The chief executive of Aviva, Amanda Blanc, has told of her shock at being on the receiving end of misogynistic comments at the insurer’s annual meeting last week, saying the incident could prompt a wider rethink on how boards interact with shareholders in future.
Blanc was the target of sexist remarks from individual shareholders at the Aviva AGM in London, with comments from the floor that she was “not the man for the job” and that she should be “wearing trousers”. The chair of the insurer, Mike Craston responded to the remarks, saying he was “flabbergasted”.
The following day, Blanc, who has held a number of senior roles in insurance over 30 years, warned that sexism in the finance industry was increasing. She wrote on the networking site LinkedIn: “The more senior the role I have taken, the more overt the unacceptable behaviour.”
Blanc, who is the first female chief executive of Aviva and is the government’s women in finance champion, told the Guardian: “It’s really important that investors get to grill the Aviva board on decisions they’ve taken or the way the organisation is being run. What’s clearly not acceptable is some of the comments.”
She added: “I’m sure there are many boards preparing for their AGM thinking about how they might deal with that. We prepare a lot of things for all the business meetings that we do, including our AGM. We did not prepare for misogynistic comments. We just didn’t. In 2022, in that sort of forum, you would not have expected that.”
Blanc said she had received many private messages of support from male and female FTSE chief executives and chairs, some of whom had experienced sexism themselves.
Her LinkedIn post had received 1.6m views and 825 comments the last time she looked, “from all sectors, all industries, all genders, people expressing their support but also reliving their own stories”.
She added: “More role models, more women in senior roles and more ethnic diversity in senior roles will obviously make a difference.”
Blanc is one of only a handful of female FTSE 100 bosses. A recent report by the Women in Finance initiative found that at the current rate, it will take until 2050 to reach gender parity at senior levels of Britain’s financial services industry. Blanc described this as “absolutely outrageous”.
When Blanc took the helm at Aviva in July 2020, the share price was 273p; it has since risen to 417p. She slimmed down the business to focus on the UK, Ireland and Canada, selling eight divisions for £7.5bn in the past year and returning £4.75bn to shareholders. In its latest quarterly results on Wednesday, the firm posted its highest general insurance sales in a decade, and boosted UK customer numbers by 100,000 to 15.4 million.
“We’ve seen good support from our shareholders and hopefully they’ve benefited from the improvement in the share price over the period and the focus of the business and what we’ve achieved so far,” Blanc said. “And that’s what I want to be judged by, what I’m not prepared to be judged by is the fact that I am a woman, I’m not a man standing on the stage there.”