First woman heading Lloyd’s lauds diversity

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.

First woman heading Lloyd's lauds diversity
Inga Beale. Photo: Lloyd's

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.

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.


Switzerland: 2021 Davos summit shifted to Lucerne in May

The World Economic Forum announced Wednesday that its postponed 2021 Davos summit, themed as "The Great Reset" in the coronavirus crisis, will take place in Lucerne, Switzerland from May 18 to 21.

Switzerland: 2021 Davos summit shifted to Lucerne in May
Participants at the World Economic Forum at Davos in 2020. Photo: FABRICE COFFRINI / AFP

The annual gathering of the world's political, economic and business elite traditionally takes place in January against the idyllic snowy backdrop of the Swiss Alpine village of Davos.

But it was postponed due to the Covid-19 pandemic and, charged with remodelling the world economy in the wake of the crisis, will now be held 125 kilometres (75 miles) away in the plush Burgenstock resort overlooking Lake Lucerne.

“The meeting will take place as long as all conditions are in place to guarantee the health and safety of participants and the host community,” WEF spokesman Adrian Monck said in a statement.

“The meeting will focus on the solutions required to address the world's most pressing challenges. “Global leaders will come together to design a common recovery path, to shape 'The Great Reset' in the post-Covid-19 era and rebuild a more cohesive and sustainable society.”

Hybrid format

The WEF announced in June that the 51st edition of its annual meeting would take place in a hybrid format, then in August said it was being delayed for several months to reduce any risks to participants from the coronavirus pandemic.

The Lucerne summit will combine both in-person and virtual elements, with participants linked to a network of around 400 hubs worldwide to incorporate dialogue with the WEF's “young global shapers, to ensure openness and inclusion”, said Monck.

The summit will be preceded during the week of January 25 by digitally-convened high-level “Davos Dialogues”, when global leaders will share their views on the state of the world in 2021.

The novel coronavirus has killed more than 1.04 million people while at least 35.5 million infections have been recorded since the outbreak emerged in China late last year, according to a tally from official sources compiled by AFP.

The pandemic has also triggered a global economic downturn, though the International Monetary Fund said Tuesday that while it is far from over, it will not be as bad as originally feared thanks to a flood of government spending.

The World Trade Organization said likewise, forecasting a global trade contraction of 9.2 percent this year, rather than its previous “optimistic scenario” prediction of 12.9 percent.

But global trade will then grow by only 7.2 percent next year, rather than the previous 21.3-percent estimate issued in April, the WTO added.

Swiss cases rising

The WEF announcement comes as Switzerland announced Wednesday that daily coronavirus cases had jumped over the 1,000-mark for the first time since April 1, when the peak of the pandemic's initial wave began to recede.

Swiss Health Minister Alain Berset has urged the country to “get a grip” and be more rigorous in applying the basic measures to control the spread of the virus.

The 2020 edition of the WEF summit, hosted in January just as the world was beginning to become aware of the new coronavirus spreading in China, drew more than 50 heads of state and government to Davos.

It focused on themes of sustainability and finding a more inclusive model for capitalism. US President Donald Trump and Swedish teenage eco-warrior Greta Thunberg were among its top speakers.

The WEF said it aims to be back in Davos for 2022.