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First woman heading Lloyd's lauds diversity

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First woman heading Lloyd's lauds diversity
Inga Beale. Photo: Lloyd's
17:11 CET+01:00
As the first female head in the 325-year history of the Lloyd's of London insurance market, Inga Beale is something of a shining light at the World Economic Forum in Davos, where gender equality is a key theme this year.

But as she told AFP in an interview on the sidelines of the talk-fest in the snowy Swiss ski resort, the drive for gender parity is not just a worthy social goal, it makes perfect business sense as well.

The London insurance market is "completely out of kilter" even with the male-dominated world of the top corporate boardroom in London, she said, with around four percent of executives being women — to its own detriment, according to Beale.
   
"Businesses that have better diversity in their management teams and board sustainably produce better results," she said.
   
"There's a whole population that we need to tap into," the executive said.

"Economists have looked at the untapped population and they say there would be a five-percent increase in GDP in the US if you could tap into this population and for some other parts of the world, it could be even higher." 
   
Asked whether she personally faced challenges on the climb to the top of this world, she responded with a smile.
   
"When they were looking for a CEO, I have to say I probably had all the right characteristics — global experience, always been in the industry, have run companies, so honestly I think that was what it was," she said.
   
Nevertheless, as a woman, "you have to be very determined and you have to ignore certain things that happen and you just carry on."
   
She does not deny that she has had "moments where I've asked 'was I recognized for my job rather than being noticed because I was a woman'?"
   
But she said: "When you get more senior, I have to say, that does sort-of stop."

Unconscious discrimination 

Of the 2,500 movers-and-shakers at the World Economic Forum, only around 17 percent are women, a ratio that draws anger and dismay every year.
   
Nevertheless, female participation in the forum has been inching up in the past few years towards an eventual target of one in four.
   
And for the first time this year, the Davos elites will hear a discussion on the "diversity dividend", dealing not just with the gender gap but also inclusion of the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender communities in business.
   
"Harry Potter" star Emma Watson joined forces with United Nations chief Ban Ki-moon and the leaders of Sweden and Rwanda in an "only at Davos" combination to promote higher female participation in the workforce.
   
Beale, who will speak on the Saturday equality panel, said the ratio of women at Davos "probably reflects what's going on in the business community."
   
In her own company, Beale has launched a drive to widen the diversity of the whole firm — a no-brainer for such a global organization, she said.
   
Lloyd's of London is expanding rapidly into China, Latin America and Africa and "the only way to really be part of that is to understand their culture and hire different people," she said.
   
The biggest battle businesses face is what she called "unconscious" discrimination — which can even work both ways.
   
"I remember in my career, I suddenly found myself ending up with a predominantly female team," she admitted.
   
"I didn't go out to hire women," Beale said.

"It was unconscious, but somehow you end up hiring and you get on perhaps better with people who are like you," she said.

"When I began to realize this — this was 20 years ago — I thought 'Gosh, I have to consciously hire people who aren't like me'."
   
The World Economic Forum brings together the world's business and political elite for a four-day gathering in Davos.

It ends on Saturday.

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