QBE director on crafting an employee benefits proposition that work for workers

Taking "bold" steps to reach ambitious targets

QBE director on crafting an employee benefits proposition that work for workers

Diversity & Inclusion

By Mia Wallace

Earlier this month, the celebration of International Women’s Day and the release of Insurance Business UK’s Elite Women 2023 marked the opportunity for an open-borders discussion on where the insurance sector stands regarding movements on the diversity, equity & inclusion front. But those working tirelessly on the frontlines of promoting true equality in insurance understand that this is a year-round conversation – and one which needs to translate into meaningful action.

Creating meaningful change is at the centre of a host of new benefits being implemented by QBE Europe in 2023, among them the news that it is now offering equal maternity and paternity leave in the UK. Speaking with Insurance Business, Nikki Lees (pictured), people director of  Inclusion & Wellbeing at QBE highlighted that it’s also the impetus behind the release of QBE’s ‘Ethnicity and Gender Pay Gap Report’ – the second such report produced by the insurer. 

Ethnicity pay gap reporting

While there’s no mandatory requirement for ethnicity pay gap reporting, going the extra mile was important to the QBE team, she said, as it’s looking to hold itself to account, to identify areas for improvement and to measure the success of its full range of employee benefits.

Looking at the report, we're pleased with the progress that we're making,” she said. ”Our mean gender pay gap and bonus pay gap continue to decrease year on year. And the majority of that is associated with the increased female representation levels we're seeing. Our global target is to achieve 40% women in leadership by the end of 2025 and we're well on track to deliver that.”

Lees noted that while there’s still more to be done, the step-change that’s happening with regards to enhancing gender diversity is positive as is the ambition throughout QBE to ramp up that progress. On the ethnicity side, she said, it was disappointing to see the mean ethnicity pay gap increase (4.5%) from last year.

However, she said, a key factor behind this dip was the increase seen in ethnicity data disclosures (up from 80% in 2020 to 89% in 2022) which created a larger and more accurate data set for capturing the real ethnicity pay gap. This a move in the right direction, she said, as the more data collected the better QBE’s understanding of the gap that exists and what can be done to close it.

“What’s a really positive story is just how much our representation has shifted, moving in the right direction in terms of becoming more ethnically diverse across the board and at a senior leadership level,” she said. “But again, we’re not complacent, there is a lot more to do in this space. So, last year we set out ethnicity targets because we are holding ourselves to account which means having something to aim for and an action plan to support that.”

Taking bold action on employee benefits – normalising a healthy culture

At the root of the advancements laid out in the annual report is a focus on positive and decisive action. There’s a great appetite for change at QBE, she said, and a willingness to really look under the bonnet and take “bold” steps to reach even its most ambitious targets. Often that means going back to basics and examining the policies and procedures that underpin the business.

Lees highlighted how QBE’s newly revamped wellbeing and family-friendly policies tie into this and epitomise the insurer’s culture-first approach to creating change. The equalisation of QBE’s paternity leave is a significant step, she said, but the only way to ensure that it has the intended effect is by creating the right culture to sit behind that offering – where taking paternity leave and extended time out is normalised.

“We’ve had a great people leadership briefing internally to really talk about the cultural change that needs to go alongside that,” she said. “And we know that offering that extended leave has wide-ranging benefits for co-parents, for children - and for us in having a workforce that’s hopefully even more loyal and committed.”

Culture as the key to unlocking sustainable employee engagement

Lees firmly believes that getting the culture right is the key to creating long-lasting, sustainable employee engagement. Having the right communication structures in place to create awareness of the benefits that exist and to remove any barriers to access is critical, she said, and this requires buy-in at every level of the business.

“When we were setting out our extended paternity leave, we were on a people leadership call and [it was amazing to hear] our CIO and one of our branch managers talking about their personal experiences – alongside an external speaker Elliott Rae who’s a passionate advocate for men’s mental health and ‘parenting out loud’,” she said. “So, we’ve said to our leaders that we need to be celebrating, normalising and encouraging our people using these policies. It’s about creating the right nudges.”

The road to meaningful and lasting changes

Generating meaningful change requires a top-down and bottom-up approach meeting in the middle, according to Lees, and there’s no doubt that having a senior leadership team that’s passionate about endorsing employee wellbeing initiatives is essential. However, she said, there’s also a whole population in the middle of organisations – including general managers and direct reports – whose engagement and advocacy make all the difference to the team teams.

“We take a holistic view to this,” she said. “And a lot of policies are based on things we’ve heard from our people through our Pulse surveys, through our employee networks and through our inclusion forums. We do a lot of listening at QBE and we’re hearing people’s ideas and suggestions loud and clear.

“To me, it’s really important that we keep listening to what matters to people, to what they want from our benefits and policies. I think that’s what helps them to be so well-received when we put them out there because they’re a response to people’s needs. And I think when people know what they’re asking for is being acted on, they know this is a culture where you can speak up and you can share an idea.”

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