The fanfare that greets female leaders coming into top posts – whether it’s Charlotte Jones taking over the CFO position at RSA, Yvonne Steiner becoming head of Zurich Canada’s property unit, or Hayley Spink, who was tapped to serve as head of global operations for Lloyd’s of London – might be positive, but it’s also a sign for one leader in the insurance industry that’s there more work to be done on diversity and inclusion.
“When I’m sitting here reading that and cheering because they're women, I think that’s an indication that we’ve got much more work to do because if that was the norm and we didn’t think that it was so unusual, we would know that we had really advanced within the insurance sector,” said Dame Inga Beale (pictured), the first and so far only woman to serve as chief executive at Lloyd’s, and a recent addition to the board of London First. “The progress is great, and to me there feels so much momentum and so much eagerness to make a difference and to make it a better place – a more inclusive industry – but we’re not yet seeing enough different types of people get to the top of organizations.”
Under Beale’s leadership at Lloyd’s, the market introduced targets for equal gender representation in senior leadership, provided training to staff on topics like unconscious bias and inclusive hiring, and encouraged colleague networks to form, such as Rainbow for its LGBT+ team members and supporters. The market also launched a diversity and inclusion charter under [email protected]’s to promote these initiatives, where firms could sign up and commit to goals like championing diversity and inclusion in the organization and being accountable for creating positive change. Companies would then receive guidance on how to effectively work towards diversity and inclusion practices.
The Dive In festival likewise came to life at Lloyd’s during Beale’s tenure, and while the leader admitted that she was worried at first about its success and whether the celebration of diversity and inclusion would be accepted, she told Insurance Business, “What I realized at the end of these three days was that it unleashed a need for having a conversation about it and then importantly, the need for action. I was delighted when we had the full festival last year in September because it became an annual event, and we had events in 27 countries across the globe.”
Two countries in particular that Beale said she was proud of joining Dive In were Saudi Arabia and Jordan.
“That to me means that we have come a long way in the insurance industry globally, if we can start having conversations in some countries where perhaps there are even more difficulties if you’re a woman facing the prospect of trying to progress in insurance,” she said. “It feels now that we’ve got a whole movement right across the global insurance sector.”
As a result of this wave of diversity and inclusion initiatives, Beale saw different types of people joining Lloyd’s, as well as the opening up of dialogue around the experiences of people from diverse backgrounds. Her own experiences becoming a role model for the LGBT+ community opened up conversations in the workplace further so that people felt they could talk about their lives more openly, as did the launch of Pride at Lloyd’s, and, overall, the market has moved in the right, diverse direction.
“I look out at Lloyd’s and I see the number of people from different ethnic backgrounds joining Lloyd’s, staying there, feeling valued, feeling respected – it fills me with a lot of joy,” said Beale.
Looking ahead, the talent pipeline has to stay diverse, though Beale has already seen the training of HR professionals have an impact on bringing in diverse recruits.
“We don’t do such a good job of keeping people, and we all know the aging demographic of people who work in insurance now,” she explained, adding that, while on paper, the practices and policies of insurance companies might seem promising, they might not be fulfilling people’s expectations once they’re in the door. “That means providing truly flexible workplaces, it means promoting perhaps against targets, and I’m a fan of this because of the unconscious bias that goes on, and sometimes even the conscious bias. We make hiring decisions and promotion decisions based on our own views and beliefs, and we’ve got to force ourselves to make promotion decisions based on people’s potential and we have to be much broader in the way we look at people’s potential.”
While Beale sees momentum in the industry to advance diversity and inclusion practices, that doesn’t mean it won’t be “a tough nut to crack.”
“We’ve got so much ingrained behaviour that it will take each and every one of us a bit more effort to make this really happen and be truly inclusive, and for the future of the insurance sector, to me this is so important,” she said. “The insurance sector often gets criticized for not being innovative enough and progressive enough. I strongly believe if we get this right, and we get these diverse teams working for us, we can make sure that we are being innovative and we have a strong, strong future for insurance.”