Analysis: The road to inclusion
Most people in the industry would probably describe themselves as open-minded, abhorring any kind of discrimination and supportive of more diversity in the workplace. The enthusiasm for change from all quarters is testament to that.
With discrimination so detested, why is it that, for most, the working environment has changed little in the last 30 or 40 years? According to the Post 2019 Insurance Census, 93% of employees are white, 65% are over the age of 40 and 60% are male.
While the cultural and financial arguments in favour of greater diversity are well established, the distance between wanting diversity and reaping its benefits is vast. So how can businesses even start to move from talking about the issues to tackling them?
“It’s about creating an inclusive environment where people are valued for their different perspectives,” explains Lisa Meigh, director of HR, development and learning at Covéa.
“Like most organisations in our sector, gender balance was our early focus, but this has since evolved into creating an open and inclusive culture where individuality, in all its guises, is embraced.”
This idea of promoting inclusiveness while simultaneously celebrating the individual starts to take us into the realms of intersectionality, defined as the complex, cumulative way in which the effects of multiple forms of discrimination combine, overlap, or intersect.
Or as Tracey Kinsella, head of people engagement, culture and strategy at Axa UK, describes it, in more digestible terms: “It’s about fairness, respect, trust and including everyone. It is basically recognising that everyone is different and creating an environment where everyone can thrive and do well.”
And the application of intersectional thinking can help bring understanding and solutions to a variety of workplace issues beyond the traditional protected characteristics as Tali Shlomo, people engagement director at the Chartered Insurance Institute explains.
“One in four of us will potentially experience mental health challenges in our lifetime but how often do we look at that from an LGBTQ+ perspective? We know men are more likely to take their own lives. We know that people who are transitioning are more likely to suffer from mental health. That is intersectionality,” she says.
Bringing layered thinking like this into play is where intersectionality shows its true value to the diversity and inclusion challenge but considering the fact that progress on gender parity has been slow, how can the industry begin to approach something like intersectionality?
Companies in the top quartile for racial and ethnic diversity are 35% more likely to have returns above national industry medians.
Inclusive companies are 1.7x more likely to be innovation leaders in their market.
There are 76 million baby boomers, and 72% of them are white.
The millennials are an even larger group with 87 million, but much more diverse — only 56% are white.
67% of both active and passive job seekers say that when they’re evaluating companies and job offers, it is important that the company has a diverse workforce.
More inclusive companies have a 2.3x higher cash flow per employee over a three-year period.
It all starts with the data
Miriam Earley, global head of diversity and inclusion at Marsh & McLennan Companies, argues that companies need to use data to establish a baseline but also use it to inform and validate hypotheses about the state of the business.
“If we want to improve the diversity of hiring, study data over time about candidate sources,” she says.
“If we want to improve the number of senior women, study the number of experienced hires that are women, the number of women placed on leadership programs, the number of women promoted, the tenure of talented women.
“Data shouldn’t dictate your decisions on activities, but it should inform them, and absolutely be used to measure impact.”
A vital element to this focus on diversity in all its forms, is attracting and retaining the support of individuals who may not possess any characteristics that would define them as a minority. And to achieve this, businesses seem to be shifting from focusing on a specific issue towards inclusivity for all.
“In some industries, they take a diversity strand, work on it, and then use the same imagery and model for the next strand,” says Marc McKenna-Coles, global diversity and inclusion manager & wellbeing champion at Lloyd’s, and a key player in the annual Dive In diversity festival.
“What we are starting to see emerging in insurance is an attempt to trigger a wider conversation around all this. Intersectionality is a very fluid way of approaching D&I, embracing all human beings and making sure that we look at people as three-dimensional characters,” he adds.
But it is one thing for an organisation to understand the problem and put strategies in place to tackle it, but if the folks on the ground aren’t buying into it, the change simply won’t happen.
There is, thankfully, a growing number of people taking the need for action into their own hands, people like Kishan Mangat. Mangat is an associate at law firm DWF but she is also co-chair of the Insurance Cultural Awareness Network.
“The change has to happen,” says Mangat. “But whether or not it happens soon enough is the question. I see a lot happening from grass roots and employee representative groups but that is stuff they do of their own accord. I know that CEOs are saying it is high on their agenda.” However, she has her doubts.
“It’s not enough to just sponsor something – you have to have a plan of action in place,” she challenges.
So, despite the obvious enthusiasm at grass roots evidenced by the formation of groups such as Link, (LGBTQ+), Gin, (gender inclusion) and I-Dawn, (ability, disability and wellbeing), they require the structural as well as the verbal support of organisations.
“We need grass roots activity that provides a platform for all colleagues to engage,” says Early.
“We need leaders to sponsor, to be role models, and to drive change from the top. We need policy and process makers to ensure that the systems of operation we have in place provide equity of opportunity for all, drive culture change and extol best practice, while eliminating poor behaviour. The onus is on all of those levers.”
Although it is clear we must maintain focus on the existing problem areas, in order to ensure that this work is embraced by all, a broader, more inclusive approach may be required, an approach that intersectional thinking helps facilitate.
For without pulling all those operational and cultural strings together, in much the same way that intersectionality strives to pull all the diversity strings together, there is a real risk that insurance will lose the early momentum that it has worked so hard to build up.