A sociolinguist by training, the link between language and society has long been of interest to Dr Marianne Blattès (pictured), global diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) senior manager at Kennedys, forming the foundation for her route into translating DE&I research into action. Those interested in how language is impacted by social factors such as gender, class and ethnicity have few better viewing stations than the Dive In Festival and its host of global events.
“To see the worldwide engagement with Dive In – with events from Peru, to London, to Hong Kong is a powerful thing,” she said. “Also what’s quite interesting about Dive In is that some of the events are done in local languages, and having people talk about their topics in their first language is important in terms of accessibility and global reach.”
Blattès introduction to the festival – which is one of the largest DE&I events of its kind – came when she joined Kennedys in 2021 and she quickly became involved, soon helping to organise and promote events and the wider festival. The global nature of the festival is quite extraordinary, she said, as it enables attendees to learn about the diversity issues prioritised in different countries, as well as to develop a stronger understanding of how the industry can work as one to move the dial on DE&I.
“At its core is collaboration,” she said. “To put together an event you have several organisations coming together. And that’s quite an innovative way of thinking about things because, historically, people like me worked within our own organisations trying to solve diversity problems. But really what we should be doing is collaborating and talking with our peers and coming up with collective solutions to common problems.
“So it’s really helpful to meet people from other organisations, hear that they’re probably going through similar challenges – and then to come together through thought leadership and putting together events to raise awareness about different topics.”
Touching on how the initiative has evolved in terms of its reach, visibility and engagement, she noted that since 2015 over 128,000 people have participated in the Dive In Festival. As a member of the festival’s steering committee, Blattès highlighted the ongoing commitment to continually redefine and refine the festival, to improve it year-on-year and ensure it remains as impactful as possible.
For example, she said, this year has seen the implementation of a ‘reverse mentoring scheme’ which sees junior colleagues mentoring their more senior peers on a range of timely topics. When signing up, the attendee can choose a topic – whether that’s talking about their lived experience coming from an ethnic minority background, or talking about technology etc. – and it’s aimed at bringing together people who might not otherwise have the chance to interact and network in this way.
“We’ve actually implemented something quite similar at Kennedys which we have called “reciprocal mentoring” and it’s a great way of fostering greater understanding,” she said. “It’s good to see how some senior insurance leaders are taking [the spirit of Dive In] further than just showing up to an event and actively taking part in a six-month program where they have to commit to meeting their mentee for up to an hour a month.”
The reverse mentoring program is an interesting example of the ongoing evolution of Dive In to become as meaningful and actionable as possible, she said, an evolution which is very in keeping with this year’s theme of “Unlocking Innovation: The Power of Inclusion”. For Blattès, unlocking innovation is about accessing a wider talent pool and tapping into a more diverse group of people who bring different skills and experiences to bear.
Collectively, she said, those different backgrounds bring different perspectives, which leads to better problem-solving. She firmly believes that a diverse team offers a richer, more nuanced understanding of how to solve even the most complex problems.
“It’s not really rocket science,” she said. “If you’ve got 10 people in the room, all coming from similar backgrounds with similar skills, that’s not going to be as rich as people who come with various experiences, various linguistic backgrounds, perspectives, religions, or simply from different walks of life.”
That’s the innovation part of Dive In’s 2023 theme, she said, but diversity without inclusion doesn’t really make much sense. The inclusion element is critical, and for her, it’s about organisations ensuring a sense of belonging among their people, and committing to their psychological safety so they feel valued and respected, and able to voice and share their thoughts, opinions and perspectives.
“It’s about really harnessing that talent, and unlocking the diversity and the potential to reap the benefits of diversity,” she said. “People often talk about the business case for diversity, but I always say, actually, it’s the business case for diversity and inclusion, because, without the inclusion piece, you don’t really get the full benefits of diversity.
“[…] And for me, that’s the key takeaway of Dive In 2023. It’s not a one-off but it’s about taking away some tangible actions and outcomes from these events, whether that’s personally or to use within your organisation. It’s about implementing what you’ve learned or just bringing it with you and sharing it with others. That’s the value of the festival, it’s meant to drive change, to drive a more inclusive agenda and it’s meant to diversify the industry. It’s about turning thoughts and ideas into actions.”
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