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The Lloyd’s managing agency C-suite: Where are all the women?

Boardroom empty london.jpg

Just 18 women occupy executive director-level positions of CEO, managing director, CUO or CFO across all Lloyd’s managing agents – and only one is a CEO, research by Insurance Insider has found.

The figure underlines the lack of women in strategic, decision-making roles and on executive committees in the Lloyd’s market, even though the Corporation’s own culture dashboard shows improvement in female representation at the senior level and throughout the market as a whole.

This analysis is the first in a two-part series. In this piece we will explore, through data and extensive anonymous conversations with market participants, the causes for the lack of female executive directors in the market, while a follow-up piece will look at some of the possible solutions.

The data

Lloyd’s 2022 culture dashboard showed a one-point increase in women in leadership roles within the firms making up the market, reaching 30%.

Lloyd’s defines this group as women on boards, executive committees and direct reports to the executive committee, and is working towards a target of 35%.

It is understood that the Corporation defines leadership in this way because the leaders of the future will be drawn from that third subgroup.

In its research, Lloyd’s subtracted women who are both on the executive committee and the board of their businesses, eliminating that form of double counting.

Around a quarter of Lloyd’s firms have met or exceeded the 35% target within their own ranks, while two-thirds have increased the proportion of women in leadership in the past year.

Women make up 19% of boards, 24% of executive committees and 32% of direct reports to executive committees. Female staff make up 42% of the total workforce.

But research by this publication, looking instead at the number of women in executive directorships in the industry, reveal a less positive picture than that painted by the Lloyd’s figures.

For the purposes of this analysis, we have defined our data set to include women who hold the title of CEO, CUO (or most senior underwriting equivalent) or CFO and are additionally listed as an executive director under Companies House. It excludes a wider set of C-suite roles such as COO, which often do not afford the occupant of the role a seat on the executive committee.

Women in these roles fill just 18 executive positions among Lloyd’s managing agents, and only one such firm has a female CEO: Asta, with Lorraine Harfitt, who was appointed just this month.

There are 55 managing agents at Lloyd’s including run-off firms. Assuming there are a CEO, CFO and CUO or equivalent at each managing agent, and adding in the three additional managing director roles, this equates to around just 10% of these key executive roles being occupied by women.

It is worth noting that while there are women in the market which hold C-suite roles for business units, that role does not always translate to the same role on a Lloyd’s managing agency board, or in some cases, a place on the managing agency board at all. This is particularly the case at companies which run both Lloyd's and company market platforms.


This table has been updated to add Jenny Hummerston, director of underwriting at Polo managing agency (formerly Capita).

Sheila Cameron, CEO of the Lloyd’s Market Association (LMA), said: “Most managing agents are using the non-executive community to meet their female director targets – typically around the 30% mark. That is quite simply not good enough.

“Firms should be striving for at least one female executive director on their boards.”

All of this has an impact on the levels of pay women can expect to achieve during a career at Lloyd’s. Data from the UK government’s gender pay gap service shows that women are firmly in the minority of top earners at UK non-life insurance businesses.

Sources have also indicated that although the number of women on boards according to Lloyd’s has increased to 19% today from 12% in 2020, that figure is skewed by female non-executive directors sitting on multiple boards.

The dearth of women in executive positions in the Lloyd’s market also compares unfavourably to other industries.

McKinsey’s 2021 Women in the Workplace report, which surveys 423 businesses and 65,000 employees in the US, found that women in these businesses made up 24% of C-suite positions and comprised 27% of senior vice president roles.

The LMA’s Cameron said: “At the end of the day, you can’t be what you can’t see.

“Forget how many Johns and Davids we have as CEOs – shockingly, we have more managing agent CEOs called Matthew Wilson (at Brit and Travelers) than we have female CEOs.

“This isn’t because there aren’t enough talented women in this market: every CEO I speak to tells me that they have large numbers of highly talented, senior females.

“Well, why then, do the systems and structures in place in every firm mean that only one female can break through to CEO level?”

In this analysis, Insurance Insider conducted a broad market canvass to find out why the lack of women at the top of the Lloyd’s market persists. Our canvass was conducted anonymously and took in both male and female market participants of a variety of seniorities.

We summarise the barriers and challenges which were most frequently highlighted by our canvass below:

  • An “obsession” with CEOs from underwriting backgrounds – disproportionately favouring men

  • Industry bias – both of an overt and subconscious nature

  • Sub-optimal succession planning and lack of pipeline of female talent, particularly in underwriting roles

  • The limitations of executive search firms, particularly where recruiters rely on personal networks  

  • Institutional barriers due to the incompatibility of a senior London market role with caring responsibilities.


In response to this article, Lloyd’s CEO John Neal said: “Diverse leadership is a key part of building an inclusive culture, and inclusive cultures make for successful organisations.

“There has been good progress in the Corporation and the market: many market firms are meeting or exceeding our 35% target for women in leadership positions, while in the Corporation we have built an impressive cohort of talented women in our executive leadership team.

“But shifting the dial on culture takes time. Developing leaders takes even longer.

“So we need to make sure we take brave and decisive action today to recruit, retain and develop female leaders across our market. There’s no room for inaction or delay.”

Where are all the women?

There are a number of interconnected reasons that explain the lack of women in executive directorships within the market, rather than a singular cause.

Several sources pointed out that, given that initiatives to ensure the gender parity of entry-level intake to the market are fairly new, it would take time for senior management to reach the same level of equality even if there were no barriers to progression for women in the market.

“We haven’t had a lot of women coming into the industry, and so there are few at senior level now,” one source said.

Other sources agreed: “Even if every company from today hired nobody but women, it would take 10-15 years for them to come through [to senior roles].”

The cyclical nature of the market also means hiring is done in fits and starts, as opposed to a smooth constant flow. This too has an impact on the number of women entering the market.

An executive recruiter struck a positive note: “If it’s 30% female representation at the level below the C-suite, what is that going to look like in 10 years?”

“When clients ask me for a list of female CFO candidates that is fine, but 10 years ago there simply were none,” they added.

“You can’t go from no women to 50% women on senior management teams in five years.”

The mid-career exit

The time-lag reasoning is valid, but several sources also described a phenomenon in which women exit the market mid-career, at a point where male colleagues continue to excel up the ladder.

“Companies spend a lot on attracting this talent at junior level and then just let it leak out,” one source complained.

At times this is because women become frustrated with endless closed doors (more on this below) and move to different sectors.

But the major factor is that the majority of caring responsibilities – for children or elderly relatives – still falls to women.

Multiple sources in our anonymous canvass said they had witnessed instances where a woman’s likelihood of having a child in the immediate future was a consideration when making a hiring or promotion decision.

Companies spend a lot on attracting this talent at junior level and then just let it leak out

“This is a societal issue,” one source said. They went on to say that parenting is where industries start to lose women, then there is a second wave of women who exit due to lack of understanding and support for the physical elements of the menopause. "We must be better at providing support for these issues.” 

It would be churlish to dismiss the efforts that the Lloyd’s market and individual firms have made in the past two decades to improve the gender parity of their organisations. It is logical that changes at the uppermost levels within the industry will take time as female candidates earn their stripes.

But sources also said it would be naïve to accept that this is the only reason women do not yet make up 50% of boardroom executives. Several sources cited sexism and institutional barriers to women as key factors.   

‘Underwriter obsessed’

While a degree of preference for senior candidates with market-specific experience is logical, sources said that the fixation on finding CEOs in particular with underwriting expertise specifically is extreme and counterproductive.

It is also another element blocking women from boards, given that men are more likely to be underwriters than women – many of whom instead rise through the ranks of legal, compliance or claims due to greater flexibility often afforded in those roles.

Given this underwriting focus for leadership at Lloyd’s, the pipeline of potential future female CEOs is fundamentally challenged.

By example: among Lloyd’s syndicates, only eight have a female active underwriter (two of these hold executive directorships at their firms).

“The market is underwriter-obsessed when it comes to CEO leadership,” one source said.

“Underwriting is of course at the core of the business, but it’s not everything. A good underwriter isn’t always a good leader.”

Another source added: “At every executive committee meeting I have ever sat on, the decisions being taken there do not need 30 years of underwriting experience.”

Those who do make it to the top roles after a career in underwriting are then likely to perpetuate the underwriter bias, they said.

At the same time, the market is trying to increase the level of female underwriting talent, but that too takes time.

Separately, those women who do make it to executive committee level via non-underwriting routes also then face a “hierarchy” of positions.

“You get a lot of women in operations, HR, finance [on boards], but… let’s face it, the CEO and the CUO make the big strategic calls,” a source said.

The succession planning process

A wider issue within the Lloyd’s market in terms of creating greater gender parity at senior levels is poor or haphazard succession planning.

Where businesses are failing to plan properly for C-suite successions or leave it later than is optimal, it follows that they are more likely to take the path of least resistance and hire a familiar face, who is in turn likely to be male.

The LMA’s Cameron said: “If the succession plan doesn’t have at least one female ready to step into one of those executive director roles, then boards should be asking themselves why.”

One source pointed out that businesses should spend more time strategizing about succession at their uppermost layers, adding that different companies need leaders with different skillsets and that this may change over the lifecycle of the business.

Widening the pool

If a nominations committee were to accept that an underwriting background is not the be-all and end-all of C-suite recruitment, that would in theory open the door to hiring in executives from other industries.

And at present, the industry does far less external hiring at the senior level than many believe it should.

“The London market’s ability to draw candidates from the outside is crap,” one source said.

“They say they want to, but then they get talking to their contacts and get too comfortable.”  

The specificities of Lloyd’s can make it more difficult to hire people from outside of the market; another avenue that might help to increase the number of women in senior roles.

“For CFOs, for example, you need a very specific set of accounting knowledge because the rules are different,” one source pointed out.

However, this has been achieved successfully in the past.

One source held up Shirine Khoury Haq as a too-rare example of effective external hiring.

Khoury Haq came from a career that already encompassed senior roles at McDonalds and IBM to join Catlin as group head of operations and UK COO in 2007.

Seven years later, she became COO of Lloyd’s, a role she held for just under five years, before making the leap to the Co-op, where she is now group CEO.

There are other examples that break the mould in Lloyd’s, although these are few and far between.

We need to ask ourselves what the purpose is of a managing agency CEO and what skills are needed for the role
Sheila Cameron, LMA

Hiscox London Market CEO Kate Markham transferred into her managing director-level role after over a decade at Vodafone. While she is CEO of the firm’s business unit, she does not hold overall responsibility for Hiscox's managing agent.

Emma Woolley, until recently CEO of Lancashire Managing Agency, is an unusual example of a senior leader who came up through a career in compliance.

“There is no reason why we can’t bring in business leaders from other spaces which are doing better at succession and grooming for leadership,” a source said.

Several sources noted that sectors such as tech and legal had been far more successful to date in progressing women to the CEO level.

The LMA’s Cameron said: “We need to ask ourselves what the purpose is of a managing agency CEO and what skills are needed for the role.

“Managing agent CEOs have to understand many technical aspects of running a Lloyd’s managing agency, particularly underwriting and finance, but there are other critical functions, including actuarial, claims, technology, regulatory and HR.

“CEOs need to understand underwriting, but they don’t need to have been an underwriter.

“The best CEOs are relentlessly focused on building the optimum team and culture for their business and their clients – that’s the job of a CEO.”

Executive search limitations

As in any industry, the top roles at Lloyd’s businesses are invariably filled with the help of executive recruitment firms.

Cameron said: “If a search firm reports that they can’t find any suitable females, then they’re not looking hard enough or in the right places.

“We need boards and nominations committees in managing agents to push harder for female candidates for CEOs and also for CEOs who don’t come from the traditional underwriting and finance routes.”

Other sources agreed that these businesses often fail to present gender-balanced longlists.

“Headhunters tend to come out of the sector and use their old networks, which perpetuates the problem,” one source said.

“There are definitely companies out there who just reach for the black book,” another added.

Headhunters tend to come out of the sector and use their old networks, which perpetuates the problem

When challenged on their practices for this investigation, headhunter sources accepted that they have witnessed peers still relying on old and exclusive networks to hire, although practices are improving.

They also noted increased demand for diverse long-lists at hiring firms – although this demand is patchy across the market.

The ‘old boys’ hiring club

Few sources cited instances of outright discrimination as a barrier to women attaining seniority, but almost all pointed out unconscious bias as a major factor.

In some cases, this leaning towards familiarity simply means choosing the candidate of the same sex, educational background and outlook – but sometimes it is even more personal than that, sources said.

“When an opportunity comes up at a business, people just go with who they know,” one source said.

“Look at all the recent start-ups: it's all men who have worked together before. Lots of them grew up together in the market.”

People don’t see women in their 50s, who are more experienced and more confident than ever before in their lives, the same way they see men in their 50s

Some sources cited subconscious sexism and ageism – although of course not a unique challenge to the Lloyd’s market – as another key factor.

“People don’t see women in their 50s, who are more experienced and more confident than ever before in their lives, the same way they see men in their 50s. They are seen as far less capable,” a source said.

Others were more succinct. “For women, if you’re aggressive, you’re a b*tch. Men are meant to be aggressive.” 

One woman, who is leaving the industry for a senior role elsewhere that proved impossible to get in the Lloyd’s market, said: “Young age and beauty in women is what people want. It still shocks me to say this even though we can all see it.

“Being from the middle or upper classes and a size-10 blonde helps.” 

Networking barriers

Another “soft” barrier to women excelling into the topmost roles in the industry is the reliance, far less prevalent in other areas of financial services, on networking at social occasions.

With the majority of child-rearing and other caring responsibilities still falling to women generally, late-night and weekend networking events are often all but impossible for women to attend with the same freedom as their male counterparts.

Even where women are able to attend, some sources said there is a continuing reluctance to include them.

“We are invited to the party, but no one asks us to dance,” one source said.

“I have overheard men in teams sigh when they have to invite a woman because it means they ‘can’t be themselves’ or it would ‘change the dynamic’.

We are invited to the party, but no one asks us to dance

“The boys-club mentality is still there. It sounds petty, but this is where those relationships are formed.”

Sources highlighted the recent complaints around sexist culture against Atrium, which resulted in a record £1.05mn ($1.4mn) fine, as a case in point.

The Atrium case concerned several instances of misconduct over a number of years. One charge related to an annual “boy’s night out” occurring for several years up to 2018, which involved heavy drinking and making sexual comments about female staff. Atrium accepted the charges.

Inclusion at the highest levels

Long working hours, a lack (until recently) of flexible working options and less-than-enthusiastic uptake or implementation of good maternity and shared parental benefits also contribute to make the market a difficult place for women in particular, sources said.

These factors would all make a career in the Lloyd’s market challenging for women at any level of seniority, but in the C-suite itself, there are a range of other challenges, sources said.

“Boardrooms are harsh places,” a senior female source with board experience said. “If you make an error or a poor decision based on the information you had at the time, boards are harder on you than they would be to a man.”

“Women can’t make mistakes [without consequences],” another added.

Boardrooms are harsh places

Partly the C-suite is more challenging for female candidates because of the nature of the boardroom and the experience that women are more likely to have had earlier in their careers.

“CEO roles are almost always market facing roles [such as underwriting] and never back office,” one source said – a highly relevant point when women are less likely to have worked as underwriters or brokers than men.

“There are reasons for this. [People with market-facing experience] often have the relationships and live and breathe the brand. They are used to being bashed about and taking the flak in the public realm.

“Boards see them as a safe bet from a risk perspective because they have grown up with the business.”

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