Is the insurance industry really progressing on diversity, equity and inclusion?

The 2022 5-Star Diversity, Equity and Inclusion panel, presented by AXA XL, sees Stephen Nguyen, head of distribution Australia at AXA XL, join Catherine Carlyon, country manager Australia at AXA XL, Morag Fitzsimmons, manager – employee care at Lockton, and Prue Willsford, CEO of ANZIIF, to talk about how the insurance industry is progressing on the DE&I front. Among the issues examined are how indigenous Australians are underrepresented, the impact of COVID-19, the complaints policies that exist, and the role the #Metoo movement has played.  


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Daniel: [00:00:33] Welcome to Insurance Business TV. I'm Danny Wood, news editor of Insurance Business Australia. We're kicking off our insurance business five star Diversity Equity and Inclusion Panel sponsored by AXA XL. In recent years, women's representation on executive teams in the insurance space has improved, with some firms committing to and others even achieving gender equality. But there are still very few female CEOs and a long way to go when it comes to ethnic diversity and representation from Indigenous Australians. We have four panelists to discuss the issues. We have Stephen Nguyen. He's head of Distribution Australia for AXA XL. Hi Stephen. 

Stephen: [00:01:13] Hi Danny. Lovely to be here. 

Daniel: [00:01:14] Great. And we have Catherine Carlyon, country manager for Australia, and AXA XL too. Hi, Catherine. 

Catherine: [00:01:22] Hello, Danny. 

Daniel: [00:01:23] Prue Willsford, chief executive officer of ANZIIF for the Australian and New Zealand Institute of Insurance and Finance. Hi there, Prue. 

Prue: [00:01:30] Hi, Danny. 

Daniel: [00:01:32] And we have Morag Fitzsimons, manager of Employee Care for Lockton. Hi, Morag. 

Morag: [00:01:37] Hi, Danny. 

Daniel: [00:01:38] Let's start with a quick snapshot. Very briefly, where do you think the insurance industry is at in terms of diversity, equality and inclusion? And how would you summarize the same at your company? Let's start with you, Catherine. 

Catherine: [00:01:52] So I'll start with the industry. So I think as an industry we've come leaps and bounds in elevating AI as a topic of conversation and for awareness. We've got great momentum on that front and that needs to continue. What I would say, though, is building awareness is one thing, but we still have work to do, I think to walk the walk and to deliver on. And I consistently so following on from that that we've got to focus on an inclusive environment and fostering diversity and we've got no tolerance for any lack of equity. But that said, in line with industry, we also still have work to do, especially at a leadership level. So a very tangible example of this. So I can speak to some numbers as well. Gender. So currently in Australia, our overall employee base is 51% female. However, as you look at the more senior positions we have, that balance decreases and that's something that we're committed to address as an organisation. So we've got a global goal at AXA to set a target. We set a target to reach gender parity among our global leadership network, which is the top 250 leaders by 2023. We've got similar targets that AXA Excel as well, and various internal policies and initiatives to make sure that we continue to drive that. 

Daniel: [00:03:11] Prue, let's bring you in here. At an industry level, you'd say there's been progress over the last five years or so? 

Prue: [00:03:17] Yes, certainly. And I think Catherine's comments are very accurate, as you know. And it runs the leading insurance industry awards each year. And for many years we had an award for the women's employer of the year and we were approached by a number of organisations who said, look, we really need this to move on. We're now talking about DEI and that's actually our focus. And internally I kind of cried a little bit and said, we haven't solved the women's problem, but we're moving on. And I have to say I was wrong. The entries that we receive around diversity, equity and inclusion are really quite stunning and there are a number of organisations, as Catherine says, that are going ahead in leaps and bounds and really trying to make that step not only with the momentum that Catherine is talking about, but the implementation and the on ground reality. So do I think there's a long way to go? Yes, I do. And the statistics and other statistics certainly support that. But the fact that there are organisations who are setting targets, meeting targets and actually having a range of frameworks and a range of initiatives is incredibly positive. 

Daniel: [00:04:29] And Morag you've been developing colleague framework groups to help you. 

Morag: [00:04:34] Yes, we have a lot and we've really understood that we all have responsibility for this. Whilst it's important to have appropriate policies and practices and safe places for people to go, it's also important that culturally we really embrace this as an organisation. So we've already undertaken a pay parity review here at Lockton and now we've established our colleague focus groups to really make sure that we have representatives who can really put the voice of employees into our policies and practices and make sure that as an organisation we are really considering all aspects. And it's not just seen from a global corporate view, but it should be personalised to culture at lockton how important we see this and the values we bring to that piece. 

Daniel: [00:05:20] Morag let's stick with you for our next question. What do you see as the key challenges right now? 

Morag: [00:05:25] I think I think it's been a really hard couple of years and people are really fatigued and exhausted and worried about so many things at the moment. Be economy be is food security via homelessness a range of different things that not only we in Australia but globally we have to focus with. I think the challenge for us is to make sure that we maintain the rage on this, that we don't allow it to slip with all the other priorities that we have as employees, as business owners, as as families. We really got to understand that this is a key piece to allowing us to move forward. And so we can't afford for that to slip down the priority list because there are so many other important issues that are facing at the moment. 

Daniel: [00:06:05] Stephen, Morag wants to maintain the rage, but you're interested in sufficient visibility? 

Stephen: [00:06:11] Absolutely. I just I think there is it does connect with what Morag was saying as well. I mean, sitting on the distribution side, I do get to go out and speak to different clients and brokers and hear from them on what's going on in their business. And it's very clear that there is a sense that we're rolling from one market, shaking the Internet to the next. That's COVID 19 inflationary pressures, supply chains, solvency. All these issues are being faced by our clients. So what's actually shown us, though, is that all these risks are interconnected, and that includes I&D as well. So it's very critical that we do place I&D at the forefront and ensure that it gets the right attention during times of crisis. We've seen the connection when it comes to things like hiring employees are looking for I&D employers who lead in this area when it comes to the selection and also to the type of employees we bring on board as well. Diversity brings different thinking and allows us to really pursue strategies like a blue ocean strategy where we're able to convert on opportunities which are very diverse and different. 

Daniel: [00:07:11] And Prue, acquisition strategies are an area that you're concerned about here. 

Prue: [00:07:15] Again, Catherine is talking about fantastic targets that have been set at a global level for their organisation, challenging targets and in a candidate constrained market, you know, everyone is struggling to attract great staff at the moment. There is a tension between meeting those targets and actually also finding great candidates. So I think a big challenge is simply the resource constraints in terms of employee acquisition and making sure that that's balanced with some of those broader long term fundamental issues around attracting good people in a DE&I sense. 

Daniel: [00:07:57] Let's stick with you, Prue, and let's talk about Indigenous Australians, because we can't talk about this issue without talking about Indigenous Australians obviously. What do you see that's being done in the industry to improve representation from Indigenous Australians? 

Prue: [00:08:11] Yeah, look, this is, this is a tricky area and there are certainly some organisations that have been doing some specific programs. But at a broader level there are some, some challenges in terms of thinking about the, the, the makeup of our community and making sure that our industry reflects that makeup. And certainly Indigenous Australians are an important part of that. That group for a number of organisations, they have advanced and well advanced reconciliation action plans and I think that that is more than symbolic. I think they are now actually embedded enough that they are becoming part of that natural conversation within the organisations. There's also a fantastic organisation called Supply Nation and that organisation validates Indigenous businesses. So there's a couple of ways of thinking about this. There's what is the make up of your employee cohort? But there's also a broader opportunity to engage Indigenous businesses and actually elevate Indigenous Australians through those supply chains. There are some fantastic Indigenous broking companies, for example, and I really will call out IAG has been an early and strong adopter of relationships into Indigenous Australian communities and is a great example of a of a very sophisticated reconciliation action plan. And importantly you are seeing direct action on the ground. 

Daniel: [00:09:45] And Stephen, in your inclusion committees go some way to addressing this issue, I believe. 

Stephen: [00:09:50] Yes, absolutely. We recognise that there's more that can be done within this area. For us, it's important to have some structure in place to be able to address these issues. For us through our business resource group, we have a group called Rise, which is aimed at developing colleagues from historically underrepresented racial and ethnic groups. So it's an area that has support from leadership, not just here in Australia, but at a global level as well. 

Daniel: [00:10:15] Let's move on to the impact of COVID 19 and working from home. Morag, what impact do you see this issue having? 

Morag: [00:10:22] I think we saw a large number of women actually left the workforce during the pandemic. And I think a high percentage of care responsibilities for home schooling, etc., fell to women as well. So I think during the pandemic, whilst flexibility of working from home was a good thing, it wasn't equal for everybody. There was a range of challenges, I think, for everybody. And I think when you think about the LGBTQI community and people with disabilities, we do often see that that sense of isolation increased during that period of the pandemic. So I think it's been really key as organisations to continue to communicate, to provide opportunities for people to come together during the pandemic because that separation, people really suffered. You know from that with a mental health perspective, but also because of their home circumstances. So I think that really did have a big impact and I think it forced us to think differently about some of our strategies around DE&I to make sure that again, we were making sure that everyone was included and continued to feel part of that community. 

Daniel: [00:11:31] And Catherine, it sounds like you've been doing some of that at AXA XL with a bit of a renewed focus on inclusion and looking out for mental health. 

Catherine: [00:11:38] For me, COVID 19 put more of a focus on inclusion, but also inclusion from a way that we expect leadership and connectivity across employees. A particular focus for us as part of that was making sure that we were checking in on people. It's easy to get isolated in a completely working from home environment and extended to a real focus on mental health in our organisation during COVID. So I completely agree with that. The other thing that Morag touched on as well, working from home also shone a light on the balance of household work and employed work for me. So who picks up the burden of home schooling? Who cleans the house? Who cooks the dinner, does the laundry, etc. So unfortunately, in many of those instances we've heard that it's women who've borne the brunt of those changes and picked up those household chores. But I mean, I had actually had this discussion with a couple of colleagues in preparation for this panel. And I do think it's important to acknowledge, though, that the experience is not straightforward and not necessarily even across the board. Every household has got a different dynamic, but even where the split is more even and I put myself in that bucket, the fact that there is just more to do because we're all at home, there's more household chores to do, let's just say a bit of a possibly pressure cooker environment as well when everybody is at home together more. It certainly drove the discussion more over who does what and making sure that we approach it from an equitable standpoint. Let me put it that way. 

Daniel: [00:13:21] It's only important issue. I think we've all struggled with that, and it's probably been a massive rise in Granny Flats being built to keep us sort of out of the household mess. Let's change tack a little bit and let's just look at each individual area we're discussing specifically. And Stephen, if I could start with you. Just take either diversity, equality or inclusion and discuss something specific that you're doing at AXA XL there. 

Stephen: [00:13:47] Yeah. I mean, something important to me and I'm very close to home is inclusion. So when AXA XL, we tried to bring that to life and not just the business resource groups I mentioned earlier, but really looking at different opportunities when it came up where we could integrate a great example, it was around our mentoring program. This can normally be a very straightforward matching of people from black backgrounds, similar ambitions and goals. But what we did, though, was a little bit different was trying to bring the diversity and inclusive element to it, matching people from different backgrounds, making them feel more inclusive with different leaders from different areas. And also for me personally, I was matched with someone who I didn't have many opportunities to speak to before from very different backgrounds. But through that period, what I learned was, one, what was on their mind, you know, precious they face from home. And it ends up being a reverse mentoring experience for me. I took on board some advice that they provided in relation to inclusion. One thing was to really kind of walk the walk. I had a child about a year ago, my wife and I, and the victim was paternity leave and making sure that I set the example going out there and really using that leave and not being worried about being away from the office for an extended period of time. 

Daniel: [00:15:03] That's an important point, because when we're mentoring, we often don't think of it as a two way process. There's a lot of talk of mentoring the young people coming in, but it's interesting that you obviously get a lot back from it too. Prue, you're into diversity of thinking in this space. 

Prue: [00:15:17] Yes, I think one of the things that's really important is creating a psychologically safe environment and enabling people so that they can experiment and innovate. So one of the things we've done is some innovation showcases and making sure that we've got a range of people trying new things and working together across the organisation in ways that that also create a bit of fun. Because one of the things we've really noticed in the Zoom environment is transactional, it's brilliant, you get a lot done, it's highly productive. But that element of fun through work is perhaps less obvious in this environment. And so making sure that you create those opportunities psychologically safe, experiment, innovate and do that through diversity and inclusion. 

Daniel: [00:16:14] When we're dealing with these sometimes sensitive issues, it's important to have a good complaints policy in place. Catherine, can you tell us what you do at AXA XL? 

Catherine: [00:16:24] You know, as I mentioned, we are committed to equal opportunities in all aspects of employment and we strive to make sure that we've got an environment that respects the rights of those that we work with and that colleagues treat each other with dignity and respect. So any any behaviour that undermines that is unacceptable for us. So we have a global policy that's supported by annual training, a culture of inclusiveness, a lack of tolerance for inappropriate behaviour. And we also then have a formal program in place to support that. It's called Speak Up. So it's driven around well to maintain our integrity and to make sure that we also continue to serve our clients. We've got this whole Speak Up program that provides a number of outlets for anything that we consider would be in breach of whether it's compliance and ethics or code supplement, dignity of work, policy, other policies and procedures or the law. Even so, even minor issues that we feel could quickly escalate or undermine the work that we're putting into building that culture at AXA itself. So employees are encouraged to speak up, to raise it with their manager to HR or anything like that. But we also have an email address, a hotline, phone number, an anonymous online portal, all of which could be used for reporting. So we don't get many complaints or certainly not ones that have come to my attention in the bigger scheme of things here in Australia. But sometimes they do happen and when they do happen it's important that we take it seriously and we have an internal audit special investigations team that then supports the process. So anything that is reported is investigated promptly, thoroughly and fairly and complainants, whistleblowers are protected as well against any form of retaliation. So it's important. All of that structure is important just to create that safe space and to make sure people feel able to speak up. 

Daniel: [00:18:29] Prue, you have tens of thousands of members? But your organisation itself is actually quite small. So you you deal with this a little differently. 

Prue: [00:18:36] Yes. We're really lucky that we have inherently an incredibly diverse workforce. We've got maps on the wall or where people have travel maps on the wall of where people were born and where their parents were born. And that gives a wonderful visual representation of the diversity that we have in our organisation. Being small, whilst we have a number of the elements in place that Catherine is talking about, formal training, we don't have in place specific policies around the complaints process in the context of DEI. We don't have a DEI policy and we've been lucky enough, in my view, to not need one, partly because we're smaller and partly because we're inherently diverse. It doesn't mean, though, that we don't take these things seriously. And I think the advantage of being small is that we have very personal relationships across the organisation and that means that I think we're able to pre-emptively manage a lot of issues before they actually become problems. That doesn't mean that people we have one HR person, that's our entire HR division and she's very approachable for for those sorts of issues should anything arise. 

Daniel: [00:19:57] Let's talk about the MeToo movement for a few minutes, because it's had a massive impact on this space. Morag at Lockton, what's the view there? 

Morag: [00:20:07] I think without exception, we all say that we were horrified at seeing what was coming out to basically the systemic sexual abuse of women in that particular industry. But I think what it really did was heighten the conversation and create braver cultures in many ways. I think it really took us to a position of it was actually okay to talk about these things and say this is not acceptable. You know, I've been in the insurance industry for almost 40 years now, both in the UK and in Australia. And we have come a long way certainly around issues, around sexual harassment, but there's always more to be done. So I think the benefit of MeToo is that has really heightened awareness. It's made it okay to talk about it and it's been okay to raise issues. And I think for us, certainly at Lockton and similar to To Poo, we've had about 200 people in our organisation nationally here in Australia while we're part of this large global entity. You Know having those sorts of relationships and having a leadership team that actually walks the talk and shows respect has been a big thing for us at Lockton and really made that a place for people to raise concerns of any type, should they have them. So I think it's really opened up the conversation that perhaps we just weren't having before. 

Daniel: [00:21:23] And Stephen, AXA XL, you've also seen it as a bit of a Kickstarter to conversations. 

Stephen: [00:21:28] Yeah, absolutely. I think that's on the point about conversation. I recall when it first happened at the time, I mean, the event did feel quite seismic in a sense, but at the same time we could recognize some of the symptoms that led to the MeToo movement as well. I mean, the key part for us, if you go back to the conversation, it was kickstarting, allowing people to reflect on their own personal experiences. I think everyone's interpretation could have varied based on what they went through and their own individual history. But what it did allow us is that to recognise that the impact carries across time. So the comments that we make today, we need to recognise they do carry a fair amount of weight on our side. I think it drives accountability. Now with that in the room, I think things before where we spoke about things like locker room banter, actually being able to call out and recognising that there are enablers for behaviour which we wouldn't be acceptable for us. It's summed up by one line at our office, which is Dignity at work, which is something that you hear very often, one in a way that we promote it and ensure that we hold our employees and people will deal with accountable when it comes to that. 

Daniel: [00:22:37] Well, let's wrap up our discussion by giving you all godlike powers for a few minutes. And if you had the power to improve one area, either diversity, equality or inclusion, what would it be exactly and how would you go about it? Prue, I understand you're concerned about wage levels. 

Prue: [00:22:55] Yes, it's fair to say we've just. Been through an election where cost of living was a major focus and certainly there are inflationary pressures globally. Related to that is the lack of wage growth. And certainly when you look at Australia, we've had an issue in raising productivity for probably the last 15 years. The single biggest way we can raise productivity which leads to wage increase, which supports reducing cost of living pressures, is actually through innovation. And the biggest driver of innovation is in fact diversity of thinking. Being able to have people do things innovatively in new ways is, I think, probably the most important thing we can focus on in terms of improving people's wage outcomes and ultimately. They're living standards. 

Daniel: [00:23:49] And Stephen, you'd like to see a focus on in-person events. 

Stephen: [00:23:53] Yeah, absolutely. I think perhaps a symptom of the times. I'm sure that we've all had to do virtual training. But given the changing conditions and environment that we're in now, it's a great opportunity for us to get out there and really kind of do things in-person again. I think, you know, nothing really kind of beats that on the job training or experience, and there's an amazing amount of organizations out there for us to partner with. 

Daniel: [00:24:15] And more get locked in respect and acceptance of the things you'd like to see more of. 

Morag: [00:24:19] Yeah, I think so. I think from an inclusion perspective, you know, a lot of the principles we've talked about today are founded in respect and acceptance of one another. And I think it was either Prue or Catherine who talked about perception and we might all be in the same boat, but the kind of boat that we're in will differ based on our perceptions and where we are. So I think continuing to grow respectful workplaces is a really good way to then foster a sound base for diversity and particularly inclusion. 

Daniel: [00:24:49] And Catherine, how are you going to wield your magic wand? 

Catherine: [00:24:52] Well, if I did have a magic wand that I would I would wave it and make sure that I use it to give everybody a different perspective, to be able to actually see and feel something through other people's eyes when they've experienced non-inclusive behavior. Because I really think that driving that drives self-awareness and that then drives balance. But I don't have a magic wand. And I think actually that the power is in all of us to keep challenging ourselves and our behaviors and to call out inappropriate behaviors with others, and to really foster that environment where equity and diversity are a given and every individual feels that they can be themselves. So yeah, that's for me. That's that's what I would do. 

Daniel: [00:25:39] Well, thanks, Catherine, and thanks, everyone, for participating in this discussion. We've been talking about the latest issues in diversity, equality and inclusion across the insurance industry. Thanks to Prue Willsford from ANZIIF, Stephen Nguyen from AXA XL, Catherine Carlyon also from AXA XL and Morag Fitzsimons from Lockton. You've been watching Insurance Business TV. I'm Danny Wood. Bye for now.