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Calm down dear, it's just insurance banter

Lysander PR Founder Roddy Langley reflects on changing times and attitudes and on Lime Street

Monday 17th October, 1977, wasn’t a particularly memorable date in anybody’s calendar in Lloyd’s; well, nobody’s except mine at least – it was my first day at work in this historic market.

One first day that was noted in the history books was when Dame Inga Beale walked into the building in January 2014. Equally noted will be the date in 2019 when she leaves Lime Street, marked by valedictory comments and farewells for all her endeavours, good, bad or indifferent.

I remember being distinctly disappointed the day she was appointed CEO of Lloyd’s; whilst there was widespread media coverage, there appeared to be very few photographs of her taken inside or outside the iconic Richard Rogers building published in any of the national newspapers that day.

Much better than a thousand words, what could have been a more suitable and effective way to shout from the rooftops that a woman – for the first time ever – was going to head up an institution that had been male dominated for over three centuries?

A seminal moment

It would have been a seminal moment when one considers what the market dynamic was like when I first walked into Lloyd’s in 1977 on that grey and rainy October morning. As I went through the swing doors into the first floor of the old 1956 building as an untried non-marine broker for the mighty C.E. Heath, I was greeted by a sea made up entirely of male (and white, it has to be said) faces.

As a proud member of the band of Stephen Catlin’s so called ‘cerebrally challenged toffs’ and, having been educated in a windswept male only public school on the edge of the North Yorkshire moors, plus being brought up in a family where my father and brother were in the army, this complete lack of gender variety didn’t strike me as being out of the ordinary. It was just the way it was at that time.

Like any newcomer, I was just happy to be part of the tribe and I honestly don’t recall there being much sexism then, if only for the simple reason that all but a handful of females were absent from the room. Out of sight and out of mind, we just got on with the insurance business in hand and nattered about last night’s football.

Looking back at the 1970s there were plenty of things to be ashamed of in the UK – Bernard Manning mother-in-law jokes and the TV sitcom ‘Love Thy Neighbour’ spring to mind – but to my mind Lloyd’s wasn’t one of them.

London Market people then, as now, were a decent, friendly bunch, happy to deal with anyone whatever their sex, sexuality, (older readers will recall the flamboyance and excellent business the popular Reggie Baxter brought into the room), colour, race or class, provided they conducted themselves with honesty and integrity.

Do you remember the 1980s?

In the 1980s things did change however. During this opulent and yuppy-dominated decade, more women went into Lloyd’s and the gender thermometer definitely went up.

Indeed, there were accusations that some brokers deliberately employed young and attractive women – as so called ‘eye candy’ – to help place difficult business with particular underwriters.

Sexual innuendos, insults and harassment increased proportionally with the number of women coming into the market and, it is with regret I acknowledge that I would not exclude myself from the some of the inappropriate remarks made at that time.

There were, of course, some women who rose above it all then. When I joined the non-marine facultative reinsurance department of Willis, Faber and Dumas in 1983 (the biggest broking department in the London Market at that time) I reported to the first female broker who went into Lloyd’s, Maureen Swage.

She was a dynamic figure, a fantastic broker well respected in the market and I learnt a lot from her. Of course, she had to fight to get to be a joint Managing Director of such a big team in a major broker, but she never made an issue of it.

Making an entrance

Apparently when Maureen went to Lloyd’s on her first day, the liveried waiter at the door primly informed her that this entrance into the Room was for Lloyd’s brokers and underwriters only and that she, as a woman, would need to go to the public entrance.

History doesn’t record the look on his face when she shoved her newly printed Lloyd’s ticket into it.

As time has gone on, the old guards on Lime Street have been changed, the misogynistic dinosaurs put out to grass one hopes and, little by little, women have begun to make an increasingly significant impact in the market.

But the issue has not disappeared completely and I am not whitewashing things in this somewhat rose tinted look back at my earlier days in Lloyd’s.  Isolated incidents continue, away from other eyes and ears.

Some London Market practitioners, rather like those clubbable Luddites who absolutely refuse to ever, ever accept any form of modernisation – electronic trading springs to mind – , will still see remarks such as, “better not tarry in the office Love, that ironing won’t do itself you know” as ‘classic bants’ and put it down to harmless Boris Johnsonesque jolly japes.

Not. Any. More.

Unacceptable behaviour 

Insurance journalist Catrin Shi has eloquently written of her experience at the first Monte Carlo Rendez-Vous she attended, and other incidents.

I witnessed first hand unacceptable behaviour with my colleague Helen Wright only a few months ago. We met an EC3 contact during the afternoon and quickly realised he was inebriated; during the course of our meeting he became far too personal and patronising and downright insulting towards Helen, whom he had never met, delivering unsuitable remarks to her with the metaphorical ‘nudge, nudge, wink, wink’ as if this would absolve everything.

There is still much work to be done.

The arrival of Dame Inga marked a line in the sand when the focus on gender parity in the market started to become a reality rather than puff and lip service. It has made a difference to my mind, and going into Lloyd’s now one gets more of a sense of a place being at ease with itself and its identity.

But she’s done more than just be a woman, after all, and launch gender equality and inclusion campaigns. For starters, mandating electronic trading was a brave decision, one I am sure history will look back kindly upon.

Indeed, Lloyd’s itself has recognised as such. In a London Stock Exchange statement announcing her departure, Lloyd’s said that “Ms Beale’s commitment to transformation across the market, and within the corporation, has led to significant cultural change and the adoption of new technology that has accelerated the market’s modernisation and digitalisation,” and that she had left the market “with a strengthened reputation as one of the most respected and trusted insurance brands in the world, with a strong and experienced leadership team focused on delivering Lloyd’s strategic priorities.”

A great place for everyone to work

Women like Maureen Swage and Inga Beale have led from the front and showed other women that Lloyd’s and the London Market with its traditional esprit de corps and can-do attitude is, by and large, a great place to work.

Insurance employers must, however, continue to attract and retain new talent – both male and female – for the future.

I have two teenage daughters and I would be absolutely delighted if they chose a career on Lime Street; Lloyd’s is still a subscription market so, in this vein, if either of them were 25% as successful as Maureen or Dame Inga have been, then I certainly would be a very proud father.

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