Making a splash
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Making a splash

Since the first Dive In Festival in 2015, diversity and inclusion has gone from an aspiration to a real motivator of change in the insurance industry

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Just four years ago, when Dive In – The Festival for Diversity & Inclusion in Insurance – was launched, Jason Groves, chair of the festival and director of communications and head of marketing at Marsh, witnessed intolerance in the industry first hand.

Fast forward to 2019 and he thinks there has been a cultural shift in the London market, with much greater acceptance of diversity and inclusion (D&I) in the workplace.

“I stood at the entrance to the Lloyd’s cafe and asked people if they would like a sticker to show that they were allies of their LGBT colleagues,” Groves says. “A few people took the stickers, a lot more just tried to ignore it and there was a pretty reasonable percentage who were outright hostile. Some people came up and went out of their way to be rude.”

He believes that Dive In and other cross-industry initiatives have helped change those attitudes. “Some people may still be intolerant in private, but they are much more likely to keep that sort of attitude to themselves now, or realise they just can’t say that kind of thing in the workplace. But honestly, I think a lot of people’s eyes have been opened to LGBT issues.”

The fact that the London and Lloyd’s market is steeped in tradition should not hold back the change that needs to take place, believes Groves.

“I love the traditions of the London market, but tradition is not an excuse for bad behaviour. Bad behaviour is just bad behaviour. We shouldn’t blame tradition for behaviour that really ought to change.”

Groves is on a bit of a high. At the time of our interview he had just been informed the Bank of England (BoE) would be hosting a networking event to celebrate five years of Dive In, and that BoE governor Mark Carney himself would be attending.

“We should be incredibly proud as an industry. A lot of very forward-thinking people have really got behind this and we need to bring everyone with us, to make sure the entire market is part of the initiative to help things change for the better.”

Proven business case

The business case for D&I has been made. We know that diverse companies get better results (generating 19% more revenue, according to one study by Boston Consulting Group) and that this is because diversity fosters innovation, leads to better performance, helps to win new business and attracts talent, among other things.

“When you get a diverse team and an inclusive culture, diversity of thought is what it’s all about,” says Katherine Conway, head of D&I at Aon. “You get innovative and creative thinking where people from different backgrounds have different perspectives and ideas and can challenge the status quo. That’s when a team really comes together.”

In May, a report by the London Market Group and KPMG called for urgent action to be taken to address the skills gap and to be “proactive in trading people and attracting new talent” as business models change and evolve, and as the wider business community evolves.

There is an acceptance that insurers and brokers must reflect the diversity inherent in their global client base if they are to remain relevant.

One cautionary tale involves a meeting between a group of London brokers and prospects from a major global sports brand.

“The brokers and underwriters turned up in suits and the clients were dressed in tracksuits and trainers. They turned down the deal because they didn’t feel represented by them,” says Sabrina Pyneeandy, co-chair of the Gender Inclusion Network for Insurance (GIN).

When organisations get it wrong, and/or treat D&I as a box-ticking exercise, there can be dire reputational consequences, as Nike’s “boys-club culture” and the subsequent damage to its brand and class action lawsuits have demonstrated. In a world of social media and wider public awareness, one bad move can cause share prices to plummet and customers to vote with their feet.

A story about a PwC receptionist being sent home for not wearing high heels to work received a massive response in 2016 when the employee posted about the incident on her Facebook account. It inspired a report by the UK Parliament’s Women and Equalities Committee entitled ‘High heels and workplace dress codes’, which expressed “concern for the workers affected by discriminatory dress codes, many of whom are young women in insecure jobs who already feel vulnerable in the workplace”.

Rooting out everyday sexism

The London market has had to work hard to rid itself of its “pinky ring-wearing, old boys club” image, says Pyneeandy. Part of this requires a rethink about how the industry networks.

“The insurance industry is so traditional and set in its ways and what we’re doing is forcing it to change,” she says. “And that’s not easy. We need to make sure that when we have away-days, for instance, that they are inclusive and that people aren’t only [offered] arranged activities like golf, that may be seen as exclusive.”

Studies have shown that “pale, male and stale” boardrooms are more likely to make risky decisions and less likely to challenge one another. Since the global financial crisis there has been a drive to increase the proportion of women at senior levels within FTSE 100 companies (now at 30% and beyond.

The push for boardroom diversity goes beyond gender diversity, but gender is a good place to start, thinks Nicolas Aubert, chief executive, Willis Ltd and head of Great Britain at Willis Towers Watson. “We face a major struggle, which is the fact that the industry as a whole is not adequately gender diverse,” he says. “We have a fantastic reservoir of female talent, but the industry is not doing a good enough job at promoting the developing of this talent, which absolutely can deliver deep expertise at a senior level.”

His comments are backed up by a recent ABI study, which found that while gender diversity has improved at nearly all levels within the industry, at the very top women have just 20% of board positions. The annual survey found that women who chose to start a family experienced a significantly greater impact on their earnings following the birth of their first child than was the case for men with children.

In its research with, management consultancy firm McKinsey argues that this is because there is a lack of support from employers in balancing family and work commitments. Women in entry-level jobs are less likely than their male colleagues to have managers sponsoring them and supporting their career progression.

Providing greater flexibility and broader parental leave is one solution that many firms are putting into practice. “Everything around parenthood and supporting maternity and paternity situations is critical,” says Aubert.

“But it’s the overall environment that we create around flexible work which is really important in demonstrating that employees, managers and leaders can all work flexibly and still deliver their contribution to the company and their clients.”

Collaborating on D&I

The industry should have targets on achieving better D&I just as it has financial targets, believes Aon’s Conway.

“We have opened the conversation up so much more and we’re really removing the stigma in areas such as mental health – which is not traditionally been seen as a diversity issue – and there are few other industries working and collaborating on D&I like we are.”

In addition to Dive In, there are numerous collaborative efforts designed to tackle and improve impediments to D&I in the industry. They include the Link LGBT Insurance Network, GIN, the Insurance Cultural Awareness Network, the Insurance Families Network, the Insurance Disability, Ability and Wellbeing Network, the Afro-Caribbean Insurance Association and Inclusion@Lloyd’s.

Tangible steps are being taken in the insurance industry to move beyond the rhetoric – to introduce schemes to improve D&I at all levels through mentoring programmes, internships, graduate initiatives and cross-industry collaboration. But there is still a need to attract a broader pool of talent, thinks Conway.

It is still the norm to come across underwriters, brokers and other insurance professionals in the London market who pursued a career in the industry because their father was already working in insurance. This is what needs to change, says Conway.

“Our typical talent pool comes from people who know people in the industry,” she explains. “We need to look at how we can reach different communities and universities, and showcase the benefits of a career in our industry to a different cohort of people.”

In many ways, it is the broking community that is leading the way in initiatives to attract young talent from more diverse communities, including reaching out to ethnic communities in London and visiting some of the less elite universities. Bodies such as the Chartered Insurance Institute and Lloyd’s also offer apprenticeship and graduate training programmes that aim to improve the diversity of young people coming into the industry.

“We recently hosted a BAME [black, Asian and minority ethnic] future leaders programme which specifically targeted BAME undergraduates who were coming up to graduation,” says Conway. “We put on a two-day workshop to help them understand our industry and the careers that are on offer along with details on how they can apply for positions, what we’re looking for and how they can succeed in their applications.”

Marsh has an annual summer internship programme where it invites young people from London boroughs that neighbour the City.

“Typically, our interns have never had anyone in their family working in a City job before,” says Groves. “It’s about bringing them in and giving them an opportunity to experience what working in the City is like. Some have gone on to change what degree they’re studying at university with a view to pursuing a career in insurance.”

Looking further afield

Groves believes there are still challenges to overcome when recruiting at a more senior level.

“Specialist recruitment firms should be encouraging companies to look for talent outside of the industry. A lot of companies have started to build up talent acquisition teams and it’s not just about going through LinkedIn and looking for people who have very similar backgrounds.

“By looking further afield and casting the net wider you can get some amazing candidates. They may not have much of a background in insurance but it doesn’t really matter, because we can tap the knowledge and skills they have got from another industry.

“But people make excuses,” he adds. “They’ll say, ‘We need someone quickly and I don’t want to have to train someone up – we need them to hit the ground running’. The other phrase that annoys me is, ‘Will this person fit in?’ What they mean is, will they want to talk about football and enjoy going out for a beer after work. It’s much easier for that line manager, rather than thinking long term and strategically about who will complement the team, to bring in someone from a competing firm. And that’s what you need to get away from.”

Support and buy-in from senior managers is critical to the movement’s success, adds Willis’ Aubert.

“Over the last three years we have seen leaders of the industry as a whole recognising this matter was absolutely critical, that it was necessary to be candid and honest about it and there is clearly now a very genuine commitment and engagement of senior leaders on D&I,” he says. “So it is clear the industry has recognised the matter, it is not complacent and it is really working hard at solving the issue and truly collaborating.

“I’ve been struggling a bit myself with that. At one point I thought that success in D&I was going to be essentially a competitive matter, but I’ve now recognised that it’s an area where we are going to succeed as an industry and where we need to collaborate.

“A few years ago during the Dive In Festival I was entering the Aon building – which is not my natural habitat – and at the same time the CEO of Aon was coming down the stairs,” Aubert recalls.

“He asked me what I was doing in the building and I said I was going to a Dive In meeting. And he said, ‘That’s really interesting because two days ago I was in the Willis Towers Watson Auditorium for exactly the same reason’.

“That’s a good thing because it means there is true collaboration. It’s good that we are collaborating as an industry, sharing and progressing ideas together.”

This article was first published in the Summer 2019 issue of Insider Quarterly

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