Women at Work: Why Women Should Lead Risk Management: Female Traits Create Great Risk Managers. This Is Good News for Gender Equality and Even Better News for Business

By Widmer, Lori | Risk Management, May 2013 | Go to article overview

Women at Work: Why Women Should Lead Risk Management: Female Traits Create Great Risk Managers. This Is Good News for Gender Equality and Even Better News for Business


Widmer, Lori, Risk Management


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When Pamela Rogers entered the risk management field in the 1980s, women's role in corporate America was one of trying to fit into an atmosphere that was all business. "There was nothing personal at all," she said.

Since then, Rogers has seen a metamorphosis. Since 1982, she has watched the industry evolve into an atmosphere where women's natural people skills combined with learned analytical prowess can create an unstoppable force.

During her tenure at Marsh, where she was senior vice president and managing consultant, Rogers says there were a significant number of senior-level female managers. It was a huge change from her first days in risk management when there were "very, very few" women in high-level roles. "Let's face it--35 years ago, who ever thought of work/life balance?" she said.

Rogers, now vice president of enterprise risk and insurance management at Weight Watchers in New York, now thinks that today's business environment is suited for women to capture those coveted C-suite positions and start leading culture instead of trying to fit in.

This has been a long time coming. As the 1990s progressed, so did a softer attitude toward a family-friendly workplace. Then, when the bubble burst in 2000, employers were clearly back in the driver's seat--but only for a short time. As the economy recovered, there was a return of work/life balance.

Then the bottom dropped out for real. When the economy fell hard in 2008, suddenly employers were doing more with fewer employees. Not only that, the labor force had gradually been morphing from a labor-intensive, manufacturer-driven model to a service model. But that change may be the reason more women are rising to the top of the business world. To Rogers, service is where women excel in business.

Still, the corporate world may not have caught up with Rogers' personal experiences. Depending on which report you read, women are either rising to the top in management positions or floundering in corporate limbo. Last year's Grant Thornton International Business Report detailed the dismal news: women in senior management comprise just 21% of the global corporate population, a mere 2% more than in 2004. Likewise, a 2010 Catalyst study revealed that just 2.4% of Fortune 500 chief executives were female. That's 12 women, in case you're counting.

One thing is certain; the United States is lagging far behind most other countries. The proportion of women in senior management in the United States paled by comparison to countries such as Russia, with 36% of all senior execs being women, and Thailand, which topped Grant Thornton's survey with 45% of senior managers being women.

While statistics specific to the risk management field are nil, there are inklings of what's happening coming from various professional associations. The UK-based Airmic risk management association has seen a doubling of female membership in the last 10 years. The Federation of European Risk Management Associations (FERMA) has an 11-member board, four of whom are women. The leadership of the Risk and Insurance Management Society (RIMS, publisher of this magazine) has seen a turning of the gender page as well: it has seven women on its 16-person board. In terms of membership, while RIMS does not require gender affiliation as part of the application process, 2,913 of its 7,738 members (37.6%) who did indicate a gender are women.

Why Women Rock

So what's the big deal if women rise to the top or not? In a word, profitability. Several studies suggest that women are making a bottom-line difference. Pepperdine University studied Fortune 500 firms and found that companies that promoted women most often made 18%-69% more in profits than median companies in their industries.

Women are also game changers inside the organization. A 2009 Catalyst report shows that Fortune 500 companies with three or more women in senior management roles ranked higher in organizational excellence than their competitor companies.

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