How do DE&I journeys begin? Insurance leaders weigh in

From wake-up calls to gradual realisations, it takes all kinds of stories

How do DE&I journeys begin? Insurance leaders weigh in

Diversity & Inclusion

By Mia Wallace

As with any journey worth undertaking, the path to pursuing diversity, equity & inclusion (DE&I) excellence often begins with a single step. During Insurance Business’s series celebrating the ongoing impact of Dive In– the international festival for diversity and inclusion in insurance – senior leaders from across the profession have come together to attest the mark that DE&I has made on their lives and to share how their DE&I journeys began.

For some, the appeal to embrace inclusivity has been a wake-up call while for others it has been more of a gradual realisation. For Alastair Swift, head of CRB global lines of business at WTW and CEO of Willis Ltd, it was very much the former. His introduction to the role inclusivity has to play was made when he found himself doing a lot of business out of the US market.

When female risk managers came over to London to meet the market and brokers, he said, they often commented on the lack of diversity they saw – a state of affairs so at odds with the make-up of the client bases insurance supports. For Swift, this was an alarm bell that sounded a jump-start to his commitment to having his teams reflect the composition of their clients and society at large.

Revealing the impact that the Dive In Festival has had when it comes to broadening minds and conversations around DE&I, he said: “If you think of where Dive In started, to begin with, it was very much around raising awareness of the issues that are out there. And what’s been so pleasing for me is to see it develop so, in addition to raising awareness of important issues, it has also moved to creating practical solutions and problem-solving those challenges.”

For Noreen McMullan, chief people officer at AXIS, her passion for supporting people at work was clear from the moment she began her career in human resources.

“I started as a recruiter where I matched people with roles that best fit them and identified top talent within organisations, while supporting them in their career development,” she said. “I found that my passion was helping people find – and grow into – their careers. 

“When you’re passionate about supporting people, it’s not hard to find inspiration. Reflecting on the last few years, we’ve witnessed changes driven by the pandemic and the social justice movement in 2020. These events, among others, have put DE&I at the forefront of our society and challenged how businesses operate in a way that is making us better employers.”

Inclusivity in the workplace

Touching on his own DE&I journey, Ian Gormley, UK CEO of BMS, noted that his interest in the subject of inclusivity was first established early on in his career. It was soon obvious to him that the London market, while not a closed shop, he said, was certainly stacked in the favour of a white, male, public school-educated demographic or other similar social networks.

“I, myself, had been fortunate enough to know someone in the industry,” he said. “As I progressed in my career, I became increasingly aware of a good deal of self-assured mediocrity trading in the market, mostly due to this structural bias built into recruitment. And confident incompetence is not what our industry or indeed any organisation needs; there is nothing more derailing of performance.

“And while I was aware of this, I hadn’t been sufficiently senior or, candidly, motivated enough to be part of the solution. The change came for me when I began to really listen to female colleagues and colleagues from minority backgrounds. I began to understand and appreciate the challenges that they faced in building their careers in our industry.”

The DE&I conversation

The background of John Goulios (pictured), global co-chair of the insurance sector at DLA Piper, has instilled in him a passion for DE&I and a drive to support those who share stories similar to his own. Born in Greece, Goulios and his family arrived off the boat in Australia with a single suitcase and lived on a side of town that he doubts most of the partners serving in those city law firms ever stepped foot in.

“[So], I’ve really been part of the DE&I conversation since I emigrated from Greece,” he said. “But when I started out in the law, I wrote about 60 applications letters and got less than a handful of first interviews, even though I had a double degree in law commerce at Melbourne Uni and had got half-decent grades.

“The problem was that my applications were landing on the desks of the partners responsible for graduate recruitment back in 1989 – who at the time were invariably, to coin a current phrase, ‘stale, male and pale’. They were more interested in where I lived, what sports I played, what clubs my parents belonged to or what social circles I mixed in. And at the time I bombed out on all that criteria.”

His experiences working his way to the top of the pile have taught Goulios the power of experience and having a different take on things – a lesson he is keen to impart to his own children.

“I was born in Greece, my wife was born and spent her formative years in Argentina,” he said. “And my three kids are now being brought up not only in our respective cultures, but also having lived and breathed the remarkable mix that Singapore provides of Chinese, Malay and Indian cultures, and the unique mix of the ex-pat community that it also houses.

“I’d like to think that this has well embedded diversity, equity and inclusion in their core. And I do, in fact, see this in the outlooks they exhibit as young people which I think is particularly important to the ongoing progress we need [as a society] to make in this area.”

Meanwhile, Goulios’ colleague, Clementine Johnson, who serves as head of social impact at DLA Piper, shared how she came to a role that revolves around supporting people at work having always wanted to work, “with people and for people”. Social inequality is bad for individuals, communities and businesses, she said, and so she is passionate about finding ways to create better opportunities which can drive equality.

“During my studies, I worked in Uganda and when I graduated, I got a job working in fundraising for a charity in Australia,” Johnson said. “I enjoy working with people to understand what motivates them and what positive impact they want to have on the world.

“We all have so much to offer, it is often a matter of connecting people to a relevant cause or organisation. In many ways, that is still what I do today, I try to influence and encourage DLA’s people, clients, and other stakeholders to engage in key social issues.”

What are your thoughts on this story? Feel free to share them in the comment box below.

Related Stories

Keep up with the latest news and events

Join our mailing list, it’s free!