Levelling up on leadership
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Levelling up on leadership

Despite a growing commitment to D&I objectives in insurance, people of colour are notably absent from the C-suite. Insider Engage looks at what can be done to improve ethnic diversity in leadership

Black History
Credit:wildpixel/Getty Images/iStockphoto


- The BLM movement has inspired some leaders to tackle under-representation of minorities, but many firms have remained silent

- Enacting change goes beyond throwing money at D&I networks, it’s about implementing actions

- Data collection around staff ethnicity is challenging but necessary

- It is imperative to identify structural challenges to minority staff

- Attracting staff is one challenge, but getting them to stay and advance their careers also needs consideration

It’s been barely four months since the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis sparked global support for the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement, but the ripples from this terrible event have been enormous. Even leaders from the insurance industry – not typically known for weighing in on socio-political issues – have been moved to make statements about institutional racism, prejudice and social inclusion with regard to people of colour.

But what the events of recent months have also highlighted is that, for too long, people from black, Asian and other minority ethnic backgrounds have faced, and continue to face, both overt and invisible barriers to their ability to lead a happy, healthy and prosperous existence – not least in the workplace.

The picture varies across different geographies, but in the London insurance market the level of under-representation of employees from ethnic minorities is clearly visible. And when you look at levels of representation at a management and C-suite level the disparity between ethnic minorities and their white colleagues is even starker.

So what’s creating this imbalance? Should we conclude that the financial services sector is institutionally racist? Is insurance particularly bad when it comes to what used to be termed “equal opportunities”? And is London, the birthplace of the insurance industry’s Dive In festival, actually one of the least diverse and inclusive markets where people of colour are concerned?

Accounting for the past

Insurance industry luminaries from Marsh & McLennan Companies (MMC) CEO Dan Glaser, to Chubb CEO Evan Greenberg, and AIG CEO Brian Duperreault and president Peter Zaffino, were quick to condemn institutional racism and to issue pledges to reduce inequality and build a more inclusive society in the wake of Floyd’s death and the wave of protests that followed.

The activism that accompanied the BLM protests, including the toppling of statues of prominent slave-owners or figures who profited from the slave trade and slave labour, prompted Lloyd’s to apologise for the Corporation’s own role in the slave trade, calling it an “appalling and shameful” period of English history.

And alongside a range of measures to improve both the inclusion and the working experience of people of colour within the market, the Corporation also pledged to review its historical artefacts to ensure they are “explicitly non-racist”.

Separately, Marsh CEO John Doyle announced a five-point strategy designed to improve racial equity and inclusion at MMC, which he outlined in his keynote speech at the Insider Progress virtual event in late July.

And Lloyd’s CEO John Neal and Tokio Marine Kiln (TMK) CEO Brad Irick gave their backing to a six-step plan for improving racial inclusivity drawn up by the African-Caribbean Insurance Network(ACIN).

However, Sheila Cameron, chief executive of the Lloyd’s Market Association (LMA) and a member of both the Inclusion@Lloyd’sgoverning body and the Lloyd’s Culture Advisory Group, decries the number of firms that made no statement at all around the BLM movement, describing it as “eye-opening”.

Action on inclusion

ACIN was founded by underwriters Junior Garba and Godwin Sosi in 2018 as a means of boosting black and minority ethnic representation within the insurance industry, as well as presenting insurance as a more attractive option to young ethnic minority professionals.

Godwin Sosi and Junior Garba.jpg
Godwin Sosi and Junior Garba of ACIN

Garba, a cyber underwriter at Tokio Marine Kiln (TMK), and Godwin, a management liability underwriter at Sompo International, said the network was born out of their own frustration at the existing diversity and inclusion (D&I) landscape within the insurance sector and the level of under-representation of black professionals in the industry.

In addition to the support of TMK and Lloyd’s, Fidelis came on board as an ACIN sponsor in July.

“We’ve had quite a lot of traction and quite a lot of engagement. But it’s not just about companies throwing money at us, it’s about companies actually working with us to enact the relevant change within their respective organisations,” says Sosi.

Lloyd’s in particular appears to have taken up the baton, In June, it announced “five initial actions to help improve the experience of Black and Minority Ethnic talent” in the market, including positive action on recruitment and career development for ethnic minority talent, financial support for organisations involved in promoting inclusion and a long-term, collaborative action plan under the auspices of the Culture Advisory Group.

Late in July, Lloyd’s followed up with the launch of its 2020 Culture Dashboard which provides data on the evolving status of the market’s levels of representation with respect to gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation and disability.

The launch was also accompanied by a renewed commitment to “increasing the representation of Black and Minority Ethnic colleagues across the market, and importantly across leadership roles”. Lloyd’s pledged to improve the collection of data on ethnicity and other characteristics from companies in the market, by pushing all firms to report the relevant data, as well as setting an ethnicity target for representation similar to those already announced for gender, to be formalised by the second quarter of next year.

Diversity data

As we explore in a parallel article on D&I initiatives across the insurance industry only 52% of firms in the Lloyd’s market currently provide data on ethnicity and other protected characteristics, and 43% report on ethnicity.

Among these firms, the average disclosure rate amongst workforces is 49%, and of those disclosures only 4% identified as Asian, and 1% apiece identified as black or mixed ethnicity – compared with 36% indicated that they’d ‘Prefer not to say’.

When you consider that, according to the Lloyd’s Culture Dashboard, only 1% of respondents preferred not to disclose their gender, 8% their sexual orientation and 5% their disability, this indicates a serious perception problem around the collection and usage of ethnicity data – and one that is not exclusive to Lloyd’s.

Cameron says the LMA examined its own ethnicity profile and concluded that black and, to a lesser extent, Asian employees were reluctant to tick the box corresponding to their ethnicity on equal opportunities surveys.

“I spoke to every single person within the LMA, who had identified themselves as being of Asian or black ethnicity, as well as those who had chosen not to say, and it was an eye-opening conversation,” she recalls.

“Particularly for those of a black ethnicity in our marketplace, we have not given [people] confidence in how the data will be used and what it will be used for.”

Cameron says the LMA has subsequently made changes to its data collection system for each protected characteristic – be it religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation or ability – to explain why it is gathering the data and its aims in using that data to advance its D&I agenda.

The reluctance to engage with ethnicity surveys is one that Sosi understands well, and he agrees that it is related to concerns about how the data will be used.

“It 100% is,” he says. “But you have to look at the old school saying: ‘When things aren’t measured, they don’t get done’.”

Sosi points to the uptick in gender pay gap reporting as an indication of how data can improve inclusion.

“Those statistics will put a dent into inequality between men and women, and it will be the same thing with ethnic minorities. We all know that the numbers aren’t going to be great, but it’s not about hammering on at that point, it’s about how we implement the change,” he says.

The need to inform staff about the reasons behind gathering ethnicity data is echoed by other commentators.

“[It’s] the duty of the organisation collecting the data to put in place some sort of [measures] to strengthen the trust that you have with your workforce,” says Kishan Mangat, a senior associate with law firm DWF and co-chair of the Insurance Cultural Awareness Network (iCan) steering committee.

“So if you’re collecting personal data, you need to make sure you’re saying to your workforce that the reason you’re collecting it is because of x, y and z.

“It’s up to companies to understand the importance of why we need to collect that data in the first place. Now, more so than ever, we’re in a good position to advance that dialogue,” says Sosi.

Understanding ethnicity

It’s not just a question of understanding the scale of the issue – companies also need to educate themselves about the challenges faced by ethnic minority professionals.

“The thing to remember, when you’re talking about race, is that all of the issues feed into one,” says iCan’s Mangat. “In order to change your pipeline, you have to look at recruitment first but then you also have to look at what obstacles there are for people you recruit, to ensure that they stay at your company.”

iCan is running an event on the subject of unconscious bias in September in collaboration with one of its sponsors, Miller, and is also examining issues around white privilege in an event at this year’s Dive In festival.

“It comes down to members having said to us they can’t see opportunities in the market for them to progress and us then saying ‘we need to show you that they are there’,” she continues.

“Once they’ve applied for these opportunities, we need to make sure there isn’t unconscious bias and that [they are] going to be treated fairly in comparison to [their] white counterparts. In the wake of BLM there’s a real focus now on ensuring that we level that playing field for everybody.”

Sosi says the ACIN advocates a solutions-based approach to tackling inclusion and representation.

“In order to understand how to make the change we need to understand what the issues are. And what better than to [hear] the issues from people that are actually encountering it themselves,” he says.

The network organises and runs a number of forums in concert with other networks and companies in the insurance sector.

“The main reason we wanted to have these forums is because, prior to the BLM movement, this is how a lot of people have been feeling for many years, but they haven’t really expressed these feelings and the tensions they have in the working environment,” Sosi says.

Mangat says that one of the issues that has really come to the fore in her work with iCan, stemming from the BLM and encompassing the issue of white privilege, is the need for people who don’t identify as part of an ethnic minority to educate themselves.

“Understanding that need to educate shouldn’t necessarily just fall on those from an ethnic minority – or an international background – to teach [others] what it means to come from that background, because that can be really draining in and of itself,” she says.

Sosi says ACIN has organised a number of Lunch and Learn sessions to create a safe space for discussing issues of ethnicity and representation.

“Naturally a lot of people have pre-judgements before encountering and meeting people, it’s just human nature,” he explains. “So we believe these Lunch and Learn sessions give employees who may not be from a black, Asian and minority ethnic background opportunities to ask any questions they need to answers to.”

Improving access

There is also a perception problem around the opportunities available in the insurance industry, which means the sector could be missing out on many of the brightest and best students from ethnic minority backgrounds.

“We’ve been working very hard on that front – going to career fairs, going to speak to students at university,” says Sosi. “Last year we went out to 15 different universities in the space of about two months. Typically, there are a lot of students who would consider going in to banking or consulting or law, so [we’ve been] explaining that there are so many different sides of insurance they can get into.”

Once firms have managed to attract employees from a more diverse range of backgrounds to choose a career in insurance, the issue becomes how to encourage them to stay in the sector.

Mangat says iCan’s Inspire mentoring scheme gives the network’s membership access to senior executives across the market. iCan supports the mentoring relationship by checking in with both mentor and mentee, and issuing white papers on how to get the most out of mentoring.

“That’s a really big thing, and it was part of our ‘rhetoric into action’ approach,” she says. “This is our year of action and we wanted to focus on initiatives that would really have some impact.”

Sosi says the ultimate aim isn’t about lowering the bar to potential entrants, but making the working environment more inclusive for everybody.

“We don’t want to promote people solely because they’re black – you’ve got to promote people because they’re good at what they do. However, with ethnic minorities in general, [people] have never really understood the path you need to take to get into those positions.”

The ACIN is currently working with Lloyd’s on a programme called Accelerate, which is aimed at helping ethnic minority professionals in the middle stages of their career to transition into C-suite roles. “It’s about helping to map out a clear path of how to make that change,” says Sosi.

Credit positive

In the banking sector, Lloyds Bank attracted headlines recently when it ramped up its existing pledges to increase representation of black, Asian and minority ethnic employees from 10.3% of all employees and 7.3% of senior management.

Lloyds noted that black colleagues still only account for 1.5% of the total and 0.6% of senior management roles, and pledged to increase the latter to at least 3% by 2025 – in line with the wider UK labour market. It also committed to publicising details of its ethnicity pay gap.

A Moody’s report published on 23 July suggested that the measures announced by Lloyds were a “credit positive” for the bank, as they would “improve staff diversity at all levels and reduce Lloyds’ exposure to social risk”.

“There are a lot of initiatives that are emerging,” says Pia Sanchez, a senior consultant with employment and partnership specialist law firm CM Murray. “For example, EY have commitment that 50 per cent of their leadership team will come from the BAME community by 2025.”

“Moody’s decision to give credit positives to Lloyds Bank will hopefully encourage more companies to introduce measures to increase diversity because as well as clearly having a financial impact, society demands that companies improve their ethnic representation.”

Sanchez notes that firms must walk a line between positive action on diversity and positive discrimination (which is not permitted in the UK and Europe under existing employment law), which can initially be difficult to understand but will lead to a lasting and positive change.

“It just requires some thought as to how you’re going to do it. For example, Stormzy giving some money to Cambridge University for black people [to study there] is interesting because Cambridge had already done all of the groundwork to collect the data necessary to show that there was under-representation [of BAME students],” she says.

“Some of their colleges didn’t have a single black person, so taking into account the data, the next step was for them to consider what appropriate measures to introduce to address the low participation and from there assess they were proportionate to their aim of increasing ethnic diversity.”

Taken to its logical conclusion, this process of normalisation of diversity as a component of business success should ultimately feed into a stronger pipeline of ethnic minority candidates for leadership positions.

“This isn’t and has never been just a movement – it’s something that should be embedded in our day to day lives. Post-BLM, the ACIN’s work will still continue,” says Sosi.

“In order to enact change [we need] a joint effort – from the black community, the white community, the Asian community, coming together as a collective to understand there are underlying issues and how we can all play our part in active change.”

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