There’s a personal and a professional component to every diversity, equity & inclusion (DE&I) journey, and a truly “lived experience” of DE&I is what happens when one never loses sight of the other.
In an interview with Insurance Business, Jon Hayes (pictured), global co-chair and senior partner at DLA Piper, highlighted that it is this lived experience which has enabled him to appreciate the commonalities and celebrate the differences inherent to everyone. Over the course of his childhood and young adulthood, he said, he became keenly aware of how differently everybody experiences the world around them, whether that’s as a result of prejudice or simply a lack of opportunity.
Speaking in the wake of the success of the 2023 Dive In Festival, Hayes noted that before he became a practising lawyer, he taught law to part-time students, many of whom had failed in their O-level or A-level journey at school. What soon became clear, he said, was that there was such a broad variety of reasons behind that, and all too often it was a blend of socio-economic factors that was at play.
“I was helping people, through an access course, to get places on law degrees, because they were bright,” he said. “Everything else wasn’t going in their favour, but their brains were. So, that was a pretty good foundation on which to arrive in a law firm that’s fuelled by people and talent, where our clients are very diverse geographically, culturally, and in all the other characteristics we tend to focus on.
“It seems to me that the more people that I have around me where I don’t think I have everything in common with them, the happier I feel - and the better I think we serve each other and our clients.”
Previously the most senior global sponsor of DLA Piper’s LGBTQ+ network, recently Hayes has taken up a new mantle sponsoring all the global law firm’s networks, a role which has given him a deeper understanding of the full breadth of the Dive In offering and reach. In the years he has been involved in the festival, he said, he’s seen what an incredibly rich source of information it provides on what’s happening in the insurance sector.
Hayes highlighted that while there’s a commonality to law and insurance in terms of the key topics that the sectors need to be tackling, Dive In represents a great opportunity to explore the challenges facing DLA Piper’s insurance clients and partners. Not that it stops there, he said, given that insurance is an important topic for all clients as it’s a critical factor in the sustainability of their operations.
“When you come together, you find you have more in common and more ways you can do things together,” he said. “As you get to know each other better in the context of promoting equity, diversity and inclusion, you’re getting to know each other better overall and the trust builds and the commercial benefit of that follows naturally as well.
“Dive In is a very welcome part of our insurance sector strategy of contributing to the insurance profession in this way. I’m delighted to say that we’ve been able to contribute for about five years now, and we look forward to that continuing.”
It’s been wonderful to see how the Dive In festival has evolved, Hayes said, and how it has embraced the truly global nature of DE&I as a subject and expanded its syllabus to reflect the intersectionality that’s at the heart of inclusion efforts. The intellectual ambition underpinning this syllabus just gets deeper, richer and more textured and nuanced every year, and there’s more for everyone as the conversations continue.
“And it is much more global than ever,” he said. “This year, for example, we were involved in 13 events across eight countries… It’s really impressive because I believe that every single day, we have reason to remind ourselves that the more we can find in common with people, the better. The more we celebrate and highlight what is common to us – which can be our excitement about our differences – the better for everyone.
“And I think that, for me, is what Dive In has always been about. It’s turbocharging the insurance industry’s approach to DE&I – and to see that become more global over time has been really exciting for us.”
Sharing what he has taken away from Dive In 2023, Hayes emphasised the power of setting the tone from the top, and how the festival has given a platform to industry role models who are setting the example of daily engagement with DE&I. A phrase he’s very fond of, he said, is that of ‘micro-courtesy’ which essentially is the act of finding common ground by interacting and genuinely engaging with those around you.
“If I don’t ask myself, ‘how am I going to make sure that before I clock off tonight, the people that work with me have been seen by me and I’ve connected with them and shown an awareness about something about them I didn’t know two weeks ago’, then I’m not doing enough,” he said. “I think that approach of lots of micro-courtesies is an effective way of trying to push DE&I further… Active leadership is very important so [at DLA Piper] we’re keen to do as much as we can with Dive In in future years.”
For today, however, Hayes said, his key takeaway is best summarised by the sentiment, “Yes please, can we do this again soon?” He noted that Dive In has had a significant impact on creating a subtle but crucial nuance in how DE&I is discussed in insurance. Because where once the question was “Is DE&I relevant to this?” now the question is “How is DE&I relevant to this?”
“I think Dive In has moved the needle in the direction of that really engaged-in curiosity,” he said. “The question now is, what is the implication here? How can this help us all to be better and help each other to be better? Not, ‘Oh I wonder if there is an angle here?’.”
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