CEO on why it's time to sweat the small stuff

It's the small things in insurance that can make a big difference to the way we think and act

CEO on why it's time to sweat the small stuff


By Clare Lebecq

Big is often perceived to be beautiful. Certainly, in the insurance industry, big seems to be preferable to small – look at the large M&A deals or “big data”. But, I would like to take a moment to think about “small”.

Big benefits
I don’t deny that big brings benefits. We only have to look at two of the mega deals across our industry over the last few years to see that with scale comes talent, capabilities, revenue, earnings and global reach. Indeed, over the last few years a huge amount of time, effort and money has gone into creating big initiatives to improve the diversity of our workforce and to try and create a culture of inclusion where people feel involved, respected and connected, regardless of their background, abilities, disabilities, or preferences. Dive In is now a global phenomenon and John Neal’s pledges around the culture in the market are big, broad and bold. These type of events and initiatives are great at raising awareness of the issues and they create a market-wide call to action. But from my perspective, it is the small everyday details that can make a real difference when it comes to making people feel included.

Devil is in the detail
When I first started work in the 80s in the London Excess of Loss market, I remember having to ask my brother about West Ham’s run of fortune before important client meetings. This was not because I loved football, or indeed West Ham, but because without it I would have nothing to contribute to the important small talk at the start of my meetings.

Another game frequently played at these meetings was gender stereotyping. My meeting buddies always took great pleasure complaining about the “nagging wife indoors” - forgetting of course that I was and still am a wife.

Fast forward to today and this incidental behaviour still needs considerable improvement, but it often gets overlooked because we are focusing on the big stuff.  It is these small details that can compound the feel of inequality in already disenfranchised sectors of our workforce.

Of course, I can already hear the cries of “too sensitive” and “it’s only banter”. Don’t get me wrong, I am not denying that these kinds of interactions are important. They help to create bonds and build rapport in an industry that is built on relationships. But banter on certain topics can take on a very different meaning depending on if you are giving or receiving it. It can also be quite detrimental in a working environment where there are already structural and social hierarchies at play because it can further shift the imbalance.

Not making the divide bigger
No-one said that solving the diversity, cultural and inclusion issues was going to be easy. Getting the balance right is always a challenge, especially when it comes to ensuring that the creation of a network, group or set of activities is not inadvertently creating a bigger divide than already exists. That is why I hate the expression “Girl Power”.

But I am pleased to say there is light at the end of the tunnel. Firstly, I think we are all becoming a little bolder at trying to shift the conversations ourselves, and secondly in the last two months I have heard at least three senior individuals in the market calling out the small stuff. Whether that is not talking over female colleagues at a meeting or trying to think of corporate networking events that are more inclusive. And by the way, all of these senior individuals were men.

So next time you are at a meeting, do sweat the small stuff because someone in the room will thank you for it, and, more importantly, someone else in the room will take note of it and model the behaviour in the future. After all, we all have our small part to play in changing how our market behaves.

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