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No Glass Ceilings? Look Again

by Daniel A. Lowen

Arthur Schwartz's last question ("The State of the Market—Part Two," The Actuarial Review, August 2001) reads, "Are there any types of actuaries that face special challenges in getting hired or promoted—specifically, women actuaries, actuaries with minority backgrounds, and actuaries with physical handicaps? Is there a glass ceiling for these actuaries?"

This is a very sensitive topic and needs to be handled with care. I found the three panelists' responses to be rather cavalier, and I would like to articulate my concerns.

First, all three panelists explicitly deny that any glass ceilings cap the career prospects of actuaries from these groups that have traditionally faced job discrimination. While I agree that things are better for them now than ever, it is just not true that these battles are all won. Female actuary friends complain to me about glass ceilings (while acknowledging that the ceilings are higher for them than for women in other professions). A friend in a high place has repeated to me some sexist remarks exchanged in the all-male boardroom of the insurance company he works for. And while I do not have any direct knowledge of the experience of physically handicapped actuaries or ethnic minority actuaries, I can't help but suspect that some of them face serious problems too.

Second, Milkint's statement that "women actuaries tend to be more loyal to their employer" is disrespectful both to women, by homogenizing them, and to men, by implying disloyalty. Have recruiters compiled data from their clients' résumés to show that women stay with employers longer than men do? And if this is indeed the case, are these women truly motivated by "loyalty?"

Third, and the main point of this letter, where was the mention of gay and lesbian actuaries? I would like to break the silence that so often surrounds the continuing job discrimination we as a group face.

While many employers of actuaries (my own, for example) give us the same opportunities they would give anyone else, many others remain as actively hostile as the law permits. I know of one gay actuary who was fired several years ago a week or so after coming out at the office. Because this happened in one of the 38 states where such discrimination is still legal, he had no recourse. At my former employer, lesbians or gays in executive positions remain strictly closeted, and all three gay actuaries I knew left after a few years, tired of the unfriendly tone from above.

In short, while the situation is much better than it once was, many serious problems still plague us, and many glass ceilings still apply.

Actuarial job recruiters are in a position to help.

It is of vital importance to lesbian or gay actuaries to know which employers are sensitive to their needs. Recruiters who want to serve them, therefore, need to be able to answer two questions about potential employers:

  1. How do employers' Equal Employment Opportunity statements read? About half of the Fortune 500 companies now include sexual orientation on the list of criteria they pledge not to use in employment decisions. I expect a similar fraction among actuarial employers.
  2. Do employers offer health benefits to the same-sex partners of their employees? Only about 16 percent of the Fortune 500 provide this benefit.

By gathering this information, recruiters will provide good client service, and a welcome side effect might be that more employers would adopt gay-friendly policies. Should I ever decide to use the services of an actuarial job recruiter, I will be actively looking for one who understands the concerns and challenges facing gay and lesbian actuaries.

Thank you for letting me set the record straight, so to speak.