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‘Unacceptable’: Aviva CEO hits back at shareholder sexism

The chief executive of the insurer Aviva has hit out at sexism in the industry, saying “unacceptable behaviour” has only increased since she took more senior roles in the sector.

Amanda Blanc, who became the company’s first female chief executive in 2020, published a LinkedIn post thanking people for their support after shareholders made sexist remarks at the company’s annual general meeting on Monday. Investors said Blanc was “not the man for the job” and should be “wearing trousers”.

“In all honesty, after 30-plus years in financial services I am pretty used to sexist and derogatory comments like those in the AGM,” she said in the post.

Blanc continued: “I would like to tell you that things have got better in recent years but it’s fair to say that it has actually increased – the more senior the role I have taken, the more overt the unacceptable behaviour.

“The surprising thing is that this type of stuff used to be said in private, perhaps from the safety of four walls inside an office – the fact that people are now making these comments in a public AGM is a new development for me personally.”

Blanc, 54, is well known for being a female pioneer in male-dominated industries including the insurance sector, having worked her way to the chief executive role at Aviva after stints at Zurich Insurance, Axa and the Association of British Insurers.

She has also served as chair of the Professional Rugby Board and sat on the board of the Welsh rugby union until November. Blanc was appointed the government’s women in finance champion in March 2021, succeeding the former Virgin Money chief Jayne-Anne Gadhia. The initiative asks City signatories to set voluntary targets towards gender diversity.

Blanc said she hoped the insurance sector would achieve gender equality and could “slowly eradicate this type of occurrence for the next generation. But in truth that seems a long way off; even with the help of some fantastically supportive men who speak out on the issue.”

The chair of Aviva, George Culmer, was one of the first to hit out at the sexist comments from shareholders, first reported by the Financial Times, saying they were “simply inappropriate” and should not be repeated at any future AGM. “I’m flabbergasted,” he said at the end of Monday’s meeting.

The storm at Aviva has added to the perception that insurers have failed to address sexism and bullying across the sector.

In March, the insurance market Lloyd’s of London was forced to issue its largest fine in its 336-year history over a bullying and harassment case involving one of its member firms, which hosted an inappropriate “boys’ night out” event for staff.

Those parties took place annually for a number of years until 2018 – a year before the former shadow City minister Jonathan Reynolds accused the insurance market of being “institutionally sexist”.

 

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