This is the seventh year of Women in the Workplace, the joint research effort by McKinsey & Company and LeanIn.Org and the largest annual benchmark of women’s progress in corporate America. McKinsey spoke with Elixabete Larrea, a partner in the Boston office, to understand more about the state of women in the insurance industry.
McKinsey: What are the most relevant insights of this year’s research?
Elixabete Larrea: There are a few findings worth highlighting.
Women leaders have taken on the lion’s share of work to support employees and invest in diversity, equity, and inclusion during COVID-19, and this effort is not being recognized. Compared with male senior leaders, women senior leaders do 26 percent more to help employees navigate work and life challenges, 24 percent more to help manage workloads, and 60 percent more to provide emotional support to employees. They also carry roughly double the sponsorship load.
This additional leadership from women has provided the connective tissue that companies have so badly needed during these past two years of pressure and strain. This important work, however, is not being recognized: 87 percent of companies say these duties are “very” or “extremely important,” but only 25 percent recognize them as a main objective rather than extracurricular work. And this work comes on top of everything women are doing at home—one in three women and 60 percent of mothers with young children are spending more than five hours a day on housework and caregiving.
- Women are more burned out than men and are at risk of leaving their jobs. Just to be clear, both men and women are burned out in this new environment that COVID-19 has created. But the gap between men’s and women’s burnout levels has nearly doubled since early 2021. Almost half of women in the workforce are suffering regular burnout now.
- While we haven’t seen women leaving corporate jobs in large numbers, we also haven’t seen a lot of progress in terms of representation. Women have made some gains at almost every level of the pipeline, including a 3 percent increase in the C-suite. However, women of color continue to be dramatically underrepresented at higher levels of the pipeline. At every step of the corporate ladder they lose ground to White women and men of color.
McKinsey: Why is this representation important, and how will it influence the future of the insurance industry?
Representation is extremely important for all industries, and I believe we as an insurance industry are in a unique place to lead the way.
Elixabete Larrea: We know from our research that ethnically diverse and gender-diverse companies are 36 percent and 25 percent more likely to outperform less diverse organizations, respectively. We also know that employees who are burned out are 1.6 times more likely than all employees to consider downshifting or leaving their jobs. So, in the current context we live in—as we recover from a pandemic and we face the Great Attrition phenomenon—focusing on representation becomes critical for insurance companies. It’s good for the business to have diversity of ideas and opinions, and it’s good for the employees and the broader communities we live in to be part of an inclusive and supporting environment where we feel safe, acknowledged, and at our best.
Representation is extremely important for all industries, and I believe we as an insurance industry are in a unique place to lead the way. According to our research, we have much better entry-level representation than many other industries, with women accounting for 66 percent of workers at the entry level in insurance compared with 48 percent overall in other industries. Claims organizations, call centers, and operations centers are also very diverse. Fortunately, the insurance industry has had a focus on diversity and inclusion historically. If we want to win the war for talent, especially in today's environment, we need to raise our aspiration and lead the way.
McKinsey: What could industry leaders do to help achieve these goals?
It’s good for the business to have diversity of ideas and opinions, and it’s good for the employees and the broader communities we live in to be part of an inclusive and supporting environment where we feel safe, acknowledged, and at our best.
Elixabete Larrea: A couple of things come to mind. First, help fix the “broken rung” from entry level to manager and from manager to senior manager. We are losing a disproportionate number of diverse profiles in the first few promotion steps on the corporate ladder. Women and other minority groups are often not considered for promotions based on false assumptions or unconscious bias—such as, “She is busy at home with the kids,” “She has too much going on with taking care of her parents,” or “We don’t want to put extra pressure on her.” If women were to be promoted at the same pace as men, it would take us five years to close the gap. If we continue at current rates, it will take us 30 years—two or three generations more. Giving transparency to those numbers and making leaders accountable is the first step.
Second, lead the way on creating an inclusive culture at work, especially now. Make sure we not only raise awareness but also create a learning environment where we can call out microaggressions and take steps forward to make sure everyone feels like a valued member of the team. We all think we are allies, but the reality is that we are not always focused on the things that will move the needle.
Elixabete Larrea is a partner in McKinsey’s Boston office.
For more on women in the workplace in insurance, see: