Empowering women


18 December 2019

There’s been a lot of talk about the under-representation of women at the top level of the corporate world. And rightly so. We’re impatient to bring about real change and make things happen now.

But the truth is that talking can only get you so far and it’s actions that will make the lasting difference that we want to see.

We’re focused on increasing the representation of women at senior levels, not just because it’s the right thing to do; it’s absolutely vital for the culture of the company and for our financial success. Research shows that companies with more women in leadership roles have a higher share price and better corporate governance1.

And it’s about more than simply placing more women in senior roles. It’s about making major and sustainable changes to the way we operate.

In September 2017, we signed the Women in Finance Charter in but most importantly, we set ourselves an ambitious target - 40%2 of senior leadership positions will be held by women by 2020.

Back in 2017, we had 30% female representation in senior management roles. As of 31 July 2019, this figure has remained at 30%.

Over the last year we’ve made some great progress at the very top. Our CEO, Claudio Gienal, has employed four women in his immediate team since September 2018, which has given great diversity to our management committee.

We know that hitting our Charter target by our deadline will be a challenge. But the initiatives we have put in place are the right ones to drive up the numbers in a sustainable and genuine way. We’re creating a strong internal framework because we’re committed for the long term and want to ensure that going forward we consistently meet our target.

Hear from two of our female employees on their career journeys with AXA:

How will we achieve our goals?

1. Nurturing our talent

We’ve created and launched a Leadership Development Programme for our high-potential, highly-talented female staff. Many women have already taken advantage of this programme, which offers personalised development through coaching sessions and workshops. Each participant is also sponsored by one of our management committee, to give them a greater insight into other areas of our business. As a result, we’ve seen a number of women who've taken part in the programme already be promoted or take part in major projects.

We also support the 30% Club and over the last couple of years have put forward female talent as both mentors and mentees. As a cross-company mentoring scheme it offers the opportunity for our talent to learn from experts outside the insurance sector.

We want to make sure that our talented women are fully prepared to take their next career step forward, whether inside or outside the company. So our Talent Partners are advising them on how to put together an outstanding job application and working with them on interview techniques.

2. Bringing in the best

To ensure that AXA is an attractive place for women to work, we’ve relaunched and revamped our careers website. Here, we highlight put employees’ stories – including some our senior female talent who have built successful careers at AXA.

We’ve removed questions about salary from our job applications for our senior roles, since we want to make sure we’re not making assumptions about an applicant’s ability and experience.

For all senior roles, we do everything we can to ensure that an equal number of men and women are coming to interview.

We are taking a proactive and strategic approach to identifying and attracting the best female talent from outside the company. We’re not sitting and waiting for them to come to us; we are reaching out to them, even when they may not be actively considering a career move.

3. Creating an inclusive environment

Creating an environment in which everyone feels valued and recognised is really important to us. To help achieve this, we’ve created and launched a new digital Diversity and Inclusion Training Course. The training focuses on three areas:

  • Embracing Diversity
  • Unconscious bias – what it is and how to challenge it
  • The role you play

The course highlights the benefits of having diverse teams and the role everyone can play in driving an inclusive culture.

Our work in this area doesn’t end there. Our Gender Equality Employee Resource Group has run several YesYouCan events across our sites in the UK. These events are regularly hosted by senior female members of staff who talk about their careers, and, in particular, the challenges they have faced and how they overcame them. And for International Women’s Day 2019 we held a special event to celebrate the women of our management committee.

Not that these are men-free zones because, it's hugely important to hear from our male colleagues too. We firmly believe that a successful diversity and inclusion programme needs to emphasise the power of diverse teams within all areas of our business.

4. Flexible working hours

Last but not least, employees at all levels of the business can take advantage of flexible working. Our new Ways of Working policy brings together all the different ways of working under one roof in a simple format. We know 9-5 doesn’t suit everyone and being able to balance home & work is key to an engaged workforce.

1 Peterson Institute for International Economics (2016) and International Monetary Fund (2016)

2 With a 10% tolerance 36%-44% of senior leadership

Our work doesn’t stop there, we are also part of the Insuring Women’s Futures group which is a financial services industry initiative to help improve women’s financial resilience.

What is the problem?

Women still earn less than men, have smaller pensions when they retire and have higher costs in retirement. It’s the result of a range of factors, including the way society is structured and how we value women’s time and choices; as well as rules and regulations governing some financial products, such as pensions.

Left unchallenged, many of these problems will take decades to resolve. For example, at current rates of change, the gender pay gap is unlikely to close until 2050. And the gender pay gap is one reason why there’s a gender pensions gap. Figures show that the average 65-year-old married man has a pension that’s five times larger than the pension of a 65-year-old married woman.

What is IWF doing about it?

Insuring Women’s Futures is looking at ways to improve women’s financial resilience. This means identifying how to help women save and invest more and protect the money and assets they have. But it’s also about making women aware of the moments that matter – and decisions they take – that can increase the risk to their finances. It’s an industry-wide initiative that includes the involvement of pension companies, trade bodies, consumer advocates, journalists and policymakers.