The boss of insurance group Aviva has revealed it has acted to sack male employees for inappropriate behaviour, as the blue chip company’s chief executive gave evidence to a parliamentary inquiry about sexism in the City of London.
Amanda Blanc, who became Aviva’s first female chief executive in 2020, said the company had made efforts to protect female staff and ensure that women’s careers did not suffer as a result of blowing the whistle.
She told MPs on the Treasury committee on Wednesday that while she had some “very positive experiences” in the financial services industry, “many women do not”.
Blanc said women from across the City had been writing to her in recent days as she prepared for the hearing, sharing “absolutely appalling” accounts of harassment, including unwanted sexual advances, being followed into hotel rooms, or being told their pregnancies were “inconvenient” for the firm.
She told MPs: “Every individual firm has to be accountable for any allegations such as this, and the women in the firm have to know that there is a process for speaking up; that that process will be acted on; that everything will be investigated; and that the person who did the bad leaves the organisation, not the women.”
“And we have had experiences like that at Aviva, where the woman has stayed and man has gone,” she added.
Blanc was speaking to the committee as part of the third public hearing of its sexism in the City inquiry, which was launched after a spate of harassment allegations rocked the business world. Those included accusations of sexual misconduct against the multimillionaire Brexit donor and City boss Crispin Odey, resulting in the winding up of his £3.5bn hedge fund. Odey has denied any wrongdoing.
The inquiry aims to determine whether any meaningful progress had been made across the UK’s financial services sector since the committee’s last investigation in 2018.
However, much of the evidence has been gathered in private sessions, in order to protect women who could face repercussions for speaking out. MPs said this week they were “shocked and alarmed” by what women had told them during those sessions and that the accounts of bullying and sexual harassment suggested there had been “no improvement whatsoever” over the past 20 years.
Blanc has continued to face sexism even while holding one of the most prominent jobs in the industry. Last year, several small shareholders at the company’s annual general meeting took aim at her saying she was “not the man for the job” and should be “wearing trousers”.
The Aviva chief executive is known for being a pioneer in male-dominated sectors. She has held a string of senior roles in insurance, and chaired the Professional Rugby Board for Wales until she stepped down in 2021. She was also appointed the UK government’s women in finance champion in March that year.
Blanc spoke out days after the AGM incident, saying that while she was “pretty used to sexist and derogatory comments” throughout her 30-year career in financial services, she had faced more misogynistic behaviour as her career progressed. She said at the time that 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.”