Bad behaviour rife as insurance drinking culture drives harassment – study

Affinity bias and discrimination also posing problems for workplace equality, University of Nottingham finds

Bad behaviour rife as insurance drinking culture drives harassment – study

Insurance News

By Jen Frost

More than a third of insurance workers have witnessed discrimination, while drinking culture continues to drive harassment in the industry, a study by the University of Nottingham has found.

The university’s ‘Transforming EDI practices in UK Insurance’ report, the first of its kind for the sector, delved into the lived experiences of Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) within UK insurance firms and shed light on concerning workplace practices.

More flexible working arrangements and a rethink over alcohol-fuelled events could be key to building equality in the workplace, the study found.

Discrimination and harassment still an insurance problem, study finds

Findings included that 37% of participants had heard or seen discriminatory language and behaviour, including language labelled as misogynistic, sexualised, racist, homophobic, ableist and ageist, according to a University of Nottingham press release.

Further, some individuals said they had been disadvantaged in the workplace for having a “non-British” accent.

Excessive alcohol consumption during work socials and client events had driven cases of harassment and exclusion and was a “contributing factor” in multiple incidents of unwanted sexualised behaviour, as well as sexism and racism, the study found.

More than half of women and people from ethnic minority backgrounds said they felt that their career progression had been hindered by their gender or race, with women having described being taken seriously in the workplace as an “uphill battle”.

Several female participants reported being paid less than men or being passed over for promotions despite having more experience. Others said they had left or planned to leave workplaces that “undervalued” or “excluded” them to seek out more inclusive cultures.

Researchers further claimed that the study had unearthed “unconscious affinity bias”, wherein participants observed that firms tended to recruit and promote individuals with whom they shared common characteristics, personal connections or backgrounds.

Three quarters (75%) of participants said they felt flexible working was advantageous to EDI, with some having said they felt “safer” working from home when excluded or minoritised in the workplace. However, participants also noted that people who worked from home could be less “visible” and might miss out on opportunities to progress.

University of Nottingham study shows ‘requirement for action’

The University of Nottingham study, which was carried out in partnership with Browne Jacobson, focused on UK insurance firms. However, researchers believe its findings are relevant to financial services more broadly, as well as other workplaces in the UK and overseas.

“The findings of this study exemplify the requirement for action and a complete transformation of EDI practices in financial services markets and beyond,” said Louise Mullany, University of Nottingham professor of sociolinguistics.

Mullany called for firms and staff to avoid inappropriate language, create productive spaces for “honest discussions around EDI” and to enable all stakeholders to play a role in bringing “positive change”.

What did the University of Nottingham report recommend to improve EDI in UK insurance?

Some key recommendations from the University of Nottingham ‘Transforming EDI practices in UK Insurance’ included:

  • Build channels to listen to employee experiences and better understand what it is like for people from a variety of backgrounds to work at the business
  • Embrace part-time and flexible work arrangements to foster inclusivity. Ensure visibility for remote workers.
  • Revise social events to minimise alcohol consumption, reducing instances of sexism, racism, and harassment.
  • Rethink recruitment strategies for fairness and inclusivity, combating unconscious bias.
  • Establish clear, standardised procedures for addressing complaints, ensuring accountability and objectivity in investigations.

Insurance coming under ‘increasing scrutiny’ on EDI and ESG

“At a time when the market is under increasing scrutiny from regulators and others as to ESG, and is increasingly conscious of staying competitive in attracting and retaining talent, this study can help inform and incentivise firms’ efforts on EDI, both as a goal in itself, and as a means to improve employees’ operational contribution and in turn optimise firms’ commercial performance,” said Jeremy Irving, partner and head of financial regulatory, Browne Jacobson.

“Bringing about inclusive cultures is a long-term process requiring careful analysis and monitoring of – and, where applicable, changes to – all aspects of an organisation, such as senior leadership appointments and customer-facing operations.” 

The report is set to be used as an industry-wide benchmark for assessing and improving workplace culture in the industry, the university said.

Culture in the insurance industry has previously come under scrutiny. In 2019, a Lloyd’s culture survey found that 8% of individuals had witnessed sexual harassment over a 12-month period, while 24% had seen excessive consumption of alcohol in the market. That same year, Lloyd’s banned drunk workers from entering its Lime Street HQ and committed to further initiatives to improve culture in the London market.

The 2019 Lloyd’s study followed a Bloomberg Businessweek report in which one industry insider, who was reportedly one of 18 women who contributed to the article, labelled London’s insurance landscape a “meat market”.

What are your thoughts on drinking culture and the state of play for equality in insurance? Please feel free to share your comments below.

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