The HR head of a top insurance firm has urged the industry to consider diversity targets, saying they can encourage an important conversation while improving organisational outcomes.
“I’m a firm believer in setting targets for achieving business performance objectives,” says Susan Karson, chief people, marketing and corporate affairs officer at MLC Life Insurance.
“We’ve got targets for all of our drivers of performance – whether that’s financial, customer satisfaction, engagement, sales or complaints – and, for us, gender balance is also a driver of business performance and organisational health so it makes sense to have targets.”
Karson, who will be discussing the merits of gender targets and quotas at the upcoming Women in Insurance Summit, says setting targets also helps businesses become more aware of their own situation while sparking much-needed conversation throughout the company.
"Setting targets for any performance measure, including gender, generates focus and accountability within an organisation and creates conversations around how we can achieve that target, what steps do we need to take, who is accountable and problem solving what may be getting in the way.”
However, Karson says set quotas are a somewhat different story and can often make those within an organisation feel unfairly restricted without fixing the underlying problem.
“The challenge with quotas is they can be seen as being forced and that you are telling people what to do,” she says. “When you go down that path, the risk is that you cut off the opportunity to have a conversation, to explore how you solve it, to discuss how you can achieve it and to hold people accountable.”
Karson also pointed to studies conducted in Europe, where some corporate boards are subject to diversity quotas, as an example.
“They’re getting some really good results but the challenge is that quotas tend to address the top line issue without addressing the underlying route cause of gender equality,” she says.
“You’ve got to increase the pool and pipeline of female talent at the lower levels in order to shift the gender imbalance and drive sustainable change. Driving sustainable change comes from changing behaviour and mind set, and this has to start at the top through the commitment and action of leaders.”