Aviva boss: end to sexist behaviour is ‘long way off’
Aviva chief executive Amanda Blanc has claimed that “unacceptable” sexist behaviour towards women “has actually increased” and that eradicating the problem “seems a long way off”.
Ms Blanc spoke out after a number of shareholders were accused of making “inappropriate” comments towards female board members at this week’s AGM.
One investor suggested Ms Blanc – who joined Aviva in July 2020 as the insurer’s first female chief executive – was “not the man for the job”. Another asked whether she should be “wearing trousers,” as he made reference to her predecessors at the firm.
Another small investor, after congratulating the board for its high levels of gender diversity, said: “They are so good at basic housekeeping activities, I’m sure this will be reflected in the direction of the board in future.”
Chairman George Culmer said he was left “flabbergasted” by the comments. At the conclusion of the meeting – the first in-person AGM since before the pandemic – he said: “I’m not going to say thank you to everyone for your comments, because I think there were some comments in that session that were simply inappropriate and I do not expect and would not want to hear at any future AGM. I’m flabbergasted, to be honest.”
Ms Blanc took to social media to say that she had been “overwhelmed” with messages of support via emails, texts and LinkedIn posts.
“Your support and kindness is hugely appreciated. In all honesty, after 30+ years in financial services I am pretty used to sexist and derogatory comments like those in the AGM yesterday.
“Sadly, just like many MANY other women in business, I’ve picked up my fair share of misogynistic scars whilst travelling on my journey through various companies and boardrooms until arriving at Aviva. We all have our own stories…
“I guess that after you have heard the same prejudicial rhetoric for so long though, it makes you a little immune to it all. “
She added that the situation is not improving.
“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.
“I can only hope that initiatives seeking gender equality like #womeninfinance and others can 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.
“So we have little choice other than to redouble our efforts together.”
The incident came in the same week that the Scottish Football Writers Association was forced to apologise after a number of females walked out of an awards evening complaining they felt distressed by sexist, racist and homophobic remarks at its dinner on Sunday evening.
Eilidh Barbour, who reports for Sky Sports News and BBC Sport, took to Twitter to say that she had “never felt so unwelcome in the industry”.