Inspiring Woman: Dame Inga Beale
In 2014, Inga Beale became the chief executive of Lloyd’s of London, the first woman to hold the position in Lloyd’s 328-year history and was made Dame in the 2017 New Year Honours List. Open about her bisexuality, in 2015 she became the first woman to top the annual power list of the world’s leading 100 LGBT executives.
Born in May 1963, she is the middle of three children. Her English father was a language teacher her and Norwegian mother worked as a secretary in a solicitor’s office. She studied economics and accounting at Newbury College in Berkshire and did not go to university. Instead Beale joined Prudential in 1982 and trained as an underwriter. At that time, the industry was heavily male dominated – she was the only female in a team of 35 underwriters.
“I gave a clear instruction to my partner not to phone me in the office because I was so worried about my colleagues suspecting that I was having a relationship with a woman.”
She kept her bisexuality a secret because she was desperate to be included. Speaking to Susannah Butter of the Evening Standard she said “I gave a clear instruction to my partner not to phone me in the office because I was so worried about my colleagues suspecting that I was having a relationship with a woman.”
The stress of hiding from her sexuality from her colleagues took its toll. In 1989, she asked her male colleagues to take down some posters of bikini-clad women – but came into work the following day to find they had plastered her work station in the posters. She didn’t find it amusing and decided to leave the City. She took time out and went travelling – cycling in Australia and backpacking through Asia. When in Australia, she worked for a time at the BBC where the operating manager was female – it was enlightening for her as she’d not experienced female role models as managers in the City.
When she returned from her travels, she joined General Electric in London as an underwriter in 1992 and four years later, was offered her first managerial. Initially she turned it down due to a lack of self-belief. Fortunately, she was sent on an “assertiveness for women” course which gave her the confidence to go back and ask for the job. She soon realised that managing staff came naturally to her and she enjoyed seeing her team succeed. She held a variety of senior management and leadership roles within GE across London, the US, France and Germany.
“We are focusing more on inclusion than diversity because that is the key. People don’t necessarily want to be the diverse one; they want to feel like the included one.”
In 2006, Inga was appointed Group CEO of Converium in Switzerland, and joined Zurich Insurance Group in 2008, becoming Global Chief Underwriting Officer in 2009. She was Group CEO at Canopius from 2012-2013 before joining Lloyd’s of London as CEO in January 2014.
It was when she joined Zurich Insurance in 2008 that she ‘came out’ during a job interview as she found hiding it too exhausting. “You spend half your energy hiding the reality, leading a dual life, making excuses.”
In 2015, Beale launched a ‘Dive In’ festival at Lloyds, a week-long celebration of differences. “We are focusing more on inclusion than diversity because that is the key. People don’t necessarily want to be the diverse one; they want to feel like the included one.” She’s also spearheaded an ‘Inclusion@Lloyds’ initiative and helped launch Pride@Lloyds, an internal LGBT employee resource group.
“You have of course to do a good job, but that’s not enough. Most people think they will get on in their career if they do a good job, and then they get annoyed if they don’t get the promotion. That’s probably because they were sitting quietly doing a good job.”
Her priority at Lloyd’s is modernization of the insurance market – embracing digital and using technology. She also wants to improve diversity and is very aware of unconscious bias. She is working with her HR Director on ways they can minimize unconscious bias, for example anonymizing CVs in terms of name, gender, age.
“I think you often get those homogenous teams not because it’s gender-driven, but because it’s character-driven. It’s just easier to manage a team that behaves like you, talks like you.”
Interviewed for The New York Times she offers advice for a successful career, “P.I.E. — Performance, Image and Exposure. You have of course to do a good job, but that’s not enough. Most people think they will get on in their career if they do a good job, and then they get annoyed if they don’t get the promotion. That’s probably because they were sitting quietly doing a good job. You also have to think about your image. It’s very important that you are being perceived as appropriate for the role you want to take on.”