Is real progress being made when it comes to DE&I initiatives?

Global executives share their views

Is real progress being made when it comes to DE&I initiatives?

Diversity & Inclusion

By Mia Wallace

For long-serving industry leaders who have seen insurance through good times and bad times alike and helped to weather those storms, seeing the progress of diversity, equity & inclusion (DE&I) initiatives has alternately served as a lesson in patience and an illustration of the power of persistence. With that in mind, these leaders are well-placed to tackle a question fundamental to the future of the market – is genuine headway being made when it comes to DE&I?

Progress in DE&I initiatives

Offering his perspective, as somebody who has served the insurance profession for over three decades, Alastair Swift, head of CRB global lines of business at WTW and CEO of Willis Ltd, noted that insurance has changed a lot since he started. That’s something he is very glad of, he said, as it would be fair to say that back when he first came to the sector, DE&I was not a subject on the agenda of most organisations.

“There has been a massive change for the better,” he said. “Bit by bit, the industry has grown and your own journey grows with it as you see the change and you see the benefit in embedding this in the DNA of your business and how you run your business.”

Chief people officer for AXIS, Noreen McMullan also attested that when she started her career in insurance, DE&I was not a topic that was up for discussion in any meaningful way. At most, she said, it was something included in a report reviewed once a year and shelved the rest of the time. However, it has been heartening to see how far so many companies have come since then, for all that there is still more work to be done.

“Today, more organisations including AXIS, subscribe to the belief that diversity of talent brings diversity of thought,” she said. “As a result, diverse organisations benefit from a wider range of knowledge and experience which contributes towards driving business results.

“At AXIS, DE&I continues to be a top priority and we approach this work with a bottom-line driven mentality. For example, we set a DE&I goal to achieve global gender parity in all levels of our workforce by 2025, as well as goals to increase ethnic and female senior representation.”

The evolution of the DE&I proposition

Speaking with Insurance Business shortly following the publication of WTW’s ‘Global Gender Wealth Equity Report’, John Ball, head of Great Britain at WTW, highlighted how action around DE&I have evolved. It started with diversity, he said, and now it includes equity and equitable outcomes.

On the subject of gender pay, Ball noted that: “Gender pay is not the only factor that impacts retirement wealth but, of course, the amount people are paid it is a very important factor and differences can be dramatically exacerbated over the course of a career. Several of the strategies we are using to narrow our own gender pay gap include understanding the barriers that women face in navigating the corporate environment and focusing on equitable career trajectories.

“This will help more women to reach the most senior, high-paying, roles and help us in closing the wealth gap. We also see that retirement plans, including state benefits, are a significant component of accumulated wealth. Our research highlights the importance of employer-sponsored plans and awareness of the financial advantages of these.”

Changing attitudes and new conversations

UK CEO of the re/insurance broking giant BMS Ian Gormley revealed that he too has seen changing attitudes to DE&I and has found it encouraging to see the insurance profession open up to having new conversations. He also emphasised the work being done by market bodies and individual market players to create dedicated, specialist roles to, “navigate the change in recruitment and development strategies that is required”.

“Internally,” he said, “I’ve seen our conversations really progress following the roll out of our Speaking Up and Inclusive Leadership programme, focusing on effective communication, allyship and leading with empathy. We designed this in partnership with an excellent provider, using forum theatre and actor-coaches to bring scenarios to life and the impact has been huge. We recognised the real shift comes from continued conversations and have invested in ongoing workshops and touchpoints for all colleagues.”

Touching on how the outlook toward DE&I has shifted in the Lloyd’s market, Lloyd’s CEO John Neal pinpointed that Lloyd’s ‘Culture Survey’ results reveal that the market is now a more inclusive place than it has been before.

He added that it’s critical to note that one of the true differentiators of the insurance marketplace has been its ability to attract talent, which is why the market needs to be inherently inclusive if it wants to attract and represent the very best in insurance. The market is highly attuned to the need for more education around DE&I to ensure it meets its culture goals, he said, and leadership accountability for change is an important part of shifting attitudes.

“Does it feel different on the ground, or in the room? I’m not sure it does yet – but that’s hopefully the step that follows a mindset shift,” Neal said. “Every year for the last eight years, the insurance industry globally has hosted Dive In which is all about DE&I. [In 2022], there were over 25,000 attendees to events from 98 countries. This is absolutely showing that attitudes are shifting but we need to work out how to turn this into action.”

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