation allowed all staff to work from home one day a week. Clearly, they had female staff in mind, but what I particularly liked about it was that it was available to all staff, and the take-up was split pretty much 50/50.
That kind of initiative creates a climate in an organisation that says we understand and respect your life as a whole and we want to play a part to support that.
A number of companies have also been active in making shared parental leave acceptable and encouraging colleagues to take this up.
Although gender diversity is a priority, how do we ensure other strands of diversity are developed?
(CA) We do not want to leave other areas behind. In tackling a particular pillar of diversity such as gender, you very quickly stumble across other strands of diversity, which you can tick off at the same time.
(HC) There is no shortage of other areas of diversity we can look at, including ethnic minorities, religion, and the LGBT community. We recently advertised for new members of DAG, so that we could start to drive forward work in areas beyond the gender issue.
(CA) We can't afford to stand still in other areas. If we do, legislation or pressure groups will prevail. But once you start creating a climate of being attuned to the idea there are differences, I think you then become more open to the possibility of resolving those and embracing diversity. So making headway in one strand should help us in improving diversity across the board.
Helen, during your time as chair, what have you been most proud of?
(HC) I think without DAG we would not have had the presidential theme of diversity, so I like to think we have made a difference.
Looking forward, what do you hope to achieve, Chika?
(CA) I think bringing the experience and successes of employers and leveraging this within the IFoA is a very exciting prospect. Also, although we are leading on gender, I hope we can also begin to put some real focus on other areas like ethnicity and socio-economic background.
I am also keen to ensure we have engagement at all levels of the profession, not just a small group of people. This is about each and every one of us. This is about your daughter, mother, sister, partner making a reasonable contribution.
I would also like to see more focus on the pipeline of women coming into the profession and see progress in reducing the number of women leaving early too.
Helen Crofts is a self-employed consultant and former chair of the Diversity Advisory Group.
Chika Aghadiuno is the GI director in the group actuarial function at Aviva, and co-chair of the Diversity Advisory Group.
For information about the IFoA's diversity work, visit www.actuaries.org.uk/about-us/diversity or follow the current campaign on twitter #actuariestalkDIVERSITY