Diversity in Insurance and Beyond with Kweilin Ellingrud

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On average, gender equality is better in the insurance industry than in other fields in North America. Racial diversity, however, is less prevalent in insurance, especially in VP and C-suite positions. In fact, only one in 25 direct reports to insurance CEOs is a woman of color. McKinsey spoke with Kweilin Ellingrud, Senior Partner and Head of McKinsey’s North America Life Insurance Practice, to learn more about the state of gender equality during the COVID-19 pandemic and to explore areas of hope and concern as we look to the future.

McKinsey: What is the current state of diversity in insurance?

Kweilin Ellingrud: Insurance – including life, home and auto insurance – is more gender diverse but less racially diverse than the average industry in North America. There are a lot of strengths to build on, especially in the more junior levels of the talent funnel, but we still have a long way to go to increase diversity in the more senior half of the talent funnel. talents, especially for women of color.

Across all industries in North America, nearly half of entry-level workers are women, and just under one in four senior managers are women. In insurance, two-thirds of the entry level are women, and there are between seven and 14 percentage points more women in management and leadership roles compared to other industries. While the gap narrows at the upper levels of the talent pool, insurance is still three to five percentage points more gender-diverse than any industry at the VP, SVP and of C-suite. Large and relatively diverse contact centers and large claims organizations in the field, particularly in auto and home insurance, help foster this diversity, especially in the more junior half of the funnel.

Female team leaders support their teams by providing emotional support, checking in on their overall well-being and ensuring manageable workloads, and they do this between 6-11% more than the average male manager.


In terms of racial diversity in insurance, we have a long way to go at all levels, especially at the senior levels. In insurance, the entry level is 19% women of color and 8% men of color. It then drops to 3% women of color in the C-suite, from 7% men of color and 2% women of color at the board level, from 22% men of color. In other words, only about one in 35 people in insurance who report to a CEO are Black, Latina, or Asian women. And one in 50 board members is a black, Latina, or Asian woman. I think we can do better.

McKinsey: Where have we made progress on diversity and what areas are you still concerned about?

Kweilin Ellingrud: We have made progress over the past five years or so in increasing diversity at senior levels. We’re seeing more women — mostly white women — at the senior vice president and C-suite levels. Unfortunately, the numbers only move 1% or less each year at the entry, management and executive levels, where the majority of women and employees are found. So most people don’t see much improvement in diversity at their level.

But we know that female team leaders support their teams by providing emotional support, checking in on their overall well-being, and ensuring manageable workloads, and they do this between 6-11% more than the manager. average male, according to our survey of more than 65,000 employees across all industries.1

We also know that the average upper level female carries a much heavier sponsorship load than the average upper level male. Compared to top-level men, the average top-level woman sponsors 2.3 times more white women and 2.5 times more women of color, as well as more white men and men of color. It takes time and energy. We also know that women in general are much more likely than men to spend a lot of time on diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) efforts, even when these tasks are not part of their primary role.

So we have made progress and it is encouraging that female managers are doing more to support their teams. But I fear that we are leaving the responsibility for advancing the DEI to the few diverse leaders we have in the field of insurance instead of having allies who lead this effort more actively.

McKinsey: Diversity and inclusion is a long journey. Over the past two years, how has COVID-19 changed this landscape and what should we watch out for in the future?

The talent market, especially for hard-to-find and more experienced talent, now has fewer geographic constraints. This could be good for various leaders and industries looking to hire them.


Kweilin Ellingrud: COVID has certainly changed things in many ways. Many dual-career couples have become single-career couples as families adjust to distance education overnight. In fact, while we now have more men in the US workforce than before COVID (100,000 more men), we have a million fewer women in the workforce. Black workers and Hispanic workers were also more likely to leave the workforce during COVID. Unfortunately, in the first year of COVID, black women in the United States were nearly three times more likely to experience the death of a loved one, making this a particularly difficult time. Women with children, higher-level women and black women were all more likely to consider downgrading in their careers, either moving to a less intense role or giving up work altogether.

Now that many companies are embracing a hybrid work environment, we find that all employee groups, on average, prefer some form of hybrid arrangement. However, preferences differ by gender, seniority, and whether someone has children or is a caretaker. Women prefer to spend more days working from home than men, as do employees with children and younger employees. The challenge is that if some workplaces make returning to work more flexible, people with childcare and eldercare responsibilities are likely to come to the office less. And it can make these people less visible and less of a priority for advancement opportunities and promotions, which puts them on a slower career trajectory.

And the talent market, especially for hard-to-find and more experienced talent, now has fewer geographic constraints. This could be good for various leaders and industries looking to hire them. Overall, COVID will definitely lead to more flexibility and more work-from-home opportunities than we were seeing pre-COVID. We will need to ensure that these opportunities do not ultimately disadvantage women and people of color.

1. We asked employees how often their manager engaged in certain behaviors and then asked whether their manager was male or female.

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Kweilin Ellingrud is a senior partner in McKinsey’s Minneapolis office.

To learn more about gender equality, please see:

  1. Closing Gender and Race Gaps in North American Financial Services
  2. Ten things to know about gender equality
  3. The future of work after COVID-19
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