Female actuaries: come back to your insurance career

Business woman standing by laptop with Inclusivity logo

Helena Ingram of the IFoA’s Diversity Action Group calls for women who left their careers in insurance to grasp the opportunity offered by the cross-market Inclusivity Insurance Returners Programme.

Many industries find it difficult to ensure diversity and representation at new-recruit level, and it’s even more of a challenge to retain the representation as those new joiners progress through their careers. Individuals will take time out from their careers for reasons as diverse as the individuals themselves, but many will, at some point, want to return.

The insurance industry is very aware of this issue, and is actively looking at ways to make that return achievable and as rewarding as possible.

First, some background

The Association of British Insurers noted in 2018, in their report 'Tackling the gender seniority gap', that the proportion of female employees falls by 60% between entry and senior-level and that the major reason behind this is that women are not resuming their careers in insurance after starting a family.

The issue of career breaks certainly isn’t confined to women, but with women taking on 58% of unpaid care roles and (partly as a consequence of these parental and care responsibilities) bearing the brunt of Covid-related job losses, the disproportionate impact on women is today an inescapable fact.

That this is a loss to the actuarial profession and to industry has been highlighted by the IFoA before, not least at the 2019 event Your Actuarial Career: Managing Career Breaks.


Though the problem remains, it is these days widely recognised within the insurance industry and returnship programmes are becoming more common. Many companies now offer placements with various schemes of support to help overcome the loss of confidence, loss of networks and loss of currency that come with time away from an insurance career.

In insurance, one example of a returnship programme is that provided by Aviva.

Via my position on the IFoA’s Diversity Action Group, I came across a new approach that offers a real opportunity for women looking to return to their actuarial careers: the Inclusivity Insurance Returners Programme – a cross-sector returners' programme.

The programme is a cross-market initiative supported by The Insurance Families Network and Inclusivity Partners, a consultancy that, alongside standard recruitment services, has specialised in creating proprietary returner programmes. The current programme brings together companies across the insurance world, including Marsh, Phoenix, AXA, Zurich, Aon, and Lloyd’s of London, to create something more powerful than any one company could offer. My own employer, Willis Towers Watson, participated in a first iteration of the programme earlier this year.

The programme is supported by the Chartered Insurance Institute and Lloyd’s of London.

As well as crossing corporate lines, the programme is open to various disciplines, including underwriting, broking, claims, exposure management and risk, as well as actuarial. It is also open to both women and men.

Recognising the challenges

Returning to work after a prolonged period away can be extremely challenging.

Working parents website, MMB, found in a 2018 survey that 37% of career returners felt so unsupported and isolated on their return that they wanted to leave, 60% were worried about asking for flexible working and 90% said no structured returner support was offered.

The Insurance Returners Programme provides six-month, paid placements, aimed at allowing returners to get up to speed and build new business relationships in an environment conducive to their success.

Participants receive training before their placements begin, alongside their fellow returners. And, crucially, returners’ line managers also receive training to ensure that they understand how to provide support.

The programme’s consultants provide specialist one-to-one coaching over the course of the placement and employers provide a buddy and an internal mentor.

How to apply

The assessment process looks for potential and aims to acknowledge the full breadth of a candidate’s experience, identifying the reasons to put someone forward, rather than the reasons to reject them.

Candidates are supported with advice on how to create a standout CV, and how to navigate the interview process. 

The programme’s consultants offer a key piece of advice:  Don’t overthink it!  Or, to borrow a quote, “Leap before you look”.

The program is now open for applicants.


Support our work to promote diversity in the actuarial profession: learn about the IFoA Diversity Action Group, how you can join the conversation and be the first to hear about our initiatives.