Why the insurance industry needs to embrace neurodiverse talent
The insurance industry has made notable progress in the drive for greater diversity, equity and inclusion across its workforce. However, one area that is often overlooked is neurodiversity and how neurodivergent people can offer different perspectives that lead to better decision-making in the workplace.
For neurodiverse individuals seeking a career in insurance, the industry offers a wide-range of roles, many of which they are well suited to due to their logical way of thinking and ability to identify patterns.
According to Sally Blake, UK diversity and Inclusion Manager at Zurich, a diverse workforce can be beneficial to companies enabling them to tackle problems from different angles.
To date we have raised over £500,000 for ‘Ambitious about Autism’, which has made a huge impact and over 1,600 employees have volunteered to support ‘Ambitious about Autism.’
“We know that diverse teams achieve better outcomes. By bringing different strengths, skills and experiences to the table, they can explore a problem from a wider range of perspectives,” says Blake.
“The neurodiverse often evidence systematic approaches, logical analysis, pattern recognition, and high concentration levels, making them really well suited for roles in areas such as analytics, data governance and complex software development, though it’s important not to rely on overly simplistic categorizations – every candidate brings different skills.”
For Steve Woodhouse, senior people partner for UK and Ireland at insurance broker Marsh, neurodiverse individuals have a different skillset and can identify problems “through a different lens.”
“The more people you have looking at problems in a different way the better set of answers you tend to get. For instance, some people might look at a problem in a logical and numerical way, whereas neurotypical people might look at it from an emotional perspective,” he says.
“Most of the time a neurotypical person will struggle to understand what challenges a neurodiverse person is facing. Through my involvement in this area I’m aware that you cannot make an assumption of what those challenges are.”
With the fast-approaching implementation of the FCA Consumer Duty, scheduled for July 2023, alongside the regulators ESG comments and company diversity and inclusive Board rules, it is now clear that diversity, inclusion, equity and intersectionality is central to the success of the industry and a key part of the workplace participation strategy being developed by the government.
Such regulatory changes that not only include upgrading systems and data, but also highlight the need for diversity of thought that can mobilise teams, reshape cultures and improve outcomes for employees and customers.
For Johnny Timpson, supervisory board member of Group for Autism, Insurance, Investment and Neurodiversity (GAIN), a community interest company (CIC) which aims to increase awareness of neurodiversity across insurance, investment and other areas of financial services, this requires a radical solution that can only be found within a neurodiverse workforce, who are enabled, equipped and free use different ways of thinking.
“With government and opposition politicians agreed that workplace participation is a priority for the UK, our industry and profession should take the opportunity to lead on this issue, and our GAIN purpose is to support the industry to do just this. I believe that if we get things right for neurodivergent colleagues and customers, we get it right for all,” he says.
“Our mission is simple; to spark an industry-owned and industry-led radical improvement in the employment prospects of neurodivergent people in insurance, investment and related areas of financial services.”
Creating an accessible workplace
Marsh has taken a number of steps to ensure its nurturing neurodivergent talent.
“Autistic colleagues that we have in our organisation or people that have come in and worked with us find it difficult to ask for what are quite easy changes that we can make,” says Woodhouse. “We recently provided one of our autistic members of staff with a pair of noise cancelling headphones, which he didn't know he could request.
Woodhouse points out the onus is on employers to be proactive in offering staff support when needed.
“As a senior leader in Marsh, one of my objectives is to raise awareness of this issue, so managers and colleagues are proactive in asking employees about how they can offer them support,” says Woodhouse. “The biggest barrier to dealing with those challenges is discussing them openly in the first place. It starts with the employer to ask and create a culture where that's okay.”
Woodhouse explains companies need a policy in place to enable staff to ask for support in their roles. “There is sensory overload in the workplace, either due to something going on in the office or simply being surrounded by people,” he says. “While it might be the case that a neurotypical person enjoys the noise and the hustle and bustle of the office, that’s not the ideal environment for a neurodiverse person.”
Neurodiverse employees might also struggle to identify role models at their place of work, explains Woodhouse. “That's partly because there might not be a lot of autistic people that are at the senior end of the organisation,” he says. “However, more likely, they have not been open about their disability.”
Blake explains that employees who have a disability should be able to discuss this openly without thinking it could adversely impact their career aspirations and prospects.
“Flexible working and hybrid working are becoming more normalized, but have historically been fought for by marginalised groups like neurodivergent people for years. As these become more common, it's important to be mindful that true flexibility goes beyond letting someone work from home two days a week,” says Blake. “At Zurich have developed a document that disabled colleagues needing adjustments can take with them from role to role, helping to ensure their own needs are met, building on experience and avoiding unnecessary repetition.”
Zurich and Marsh are both founder members of GAIN, and the firms are working with the (CIC) to create a more inclusive and diverse industry that supports neurodiverse individuals.
Having diversity in your workplace helps to ensure you are reflecting our wider society, and therefore the customers that you want your products to reach.
According to Blake the organization can see insurers benefit from the creativity neurodiverse talent brings. “As individuals, now more than ever we’re pushed, most obviously through social media, towards people who hold similar views and maybe think the same way. I’m not sure any of this is really very healthy,” says Blake. “GAIN can help insurers benefit from the creativity of those who may see the world in a different way. We need to be brave, maybe take some risks – but that’s surely what insurance is all about.”
Woodhouse stresses the insurance industry wants to attract neurodiverse talent and GAIN plays a key role in this. “We do a lot of work with GAIN and they are promoting insurance as a destination employer and employer of choice for employees who are neurodiverse because we have a wide range of roles,” he explains.
According to Timpson, with the right role, using the right skills, neurodivergent individuals can not only thrive but also exceed expectations.
“Recent studies by the University of Montreal and Harvard University highlight the ability of individuals with autism who can solve problems 40% faster than neurotypical individuals and offer exceptional technical and mathematical abilities,” he says. “In addition, according to a JPMorgan Chase report on ESG, neurodivergent employees in certain tech roles are 90% to 140% more productive than their neurotypical co-workers.”
However, neurodiverse individuals face a number of challenges, for instance in finding employment. And in some cases might even find themselves under-employed.
“In the UK, around 29% of autistic people are in employment, the lowest rate of any disability group. Within this group, a proportion are likely to be under-employed,” says Blake. “Entry into the workplace is a significant barrier, since most employers will use selection criteria such as interviews and employment history as their key decision-making tool, despite poor outcomes for neurodiverse individuals.”
Zurich ensures it makes the necessary adjustments to its hiring process to support neurodivergent candidates.
“We are a disability confident leader and offer interviews to any candidate with a disability who meets the minimum criteria for a role,” says Blake. “We also offer adjustments to the selection process, and to all employees. These adjustments are tailored to the individual, aiming to create an environment where they are set up for success.”
Zurich’s Accessibility and Inclusion Network, was created to promote the inclusion of employees with disabilities and mental health challenges. “ Our ‘Work Skills’ programme provides a tailored programme for people who have been unemployed for six months or more. A large proportion are disabled and we are pleased to have supported many of these people into permanent employment,” says Blake.
The insurer has entered a global service agreement with Auticon, an IT/data consultancy and social enterprise that exclusively recruits autistic consultants. “The agreement makes it possible to skip multiple processes from due diligence through to financial checks, since many of these activities are already completed,” explains Blake.
"In recent years, Zurich has worked with Auticon on numerous different projects across different territories, most recently involving teams analyzing claims data to create innovative frameworks and reporting tools.”
For Marsh, a lot of their work in this area has been supported by their partnership with charity partner ‘Ambitious about Autism’. “It has transformed the way we think about the subject and we are working with them across a number of areas,” says Woodhouse.
“Together we’re working on educating people around how to identify autism and ask those questions autistic people struggle with. We have started a structured internship programme for young autistic people,” notes Woodhouse. “This year we're planning to create 30 paid internships to get neurodivergent people into the workplace. We have also created training programmes for managers and teams those autistic individuals are going into.”
Our mission is simple; to spark an industry-owned and industry-led radical improvement in the employment prospects of neurodivergent people in insurance, investment and related areas of financial services.
Marsh is working alongside ‘Ambitious about Autism’ to be what they call an ‘autistic confident’ employer.
One area the broker has reviewed alongside the charity is their policies and procedures, for instance their recruitment process.
“If an individual is neurodiverse, when we send out the details of the interview in the recruitment process, we send them a photo of the interviewer, as it makes the process a lot easier for them to be able to do their best,” explains Woodhouse.
“We're working with the charity around our office environment to see what we can do to reduce the level of sensory overload. Every time we do a refurb or rebuild we get them involved with our architects around the planning stages.”
“To date we have raised over £500,000 for ‘Ambitious about Autism’, which has made a huge impact and over 1,600 employees have volunteered to support ‘Ambitious about Autism.’
As insurance companies launch a range of initiatives and take steps to improve the diversity in their workforce it is vital that they can track their progress and performance.
"Having diversity in your workplace helps to ensure you are reflecting our wider society, and therefore the customers that you want your products to reach,” says Blake.
One key measure Zurich use is its employee diversity declaration data. "Firstly, the completion rate tells us how comfortable our employees are with sharing their information with us. Secondly, the breakdown tells us how reflective we are of our customers and communities,"says Blake. “Where we have gaps, we explore the underlying data to identify targeted interventions to help ensure we are an attractive and inclusive employer.
"Additionally, we publish our disability, ethnicity, LGBTQ+ and gender pay gaps to improve transparency and hold ourselves to account. Since we started doing this in 2020, our disability declarations have increased from 5.7% to 6.1%, and our pay gap has shrunk from 17.6% to 15.2%.”
Marsh also has a number of metrics in places to measure the progress of their diversity and inclusion initiatives.
“We have some quantitative measures in place," says Woodhouse. "We're looking at the number of internships we're offering and the conversion rate of those internships into permanent roles. To date we've created 10 internships, four of which have turned into permanent jobs.
“Furthermore, our Early Careers Programme requires the talent acquisition team to bring in a percentage of people into our graduate and apprentice schemes who are neurodiverse."
At Marsh one of the biggest benefits as a result from their work in this area is the cultural change and the impact it has had on employees who realize the broker is open to people with different ways of thinking.
Woodhouse explains that he has personally received great feedback on their workshops and he has seen the difference it has made to some of the employees.
“A colleague recently told me they found one of the workshops I did useful because their niece is autistic,” he says. “Our colleagues chose ‘Ambitious about Autism’ to be our charity partner as part of a vote that takes place every three years. A large proportion of employees voted for ‘Ambitious about Autism’, and that was really the catalyst that started us on this journey.”
“Furthermore we’ve had employees who have seen what we're promoting about autism and have come to the decision to disclose their autistic to their manager. “One employee saw one of the presentations and went to a doctor and received a diagnosis that he was autistic.” As an organization it is phenomenal that our work is making a difference.”
The insurance industry has taken great strides to create a more inclusive environment for those that work in it. While it has made significant progress in the area of diversity, its continued efforts will help companies attract and retain neurodiverse talent; provide them with more confidence to apply for role in the industry, as well as feel supported every step of the way.