Actuarial Women

Inspired by Ada Lovelace

A month ago I, like many other general insurance actuaries, was at GIRO, our annual conference. There were around 650 people there, slightly under 20% of whom were women. And the proportion of speakers who were women was even lower (many thanks to Kathryn Morgan for the stats).  I think it’s fair to say that the actuarial profession hasn’t been at the forefront of women’s rights: the Institute of Actuaries was founded in 1848, and women were first admitted to membership in 1919. The first woman fellow was Dorothy Davis, in 1923. Jane Curtis, the current President, is the first woman to hold the post. I’m pretty sure that when I qualified, in the mid 80’s, there were fewer than 100 women fellows.

Way back in the mists of time (1954), Monica Allanach, Pat Merriman and others started holding ladies’ tea parties, informal get-togethers for women actuaries. Over time the Ladies’ Actuarial Dining Society grew out of the tea parties, but now it’s being wound up. So last week we had a party in Staple Inn, the home of the Institute of Actuaries, to mark the end of the LADS and to recognise the achievements of women in mathematics.

It was a great evening, with about 50 or 60 of us there. Jane Curtis gave a short speech outlining the reasons for our being there, and Suw Charman-Anderson, the founder of Ada Lovelace Day, talked about the need for female role models in science, technology, engineering and maths. So we celebrated the achievements of all the fantastic women who have preceded us, including all those early women actuaries, and were urged to go out and inspire others.

Suw said that one of the reasons why she founded Ada Lovelace day was because she got fed up of the tech industry’s continual excuses for the lack of women speakers at conferences. Which brings us full circle.



Ada Lovelace day

I missed Ada Lovelace day! It was last week, and is intended to recognise women in maths, science and technology. Ada Lovelace was Byron’s daughter, and worked on Babbage’s Analytic Engine, and has been called the world’s first computer programmer.


Does locality matter?

I’m a complete glutton for soft fruit, and love it when the shops are full of local (or at least british) berries. But there are some times of the year when there just isn’t much local produce around, and sometimes I really like the idea of some fresh green beans, say, even when they aren’t in season over here. But I always feel rather guilty about buying air-freighted fruit and vegetables – surely the carbon costs of all those air miles can’t be a good thing?

So I was really interested to read this blog entry in the Observer. There’s apparently a good argument that western consumers actually have a moral duty to eat strawberries out of season. There are several reasons – food miles within the UK are by no means negligible, and sometimes are actually more than for imported produce. Also, it’s the people growing fruit and veg in sub-Saharan Africa who will suffer disproportionately from climate change, so is it right to make them suffer in order to avoid climate change? And, anyway, if you buy imported organic produce you’re probably saving more emissions from the production of synthetic fertilisers and pesticides than you’re causing from air freighting. So the argument is that if you buy organic and Fair Trade you are outweighing the food miles.

It’s clearly not a simple matter, and I bet there are good arguments pushing in both directions. And in many ways life would be a lot easier if there were simple answers to questions like this. But from a purely selfish point of view I’m glad that I needn’t feel too guilty about occasionally indulging my taste for foreign fruit and veg.


Women’s suffrage – old hat?

You might think that the struggle for women’s suffrage is over, especially with the recent news about Saudi women. But you’d be wrong, according to this interesting blog.