FIGA is a new network for women in the insurance industry and was launched last year in Hong Kong and Singapore by law firm RPC, on the back of the success of their sister group, FIG (Female Insurance Group) in the UK. FIGA is designed to bring women from across the insurance industry in Asia together. With very few women’s networking groups in the insurance industry in Asia, the group has had an overwhelming response and interest from women wanting to join the network.
FIGA aims to share best practice and support professional development, with the added benefit of social networking. They are developing a forum that offers women in insurance the opportunity to create new relationships and strengthen existing ones, and which will generate discussion about the challenges facing the insurance industry and women in business. The ultimate aim of FIGA is to help accelerate the process of change in the workplace and promote diversity. Hong Kong based FIGA founder, Carmel Nye, recently spoke to Chambers Women in Law about the initiative.
What was your role in setting up FIGA?
We launched FIGA in Hong Kong in November 2013, following the inauguration of our sister network, FIG, in the UK in 2012. After hearing that FIG in the UK was doing well and had developed a substantial following, I felt that there was an opportunity to launch something similar in Asia, tailored to local needs. We have a lot of insurance clients and so, before setting up this group, we carried out extensive market research. We found that, in contrast to most corporate fields, there were no networks in Hong Kong or Singapore dedicated to supporting women in the insurance industry. This came as a surprise to us given that this is a male-dominated industry, and so we felt that this support was something we could offer the female insurance community in both regions. We are proud to be at the forefront of this initiative.
I launched, and now run and manage, the FIGA network in Hong Kong, and I work closely alongside my colleague, Summer Montague, who is responsible for running our Singapore branch of the network. The launch involved spreading the word about our initiative, generating interest and gathering ideas for events from across the insurance community. Together with our Business Development team, we created some core marketing materials and, in November 2013, FIGA launched in Hong Kong: a networking event targeted specifically to women, combining chocolate tasting and bubbly. The event was both well attended and well-received.
Summer then proceeded to launch the Singapore network in February 2014 with a wine tasting event, which was equally successful.
Can you let us know about your previous events? What future events do you have planned?
The FIGA programme includes a variety of events, including educational seminars, training, inspirational speakers, as well as social and networking events.
Since the launch of the Hong Kong and Singapore networks, we have held three further events: two in Hong Kong and one in Singapore.
In Hong Kong, these comprised a further networking event in May 2014 and a Women In Insurance panel event held in association with The Women’s Foundation (TWF) in October 2014, which examined the challenges and opportunities for career advancement for women in insurance. This event formed part of TWF’s Leading Women Speaker Series, where the insurance industry is recognised as being under-represented by women at senior levels. We are now preparing for our next event in Hong Kong in late November, a second panel event focussing on implicit stereotypes and gender bias, designed to examine the characteristics associated with leadership and how/whether this perpetuates unconscious bias against women, and the traits that are perceived to help women succeed and/or hold women back.
Singapore held its second networking event in September and Summer is in now organising an interactive workshop addressing “Self-Promotion and Professional Success”, which is taking place on 25 November 2014. Summer is also working on hosting the network’s first panel event in January 2015.
How do you hope the role of women lawyers in Asia will change over time?
It is no secret that law firms continue to lag behind in global initiatives to narrow the gender gap at senior levels; with very few firms setting representation targets and integrating gender diversity initiatives into overall business strategy, despite the well-documented benefits of diverse management. Asia seems to lag behind in these initiatives even more than in the West and the position within the insurance industry is no different. Women need support, both from each other and those responsible for making the decisions which affect women’s ability to progress in their careers; efforts are broadly futile without commitment from management, and so it is vital that senior members buy-into the objectives and make it a business priority.
The call for senior representation of women within law firms (both in Asia and in other parts of the world) is growing even louder as women flood into the profession in greater numbers than men at a junior level, but somehow do not make it on to the partnership ladder. This is not due to an absence of drive and ambition among women; it’s because they are struggling to see a way through. This could be for any number of reasons, from being unable to see a path that enables them to strike a balance between competing demands of career progression and family commitments, or simply because they feel alone in their efforts to progress or that they lack support. One example of the many challenges facing women in Hong Kong is that it is one of the few remaining developed countries to mandate less than the ILO recommended standard of 12 weeks’ maternity leave. Women are lobbying for change but in the meantime firms and companies can and should offer additional support. Changes like this require an understanding at the highest level of the unique challenges that women face in pursuing their careers and the reasons why this is happening, as well as the flexibility of practice to accommodate those challenges to the fullest extent and the desire to see a shift in the current imbalance.
RPC recognises these issues and the need for change, and has set up a global task force group specifically to address these issues and encourage diversity and flexibility in the workplace. A few of the women in our Asia offices are part of this global task force to ensure that any policy changes cater for cultural nuances. RPC understands that a successful business is one in which the culture is all inclusive, and where the systems and policies in place are designed to help everyone reach their maximum potential as individuals. Not only does this mean that we can boast a wide mix of people, but also a broad range of skills, experience and voices.
Gender diversity remains a hot topic, particularly as the women’s movement continues to gather momentum across all industries. I can only hope that for the next generation of women, this is not even a topic of discussion, let alone a hot one.
For more information, please contact:
Carmel Nye, Senior Associate, Hong Kong
Summer Montague; Senior Associate, Singapore