Held annually on March 8, International Women’s Day (IWD) is the chance to celebrate the excellence of women and girls worldwide.
This year the Institute is showing its support by participating in IWD’s #ChooseToChallenge while saluting women in the actuarial profession whose representation and accomplishments have paved the way for change.
Since its founding in 1965, the CIA has elected only three women as president, and we cannot celebrate IWD without acknowledging the remarkability of each one. Their examples inspire, giving hope to today and a future in which we champion equality and welcome difference.
In 2010, the CIA welcomed its first woman President, Micheline Dionne, to the CIA Board.
“It is a highly esteemed honour being the first woman elected as president of the CIA. I am lucky in the sense that within the Institute I have always been judged based on my merit, not my identity. So when the opportunity presented itself, I took it without hesitation.”
It is easy to view this lack of female representation as nothing more than a symptom of the gender inequalities that face women societally, but Micheline has always been quick to challenge this view. “People may think: maybe it’s because it was a discriminatory environment. But I don’t believe that was the case. I can’t tell you how many men and women were happy and supportive of my run for president.”
Today the Institute boasts a membership of 5,981 of which 37% are women. While the number of female presidents remains few, it isn’t due to a lack of talent. Micheline, despite her positive experience, recognizes the reservations some may have pursuing roles in leadership, admitting “it can be a scary proposition, being front and centre. At times it makes you a sitting target. But while things can get difficult, the growth professionally and personally is immeasurable.”
While the CIA Board has made great strides to achieve balance, the simple fact remains that it took 45 years to elect its first female president, six more years to get to the second and three more to get to the third. “That is good progress, but we will always have to keep up effort until it is no longer note-worthy that the president is female,” says Sharon Giffen, 2017–2018 CIA President.
For Sharon, the matter of representation doesn’t only come down to equity of gender but of thought.
“Biases. We all have them,” she explains. “In fact, bias can be extremely beneficial in our day-to-day lives but can sometimes get in the way and lead to suboptimal outcomes. Learning to be truly inclusive is very difficult, as we must understand and overcome our own unconscious biases.”
How does this impact the CIA and larger institutions in relation to the question of gender equality? Using the example of the elected Board; it is subject to all the same influences on decision-making as anything else. Therefore, it benefits greatly from having diversity from all walks of life at the table.
Sharon believes diversity, across many dimensions, is the cornerstone of sound decision-making. “All voices, including women’s voices, need to be heard and respected to secure engagement; especially at the presidential level, ensuring that the public head of the profession reflects the values of the membership at all times.”
Third to join the ranks of women leaders is incoming CIA President, Jacqueline Friedland.
A strong advocate for equity, Jacqueline’s presence as a leader reinforces the CIA’s values of integrity and objectivity. As Chair of the CIA’s Diversity and Inclusion Task Force, she has taken on the role with vigour; avidly leading the charge for change.
While the CIA has acknowledged IWD in the past, Jacqueline’s belief in promoting diversity and inclusion on all fronts has encouraged an increased awareness of the day.
“IWD is not just an observance of our achievements as women, but recognition of the challenges that still lay ahead,” emphasizes Jacqueline. “As an organization and as professionals, it is our promise to improve the lives of all Canadians. Therefore, it is our responsibility to not only signify this day but join in promoting equality, both in the profession and outside of it, every day.”
International Women’s Day is not just an observance of our achievements as women, but recognition of the challenges that still lay ahead.Jacqueline Friedland, CIA President-Elect
To this end, the Institute drew on the support of actuarial women leaders across the globe to join in this year’s IWD #ChooseToChallenge. The online movement, which asks participants to show their solidarity by taking a picture with their hand raised, calls out gender bias and inequality. Individually the action may appear small but collectively it is a striking reminder that from challenge comes change.
As the scales of equality balance, there will be rarer opportunities to be among the “first,” a bittersweet yet promising indication of our progress. For each of our presidents it is a position they hold with pride.
“Yes, there were occasionally minor conflicts to settle, sometimes big ones. But that’s not what I take away from my term in office,” concludes Micheline, “rather, it was the strides we made together and the hope that I planted a seed in some women’s minds that if ever they thought it was impossible, think again.”
Overcoming unconscious bias is relevant to all aspects of diversity, not only gender. For the Institute, progress can be made by looking critically and being honest about where we are successful at getting diversity and where we are not. Then, we must dig deeper to understand the barriers. It is not easy to admit or talk about such issues, but until we can, equality will remain elusive.