Organisations and individuals could do more to improve their gender diversity – and in doing so potentially benefit their business – according to attendees at the IRM’s ‘Women in risk’ roundtable event held on International Women’s Day in March.

The event brought together more than 20 men and women from across the risk management industry to talk about their own experiences of gender diversity across a range of countries, industry types and career experiences. The IRM has now published a guide – Risk management and gender diversity – Mind the gap? that pulls together their thoughts.

From discussions on the day, it appears that the degree of gender diversity in risk management depends on factors such as the geographic region and industry in question. For example, one attendee stated that there is a gender diversity issue in risk management in infrastructure and construction, which mirrors a broader diversity issue within the construction industry.

Why gender diversity is an important issue

Having more diversity, both within risk management and across an organisation, could lead to better risk management outcomes. The group believes gender diversity is helpful for exercises such as risk and control self assessments and scenario analysis workshops, and for spotting potential emerging risks and opportunities.

By drawing on a wide variety of life experience and perspectives, organisations can overcome the problems of unconscious bias and ‘groupthink’ – where a group of individuals seeks to minimise conflict and reach consensus by actively supressing dissenting viewpoints.

Actions risk management teams can take

The discussions highlighted three crucial areas of focus for risk management teams seeking to improve their diversity. Firstly, there’s the snowball effect, where the more women an organisation has in senior positions, the more diverse that organisation will become. To get this positive momentum going, organisations should actively seek women for leadership roles.

Policies to retain women employees are also crucial, with suggestions including the promotion of flexible working arrangements to help keep women within an organisation throughout their career lifecycle.

Finally, getting the tone at the top right is very important when it comes to shaping an organisation’s diversity culture. Diversity-consciousness should be hard-wired into all of an organisation’s training and human resources communications.

Widening the conversation

Whether or not there is a gender diversity issue specifically within risk management or the challenge is reflected across all professions in a particular industry is a key area for future exploration. “Given the success of the IRM Women in risk roundtable discussion, further sessions are being planned, with particular regional and industry focus,” said Nicola Crawford, chair of the board of directors of the IRM. “We are also looking to work with other professional bodies and women’s networks to focus our research and get a wider reach. I am excited about finding out more about people’s views and experiences.”

In the meantime, however, the roundtable group indicated that, in their experience, organisations perform better when women are present on teams, in senior management and the board – and that’s advice that risk management teams can start to act on now.