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Are You Under-Leveraging Talent Due to Unconscious Bias?

February 08, 2015| By Tad Montross | L/H General Industry, P/C General Industry | English

As an underwriting company, our communications about biases to date have largely focused on underwriting. Another very important initiative for us is how the Human Element affects our decision making with regard to hiring and promotions. In 2013 the Insurance Industry Charitable Foundation (IICF) held its first Global Conference on Women in Insurance. I spoke at the conference about one of the common challenges we all share - how to increase the number of women in leadership positions in our firms, in our industry and in our country. 

Much has been written on gender bias, hiring bias and promotion bias. In a study published recently, the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that managers of both sexes were twice as likely to hire a man. As Wittenberg-Cox wrote in the Harvard Business Review, “Corporate America has a preference for a masculine style of leadership that is deeply ingrained, largely unconscious and self-reinforcing.” The first step to curb this unconscious bias is to make it conscious.

We believe Gen Re will be more successful if we address unconscious biases in hiring and promotions, as well as gender. Our objectives are straightforward: We want to encourage diversity of thinking and appreciation of different styles. Since I spoke at the conference, our work toward a culture of meritocracy, where advancement is based solely on an individual’s ability and achievement, has gained momentum.

The more we learn and dig deeper into the subject of bias, we’ve discovered how challenging it can be to address. And this has led to some great conversations, talking openly about the issue and identifying it when we see it. We’ve involved Gen Re associates from all areas and levels of the organization globally to help us achieve our goals. We are studying our hiring, promotion and compensation statistics to weed out biases. We initiated bias training using case studies and are holding managers accountable for encouraging and promoting bias remediation. We are building a mentoring program and reviewing our flexible work policies and their application to be sure we are addressing our employees' work life balance needs. It’s just the beginning of our journey, but embracing diversity is making Gen Re a stronger company.

Some say the insurance industry has had difficulty attracting the best talent. I’m convinced that if we address the unconscious bias that is employed when hiring and promoting, it can be transformational not only for women but for the entire industry. IICF is holding the second Global Conference on Women in Insurance June 17 to 19 in New York. It’s a great chance to get involved in the conversation.


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