Aviva boss responds to shareholders' sexist and "derogatory" jibes following AGM
Sexism is still an issue says the chief executive of FTSE 100 financial giant Aviva following remarks made towards her by shareholder's at the company's annual general meeting (AGM) this week.
Amanda Blanc, originally from Treherbert in the Rhondda Valley, said she is still used to "sexist" and "derogatory" comments made towards herself in companies and boardrooms over her 30-plus year career.
According to the Financial Times, shareholders subjected female board members, including Ms Blanc, to sexist and inappropriate comments during the company's in-person AGM on Monday.
One investor suggested Ms Blanc - who became the insurer's first CEO when she was appointed in July 2020 - was "not the man for the job" after she highlighted returns to shareholders was at odds with Aviva's share price performance over the last ten years.
Aviva's market capitalisation is around a third higher than when Ms Blanc joined.
Another shareholder asked whether Blanc should be "wearing trousers".
A third smaller investor, after congratulating the board for its high levels of gender diversity, reportedly said: "They are so good at basic housekeeping activities, I'm sure this will be reflected in the direction of the board in future."
Posting on LinkedIn after the AGM, Ms Blanc said: "In all honesty, after 30+ years in financial services I am pretty used to sexist and derogatory comments like those in the AGM.
"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.
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."
She added: "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."
She thanked the barrage of supportive comments she had received since the comments at the AGM were made public.
Ms Blanc began her career at one of Aviva’s ancestor companies, Commercial Union, before working her way up across the insurance industry.
She was Group CEO at AXA UK, PPP & Ireland and CEO of Zurich Insurance Group, EMEA & Global Banking, before becoming chief executive of Aviva in July 2020.
In 2021, she won the Women in Insurance Outstanding Achievement Award and was recognised as one of Forbes World’s 100 Most Powerful Women.
She was also appointed to the role of Women in Finance Charter Champion by the HM Treasury and this year joined the Prime Minister’s Business Council. She recently stood down of the Professional Rugby Board in Wales.
The "inappropriate" comments made at the AGM prompted Aviva chair, George Culmer, to call out the remarks during the meetings conclusion who said he was "flabbergasted".
He reportedly 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."