The Intelligent Quarterly from the publishers of The Insurance Insider

Autumn 2017

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Overcoming inertia

Liz Grant

The drive to build inclusive workplaces is gaining pace. Prompted by legislation and government monitoring on the one hand, and by compelling research showing that diverse and inclusive firms can deliver better results and business outcomes on the other, many companies are accelerating their level of engagement in inclusion.

Gender diversity can have a noticeable effect on the bottom line: for every 10 percent increase in gender diversity at senior level there is an EBIT rise of 3.5 percent, according to McKinsey and Co's 2015 "Why Diversity Matters" report.

Inclusion and diversity (I&D) is just as relevant in the insurance sector as it is in others. Perhaps more so given insurance has lagged behind many other industries, and because of the international nature of much of the business.

The volume of such research, the conversations now going on across the insurance sector, and the need to attract the best talent in an ever more competitive market means that establishing and maintaining diverse and inclusive teams is on the radar of most successful firms.

Leaders within the industry understand the value inclusion brings, especially in shoring up the future of the insurance sector. Lynsey Cross, COO of AmTrust International, is one of them. She says: "Attracting and retaining a workforce who reflect the diversity of our client base, who can innovate based on their unique experiences is essential to remaining competitive and futureproofing
(re)insurance.

"We are insuring a disruptive economy - if we can't offer flexibility and an alternative, diverse point of view, we'll be left behind."

Cross says that for the second year running AmTrust is proud to sponsor The Insurance Insider's I&D award, in collaboration with Link, the LGBT insurance network.

"Initiatives such as this are powerful in allowing individual firms to showcase what they are doing, as well as continuing to drive engagement across the entire market."

Lloyd's 2017 "Holding Up the Mirror" report shows that the number of firms with diversity councils has almost doubled within the last year.

And the Dive In festival, now in its third year, has certainly raised awareness of the benefits of diversity and inclusion. Last year more than 5,000 people attended events in 10 countries during the three-day festival. This year there will be a real focus on demonstrating those benefits.

Drivers for change

There are other drivers of I&D for businesses beyond the need to attract and retain talent. Some are mandated, such as gender pay reporting. Others are positive action campaigns, such as the Women in Finance Charter and the HeForShe campaign. These, in their own way, are engaging leaders and staff within many businesses.

The benefits of inclusion are not delivered solely through attending events, pledging intention or simply by talking about diversity. Although all of these are helpful, and a good start, to deliver real change, businesses need to take action.

The biggest challenge now is to overcome inertia to move forward and to actually start doing more, rather than just hoping it will all come right. Change doesn't just happen.

It is important to recognise that some great work is being done across a range of insurance businesses. Submissions for The Insurance Insider Honours I&D award in 2016 gave us many and varied examples of this and it was very encouraging.

AIG was the winner last year, for a breadth of successful activity. Other organisations, notably Zurich and Aon, scored highly too. But all those that entered have much to be proud of for their efforts in making changes to deliver and maintain an inclusive workplace.

To build an inclusive workplace, businesses need to do things differently - that's a basic tenet for creating change. It takes a different way of looking at a problem and being prepared to try something new.

Leadership and commitment

For I&D to gain traction it requires buy-in from senior business leaders. But the approach needs to be consistent and sustained. Some observers have been told that for a few firms I&D activity has less of a focus. Given how far the industry has come, that would be a real shame, a retrograde step.

It's easy to see how, when the business environment is tough, a focus on doing things differently may not be the highest priority. Businesses revert to form and operate in the way that has historically served them well in times when things were not as inclusive. The problem then is that all the good work to date can be quickly undone. Those employees who thrived in the burgeoning inclusive environment (and who perhaps joined because of it) become frustrated and they start to look around for more inclusive firms in which to work.

If sustained commitment is not genuine at and driven from the top, then all previous efforts at inclusion tend to fizzle out rather quickly.

There is also a question of scale. Smaller businesses think I&D is the domain of larger firms and that they don't have resources to do anything about it. But that shouldn't hold them back.

According to Cross: "They need to use the resources available to all insurance firms and to utilise the support networks already available to their employees."

Cross says there are a number of excellent best practice I&D guides available, such as the Chartered Insurance Institute's "Equality and Diversity: Promoting good practice" and Inclusion@Lloyd's "5 Steps to Diversity & Inclusion: A practical guide".

"Smaller, agile businesses that have an engaged and willing leadership can find implementing these practical steps less of a challenge than their larger counterparts," Cross continues.

"There are a number of cross-industry employee network groups, where common issues and workplace best practice can be shared, and supportive relationships and mentoring can develop.

"These cross-industry groups have a special value for smaller businesses, which may not be able to sustain in-house employee groups because of a lack of critical mass. And the larger businesses can show leadership in these groups too."

The Next Generation Insurance Network is a cross-industry group for young professionals. Link, mentioned earlier, is the well-established network for LGBT+ people in insurance and allies. I-CAN is the recently launched Insurance Cultural Awareness Network. "And then there are groups such as the Women's Insurance Network and The Insurance Supper Club, which have long supported women's career progression," Cross says.

All these groups are led and supported by volunteers and are enabled by generous sponsorship from firms across the sector.

Current challenges

To conclude, we would say that there may be two main factors holding firms back from getting going and making the changes needed to develop a diverse and inclusive workplace.

Firstly, there's the fact that some firms simply don't know what to do first, often coupled with a worry that they may offend someone by using the wrong language. Secondly, the board and the executive need to ensure that this is at the top of the business agenda. Unless inclusion is seen as critical to business success, change won't be driven through an organisation.

But, as is hopefully clear to those with influence, the "head in the sand" approach is not sustainable. Competition is increasing, and reputation in a people business is incredibly important. Bad news stories can be read widely and quickly through social media.

Entering a submission for The Insurance Insider Honours I&D award is a great way for firms to highlight the great work they are doing and to demonstrate to staff how seriously they take this. Taking baby steps is fine, as long as in the years after the steps get bigger.

To ensure we really do shine a torch on such efforts all readers are encouraged to have their firms put forward their work for the awards, which are held on 7 September 2017 at Old Billingsgate, London (see www.insuranceinsiderhonours.com for details).

This article was written by Liz Grant, OBE, with assistance from Lynsey Cross, chief operating officer of AmTrust International and chair of the diversity and inclusion committee of The Insurance Institute of London, and James Mee, partner at law firm RPC and co-chair of Link, the LGBT Insurance Network

Liz Grant, OBE is director and owner of Fantail Business Development

This article was published as part of issue Summer 2017

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