Duperreault: Let’s fix the gender gap

  • Female focus: Brian Duperreault speaks at the Bermuda Captive Conference yesterday (Photo by Tekoa Photography)

    Female focus: Brian Duperreault speaks at the Bermuda Captive Conference yesterday (Photo by Tekoa Photography)


A leading insurance executive sent out a call to arms to his male peers to fix corporate issues facing women — gender bias, unfair job assignments, a lopsided work/life balance, and pay inequity.

This message was delivered at the Bermuda Captive Conference (BCC) yesterday by CEO of Hamilton Insurance Group, Brian Duperreault, during his speech in front of a packed crowd at the Mid Ocean Amphitheatre at the Fairmont Southampton Resort.

Mr Duperreault warned that as the pace of globalisation quickens, successful companies are likely to be those that prioritise a path to leadership diversity and “account for different voices and different perspectives”.

And while there has been much progress from the overt discrimination of the 50s and 60s, there remain significant issues with how women, and other under-represented groups, fare in today’s workplace.

“In our industry, those companies who bring diverse minds to the table will be the companies who understand the risks of the 21st century,” Mr Duperreault said. “Their male, female, black, white, young and mature employees will come up with the creative, innovative solutions demanded by our changing world.

“The power for change lies in the first instance with men. The good news is that when gender issues are brought to men’s attention, things do start to shift.”

The top insurance executive was addressing the question “Where are the women?” outlining the status of insurance industry women in executive positions.

He concluded: “As with any organisational change, things have to start at the top. We need to make sure our executive teams know that this is an important issue. Without the executive stamp of approval, nothing will change.

“We need to embed training programmes in our human resource policies. Our executives need to be given the tools to establish and manage diverse teams of employees.

“We can tie diversity management to performance appraisals and bonuses. Many companies have done this, and are the better for it.

“And women: Sheryl Sandburg, the COO of Facebook, has called on women to learn how to take their place at the executive table, speak up and advocate for themselves — to lean in. Do this. You need to believe you’re awesome, too.

“Identify those ‘stretch assignments’. If you want them, lobby for them. They are as much your right as anyone else’s. And they are critical if your goal is a place in the C-suite.

“But don’t feel you have to act like a man to be successful.

“As the Thomsen Reuters report noted, ‘Women are just as purposeful, driven, and strategic as men are, yet bring with them a powerfully different perspective for performance, people development, and business improvement.’

“There’s a wealth of research that underlines the bottom line value of a woman’s perspective.”

There were 120 non-registered Bermuda executives who paid a special $25-fee just to attend his speech, almost all of whom were women.

Mr Duperreault cited research which backed his experience that the majority of men in senior management positions aren’t satisfied with the progress to date in creating a better balance on executive teams and boards.

“The intention (to affect change) has been there,” he said, “but not the results”.

Mr Duperreault called on men who were in seats of power to do their part to fix the gender gap. And he called on women to make sure they are active agents for change.

He said that there had been little change since a 2012 Forbes article stated that the C-Suite and boardrooms are “male, pale and stale”.

Women make up half the workforce and even with top education credentials, make up less than five percent of CEOs in Fortune 500, or Fortune 1000 companies.

In insurance, just 1.3 percent of CEOs in finance and insurance are women.

He said: “Women still earn less than men, even adjusted for variables like length of employment and education.

“The latest research shows that while pay and promotion are pretty much equal out of grad school, a gap emerges and widens over successive decades. By the time men and women are in their 40s and 50s, men dominate the C-Suite, and earn 20 to 30 percent more than their female colleagues.

“After all the advances we’ve made, and in spite of the good intentions that I referred to earlier, why is there still such an imbalance? What’s going on here?”

A large number of recent studies indicate a variety of interconnected factors at play, including gender bias emerging from stereotypes which are embedded in our culture and hard to break away from.

“When you add race and ethnicity,” he said, “you add more layers of stereotypes.”

Citing several studies, he said they influence thinking on corporate or organisational leadership.

Researchers at the London Business School and University College London found that unlike men, women who were also dominant and authoritative were judged as effective but they were criticised for those traits — by both men and women — and weren’t considered as legitimate brokers of influence. They didn’t fit the perception of how women should behave.

Another factor in how men and women advance in their careers is the difference in their levels of confidence.

Studies show men begin salary negotiations four times more often and ask for 30 percent more.

Male students consistently overestimate their abilities and performance, and female students consistently underestimate theirs.

He said: “Men have been encouraged to believe they are natural leaders and achievers. Women have not, and this dynamic gets reinforced in the workplace. And you can see the impact this dynamic can have on the confidence gap.“

Another difference involves “stretch assignments” — managerial assignments that might include working in an overseas office, or leading a team, or overseeing research and development. Stretch assignments expose managers to a company’s primary sources of revenue, strategic markets, or key products.

And managers who have had such experience are more likely to be promoted.

Men actively look for stretch assignments — and actively lobby for them — whether or not they’re qualified. Generally, women don’t — even if they’re eminently qualified.

Mr Duperreault noted: “There’s a learning and development model called the 70-20-10 rule. It’s been used for a number of years by human resource professionals, and says 70 percent of a manager’s experience should come from stretch assignments, 20 percent from mentoring and 10 percent from classroom learning.

“But research shows that for women, the emphasis has been on the mentoring and training part of the formula, and not the on-the-job experience — the stretch assignments.”

A complex issue facing women and their potential for advancement is maternity leave and child rearing. Working moms get home to their children, but also to their household for a “second shift”.

A Harvard study showed that women MBAs and lawyers who don’t put in long hours at the office are short-changed when it comes to promotions or pay increases.

And hours put in at home may not count as much, because the insurance and financial services sectors, in particular, place a premium on face time.

Mr Duperreault noted that he was raised by a single mother “who showed me that a woman can do anything a man can do, and, often, do it better”, he said.

He was taught by nuns in elementary and high school.

“Their discipline, strength and fortitude left an indelible impression — sometimes literally.”

And he has been married to wife Nancy for 42 years “an accomplished woman in her own right whose strength, confidence and ability have always been so impressive to me”.

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Published Jun 3, 2014 at 12:16 pm (Updated Jun 3, 2014 at 8:32 pm)

Duperreault: Let’s fix the gender gap

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