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The Actuary The magazine of the Institute & Faculty of Actuaries

Letters: Damsels in distress approach is not helpful


The article A seat at the table in the March issue made some very interesting and valid points. I fully support the notion that cognitive diversity is the key to preventing groupthink, particularly as I’ve often felt like a bit of an impostor in my own profession. I do have a problem, though, with two of the issues mentioned in the article. Both are, perhaps, well-intentioned but are patronising to women. One high-profile female actuary I talked to about this thought they were examples of “damsel in distress” syndrome. 

The first, gender quotas and gender-specific recruitment practices as “quick fixes to the [gender] imbalance”, should now be well past their sell-by date (as well as potentially being illegal). The biggest way to reinforce someone’s feeling that “they shouldn’t really be there” is if they feel they’re only there because of a quota rather than because they’re any good. Quotas are a way of creating an even bigger “impostor syndrome” for women actuaries, and do nothing for the “inclusion” part of “diversity and inclusion”. 

Secondly, sponsors: The example of the sponsor role given was obviously “man helps women”. The article didn’t say that sponsors necessarily always had to be men helping women, but that’s certainly what it implied and/or what most people would have inferred. There definitely is a need for mentors and sponsors in corporate life, and in our profession, but surely that must be to nurture talent and not because ‘behind every successful women there’s a man’?

On a possibly more flippant but nevertheless instructive note, I am always stunned by how the behaviour of men and the comparable behaviour of women are judged so differently. If a man goes on a business trip, gets drunk and has a fling, then he might get a few ‘tut-tuts’ but would largely be excused “because that’s what blokes do”. Now think of the reaction a woman would get if she did the same thing? I rest my case.

The article makes the point that “fixing inequality starts in the home”, and maybe it does, but it also needs a good heave by looking at the way each of us judges the abilities, talents and behaviours of one another.

Lee Faulkner FIA

22 March 2019

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