02/11/2012 06:53 GMT | Updated 02/11/2012 06:54 GMT

Women In The City Awards Recognises Female Talent, But Insurance Entries Remain Static

Seven of London's brightest female talents were awarded gongs celebrating their achievement at a Women in the City event on 30 October, but questions were asked over why there was a lack of women from the insurance industry competing.

The insurance services award this year was given to Jacqueline McNamee, executive director of UK commercial lines at Chartis UK - she heaped praise on her organisation for "evolving and recognising talent diversity".

But during the networking event afterwards, Huffington Post UK heard that the number of entries to the insurance services category was extremely low, driven by women's desire to not be seen as putting their heads above the parapet or have their achievements separated from men's.

Ant Gould, director of faculties at the Chartered Institute of Insurers, presented the award to McNamee on the night and was a co-endorser of the category.

He told Huff Post UK: “We interviewed three very strong candidates for the insurance services category and Jacqueline was a well-deserved winner.

"Over the last few years, the number of entrants has been stable for this category, but I think it is fair to say there has not been as much growth in the number stepping forward, or being put forward, for this award compared to some of the other professions.”

Huffington Post UK was told on the night of the awards that possible reasons for the lack of new entrants included the lack of established women-only networking groups in the insurance sector, and the degree of reluctance, or discomfort by many women to be singled out for being female.

However, Amanda Blanc, chief executive of Axa's UK commercial lines division - and a previous Women in the City award winner - told Huff Post UK that she didn't think women in insurance found the award, or others like it, patronising.

"Insurance is a much more disparate industry that some of the other categories as we're spread across brokers and insurers of all different sizes," she said.

amanda blanc

Axa's UK commercial lines chief executive, Amanda Blanc

"Finding out about the awards and taking the time to enter them...(may be challenging) for some of the smaller SMEs. For the smaller companies, there's lots of other problems which they're prioritising for; survival is the priority for some of them.

"Secondly, there is a shortage of women still at the top level in insurance; that is improving and within four to five years, we'll be in a better place."

Blanc, who won her the overall winner of the Women in the City awards in 2008 when she worked as the broking chief executive at Towergate, also said there had been great improvement in introducing diversity with the UK's big insurance companies, with many introducing initiatives to boost all minorities, not just women, onto boards.

"And while there may have only been three finalists in the insurance category this year, the quality of them was extremely high. Jacqui was absolutely brilliant and is a very worthy winner," she concluded.

The awards were held at the Museum of London Docklands, and were hosted by Gwen Rhys, chief executive of Networking Cultureand Founder of Women in the City.

She said: “Winning the category award is no mean feat. Year on year, our awards scheme has attracted a greater number of nominations, and this year is no exception with the calibre of finalists being outstanding. To win their category finalists must be remarkable and I like to think that we were a little ahead of the time in recognising the importance of developing the talent pipeline.

All of the event's winners will now go on to compete for the main Woman of Achievement Award prize for 2012, presented at on 23 November at the 10th annual Women in the City annual celebration lunch.

The winner will be awarded a place on the prestigious Accelerated Development Program delivered by The University of Chicago Booth School of Business at its London campus.

Many of the award winners made moving speeches on picking up their awards, detailing how important it was to help other women up the career ladder.

Heather Dixon, senior technical adviser for American Express, was crowned the winner in the accountancy category, and said the award brought a "huge sense of obligation to pay it forward" to the next generation of women in accountancy.

Rebecca Stevenson, settlements analyst at the Royal Bank of Scotland picked up the gong for facilities management, and Shachi Shah, managing director of Barclays Capital walked away with the financial services gong.

Denise Jagger, partner at Eversheds, took the award for legal services. She told the audience it was imperative for her industry and others find a way of retaining the talented women they see entering the profession at graduate level. More than 50% of Eversheds last intake were women, but the percentage of women at partner level was less than 30%.

Professor Jane Dacre, director at UCL medical school, who was awarded the accolade for her work in medicine and healthcare, also said she was determined to use the award to help more women through the pipeline.

Emma McGuigan, senior executive at Accenture UK, also won the award for technology.