Insurers urged to get women in boardroom before legislation mandates it

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Insurers have been advised to act on boardroom diversity before they face legislation.

This comes as the two bodies responsible for regulating UK financial services published proposals which would - for the first time - legally require UK businesses to set targets for the number of women on boards.

According to law firm Pinsent Masons, provisions contained in the Capital Requirements Directive IV introduce a regulatory requirement for large banks, building societies and investment firms with nominations committees to set targets for the number of women on boards and insurer could be next.

Linda Jones, an employment partner at Pinsent Masons, said: "Although the current proposals exclude insurers, it is hard to foresee a situation where all other regulated financial services businesses are working to targets except for insurance.

"Many of the large insurers already have identified gender diversity as a priority, partly in recognition of the fact that the majority of their customers are women, and partly as a way of attracting and retaining the best talent. Where they have not already done so, insurers may be well-advised to pre-empt legislation by taking action on diversity now."

Post's 2013 Insurance Census found only 15.5% of the insurance boardroom population is female - a major disparity compared with the sheer number of women in the industry.

The legal requirements for financial institutions have been reflected in the recent consultation papers published by the regulators and are due to come into effect on 1 January 2014.

The financial institutions covered by the requirements will also be obliged to publish a policy relating to how that target will be achieved and potentially report on progress.

In addition to the gender targets, which only apply to larger institutions, all financial institutions regulated by the Prudential Regulation Authority and Financial Conduct Authority will be required to publish a diversity policy which sets out how they propose to promote diversity in the boardroom.

Jones added: "This is the first time that a regulatory requirement to set gender targets for senior management teams has been imposed on UK businesses.

"The regulations will not prescribe what the targets should be, but they will have to be published and businesses will no doubt be wary of publishing targets that seem too lacking in ambition. While the requirement only applies to financial institutions at the moment, it may be a taste of things to come for other large businesses. "

She concluded these proposals, which emanate from an European Union directive, represent a step change for financial institutions and it would "seem only to be a matter of time before they are rolled out to other sectors".

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