As someone with lived experience of disability, the former Cabinet Office disability and access ambassador for our insurance and profession plus, a founding member of GAIN ( the Group for Autism, Insurance, Investment and Neurodiversity) , I warmly welcomed and identified with this year’s BIBA Conference “Our Insurance Community” theme. I did so as it spoke to my mission to improve inclusion, diversity, intersectionality, and equity in our industry together with my ambition that we set a lead for other sectors. Additionally, it speaks to all of us being part of an industry that walks in its customers shoes and reflects the communities and society that we serve – this also sitting at the very heart of the Chartered Insurance Institute’s Royal Charter. I also welcomed FCA Executive Director, Consumers and Competition, Sheldon Mills address to the conference in which he shared that our regulator recognises the benefits of diversity, equity, and inclusion as both a regulatory and ESG issue, indeed we now have rules to boost Board diversity with FCA seeking to set the tone and drive diversity, inclusion, and intersectionality change from the top.
Whilst all sectors have had a diversity, equity, and inclusion focus in recent few years, there is still significant room for improvement and this why as an industry that pools and socialises risk, we should take a leading role. Diverse teams and thinking fosters better employee engagement and productivity and allows for better problem-solving as varying perspectives enables business to approve challenges and opportunities in new and different ways.
As the Cii Insuring Futures program highlighted, in terms of inclusion and diversity in financial services, and the insurance sector in particular, we have work to do as in addition to having a significant lack of women and people of colour represented at senior levels, this is equally true of other characteristics such as disability Two factors contributing to this underrepresentation are the rate at which employees leave a company and the rate at which employees get promoted. Research conducted by McKinsey has found that women and people with disabilities in particular have been negatively impacted by the pandemic as it has compounded barriers and issues that they already faced – such as finding childcare and accessing reasonable adjustments.
In terms of inclusion and diversity business benefit, LinkedIn’s Global Recruiting Trends report found that 78% of companies that prioritise diversity to improve culture, and 62% of companies prioritise it experienced improved financial performance.
The report adds that companies making meaningful efforts towards diversity, equity, and inclusion, as well as providing a sense of belonging, have invested in their people through supporting employee resource groups (ERGs) and having a strong backing from their leadership teams.
Making organisational change last
Recent events have sparked important conversations around bias and social injustice, calling upon institutions and organisations to do their part in taking meaningful action. However, new LinkedIn data shows that of the companies that talked about diversity in June 2020, that discussion began to decline just a few months later. This highlighting that inclusion and diversity is not a one and done issue with firms needing to take every opportunity to not only continue the conversation, but to implement and uphold more impactful strategies to see real, lasting change within their organisation.
Hiring colleagues from diverse backgrounds and promoting diversity initiatives is only a first step. Diversity, equity, inclusion, and culture go hand-in-hand, and to experience real organisational change, companies must build a truly inclusive work culture. This means extending initiatives beyond the hiring process and providing equal opportunity and treatment throughout every touchpoint in our colleague’s workplace journey.
Ways to support diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workplace – some shared thoughts.
1: Be aware of unconscious bias.
Understanding bias and that building awareness is a first step towards real change.
2: Identify and tackle opportunity, pay and progression gaps.
We must level up and out the playing field and provide fair opportunity for each colleague.
3: Develop a collaborative training and awareness program and set the tone from the top.
Diversity training helps colleagues understand how cultural differences can impact how people work and interact in the physical, virtual and/or hybrid workplace. It can cover anything from concepts of time and communication styles to self-identity and dealing with conflict. Diversity training offered that is inclusive by design, informed by lived experience and colleague owned tends to be more effective than that which is mandated plus consultant designed and delivered.
4: Acknowledge holidays and festivals of all cultures.
One way to build awareness of diversity and foster greater inclusivity is to be aware of and acknowledge a variety of upcoming religious and cultural holidays. When closing out a team call or meeting, if the audience isn’t too large, ask how people what their plans are to celebrate the holiday. Use your company’s intranet to help employees become aware of and keep track of multicultural religious or holiday celebrations. Be respectful of these days when scheduling meetings and understand that employees have different needs that may require flexibility.
5: Make it easy for your colleagues to participate in employee resource groups.
From personal experience I recommend a company-sponsored and resourced ERG to, amongst other things, provide a network for social and business connections, which in turn will benefit the business by driving personal development and a wider understanding of the organisation. ERGs help build a speak up, listen culture of connection and belonging. Building on this, in addition to leveraging ERGs, firms can make it easy for all colleagues to participate, whether it be creating a differing pay code for easy time tracking for ERG meetings, or asking colleagues to share initiatives or projects the ERG is focused on. Provide a toolkit or guidelines that colleagues can follow to encourage them to set up a new ERG.
Getting senior leaders on board is also critical. An executive and/or leadership sponsor can not only help to increase visibility, innovation, and awareness, but can also help align ERG activities with business goals. Additionally, commitments from senior leaders signal a wider, organisational commitment to improving diversity, equity, and inclusion practices. Additionally, to aid support senior leaders develop, consider indicative such as reverse mentoring, shadow boards and bringing lived experience into the board room by holding sessions with colleagues and customers with lived experience.
6: Embrace intersectionality together with Equality Act awareness and understanding.
We all present with a variety of characteristics with some of these protected, it’s all too easy for diversity and inclusion initiatives to be siloed and focus on a single issue and/or characteristic this making it important to have a number of employee resource groups. If you are a small employer offer you colleagues access to industry groups such as I.DAWN ( the insurance disability and awareness network) ICAN ( the insurance culture awareness network), GAIN ( the group for autism, insurance, investment and neurodiversity ) and the Insurance Families Network. Additionally, I suggest raise Equity Act awareness https://www.equalityhumanrights.com/en/advice-and-guidance/equality-act-guidance and build it into mandatory training.
7: Mix up your teams.
Jacob Morgan, author of “The Employee Experience Advantage” said a key part of diversity is understanding and learning from different voices, experiences, values, and cultures
A diverse cross-section and cocktail of talents allows enhanced perspective, which will spur creativity on teams. If your team is homogeneous, invite someone who is a different gender, cultural background, or age, to weigh in on an initiative or project.
8: Insure ongoing feedback is taken and that it’s easy to give and share.
Firms can encourage their people to share their feedback to get a better understanding of what’s going on under the surface – monitor with pulse surveys.
9: Assess company policies.
Firms should also assess areas of the business in which discrimination can exist. Company policies and interpersonal interactions – such as the way an internal issue is handled – plays a key role in perpetuating existing problems. The shift to our new norm of flexible and hybrid working for those who want it makes this particularly important, but it must be supported and access to reasonable adjustments for those who need them facilitated.
10: Track progress.
Diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts aren’t successful overnight. In fact, making structural changes to workforce strategies and systems can take many months, especially as businesses face new challenges around hiring and managing their people. A cultural shift takes time, which means firms must set milestones and benchmarks plus track their progress to assess how their efforts are moving the needle. This will not only show what strategies are working, and which ones are falling short, but it will also help to hold everyone accountable in reaching their shared goals.
11: Be bolder in your approach to your inclusion, diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts.
While diversity, equity, and inclusion are at risk during a crisis or downturn, it’s important for firms and colleagues to recognise the key role they play in recovery, resilience, and overall success in the future. Effective strategies will help better support colleagues, build culture, and create a thriving business. Colleagues will feel more engaged as they show up and bring their whole selves to work every day – whether in person or online – feeling safe, connected, and heard.
Diverse, equitable, and inclusive work environments also aids recruitment with candidates more likely to join professions, firms and trade bodies that are outspoken about and lead on diversity. Most importantly, firms and colleagues must recognise that diversity, equity, and inclusion is not an option or a “nice-to-have” – it’s a necessity that will enable our insurance community and all of us as individuals to grow and prosper … and do so together.