A Lesson from History

“More and more, I tend to read history. I often find it more up to date than the daily newspapers.” 

—Joe Murray

This past summer I first became aware that the CAS Board, wittingly or not, has relaxed its customary diligence in keeping close contact with the membership on important matters. When the vote for major changes to the CAS constitution and bylaws were presented for a vote without the usual extensive vetting with the membership that such a change has always received, the measure failed. This realization made me look closer at other activity that might be concerning and I discovered a lot of special activity during the past two to three years on diversity and inclusion. Perhaps I missed it because when I saw the words “diversity and inclusion” in CAS communications, I just assumed the CAS was continuing with the work it has been engaged in for several decades. That work was aimed at increasing both the awareness of our profession and the accessibility of the credentialing process. I regret that I did not pay closer attention at the time. Had I known about the DE&I initiative that was being considered by the CAS Board, I surely would have weighed in with my views. But, better late than never. 

I think we can learn from the historical example of gender diversity progress. 

I first entered the actuarial profession in the mid-1970s. At that time, there was a very small percentage of CAS members and students taking exams who were women. I remember being gratified to read and hear that the CAS leadership was concerned about this lack of gender diversity and were looking for things the CAS could do to improve it. I believed then, and still believe today, that was fully appropriate within the proper constraints, such as no lowering of standards for entry based on gender. To do that to achieve some gender diversity goal would have been insulting and wrong and to my knowledge was never considered at all. 

Today a very substantial percentage of members of the CAS and CAS students are women. Not 50% yet, but enough that their perspective is included and their voices heard in just about everything the CAS does. In fact, today women make up the majority of the CAS Executive Council. Women are definitely an “included” part of the CAS. And I believe that has made the CAS better. 

But did anything the CAS do make this large improvement in gender diversity and inclusion happen? I am sure some of the efforts did make a difference for some individuals and were not a waste of time. But I am also sure that the large increase in percent of women in the CAS is not due to anything that the CAS did. 

The very positive change in gender diversity within the CAS was the result of changes at a much more fundamental level within our society at large. It is a result of lots of effort by many, many people. The progress for women’s inclusion within all aspects of society at large has been a long, hard fight. Remember, women did not gain the clear constitutional right to vote in the U.S. until 50 years after Black men did and several years after the CAS was formed. I can find no reference to the CAS advocating for women’s suffrage. Indeed, to have done so would have violated the CAS constitution. And as societal attitudes shifted in a positive direction with regard to women’s rights, the CAS was not a force in the enacting of legislation to formalize women’s rights nor did the CAS provide any amicus briefs in support of court cases that centered around gender equality issues.  

The increase in the percent of women in the CAS is far from unique. There has been a similar increase of women in most of the professional fields previously almost exclusively the domain of men — doctors, lawyers, architects, engineers, accountants, etc., — which supports the case that this progress was not something the CAS achieved through its own actions. It was the change to societal fundamentals, caused by many groups and individuals, from which the CAS benefited. 

I would suggest that the same will be true of the CAS’s desire and need to increase its diversity in other areas. I believe history tells us that major improvement in diversity within the CAS will depend on more fundamental societal work that should not be within the purview of the CAS because it really cannot be achieved by the CAS. 

The CAS should continue to work hard and creatively to bring awareness of the great casualty actuarial profession to all groups of people and ensure that there is ready access to our credentialling process for all. But let’s not delude ourselves that the CAS can overcome, through its own efforts, and correct the fundamental injustice that exists within our society at large. To dedicate significant resources to this would be a major distraction from our important work “to advance the body of knowledge of actuarial science applied to property, casualty and similar risk exposures; to establish and maintain standards of qualification for membership; to promote and maintain high standards of conduct and competence for the members; and to increase awareness of actuarial science.” 

We must not follow the dangerous example of Don Quixote, pursuing what we believe to be a noble cause and end up damaging our ability to make a very valuable contribution to society for which the CAS was formed. We risk damaging our credibility and diverting valuable resources away from our purpose as a professional organization. Don Quixote is famous for his monumental failure. That is not the legacy I wish for the CAS.

Alice Gannon, FCAS, was elected CAS president in 2000. She retired from USAA in 2016. 

Note: ViewPoint’s In My Opinion is the sole view of the columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of the CAS and its administration.