Fostering diversity and an inclusive culture

Companies: Legal & General, Beyond the Classroom, ADA Developers Academy

Insurance companies must continue to build diverse workforces and create inclusive cultures. Patricia Renzi explains how real progress can be made by aggressively changing the culture and taking a multi-faceted approach

There is ample evidence that diverse organisations perform better. An article from 2017, for example, cites a study showing that inclusive teams make better decisions up to 87% of the time, and that decisions made and executed by diverse teams delivered 60% better results. But many insurance companies continue to struggle to build a diverse workforce and to create an inclusive culture – despite diversity being a high priority and focus for senior management and boards. What is necessary to make meaningful progress? Certainly, if there were an easy solution, this would no longer be a topic of discussion. Real progress on this front can be made with a multifaceted approach that addresses immediate needs and sets the stage for long-term success.

Aggressively change the culture

To make meaningful short-term progress, be aggressive. Discussing diversity is often awkward and uncomfortable. But we can all acknowledge that no matter our gender, race, religion, socioeconomic background, or various other differences, in our work and life, we all want to contribute to our personal and collective success. This then can allow us to be vulnerable and step forward to expose biases and harmful or hurtful behaviors we see in ourselves, our coworkers, or in our organisations.

It is disheartening to read reports that "across Wall Street, men are adopting controversial strategies for the #MeToo era and, in the process, making life even harder for women."

We need direct, open communication springing from a common desire for equality, not new barriers borne of fear.

Legal & General's launch of the GIRL fund this year is a brilliant example of an organisation willing to make bold statements regarding its commitment to diversity, signaling to existing and prospective employees, policyholders, and shareholders that it is taking action to create a more equitable workplace and society.

Implement policies to eliminate barriers

Once we allow ourselves to be honest and direct, then we can take action. There are several places to start: reviewing mentoring programmes, training programmes, interviewing processes, and policies around leave and flexible working.

The Information Systems Audit and Control Association (ISACA), an independent global business and technology association, found in its research that the top barrier to women in technology is a lack of female mentors. If we assume a good mentor has to be a reflection of ourselves, we will never create an equitable environment.

First, there would be too few mentors for the under-represented, like women and people of colour. But more importantly, we are missing the opportunity to develop deep, meaningful relationships with people who are not like us – which is how to build a diverse and inclusive culture in the first place.

If we have done the work to aggressively change our culture so that we can trust and communicate with all of our coworkers- no matter sex, colour, religion, gender identity, or any other variable – we should want mentors who are not like us.

Training programmes are crucial to sparking policy change and embedding the shift in culture. Providing ongoing opportunities to reinforce the changes in communication, acknowledging and recognising bias, interviewing and working with people different from ourselves, and fully embracing those differences will allow new programmes and policies to truly be effective.

Build the pipeline

It's necessary to expose, encourage, and entice people from under-represented groups to believe that they are, in fact, capable and welcome.

Many organisations are creating or participating in programmes designed to expose young people to potential careers, but more importantly, to successful individuals who look like them and have overcome similar challenges. For example, UK-based Beyond the Classroom partners with businesses to expose girls from under-privileged backgrounds to opportunities in technology and maths.

Pat Renzi, principal, MillimanSimilarly, Seattle-based ADA Developers Academy retrains women and gender-diverse people looking to enter the tech field by providing free tuition and paid internships through partnerships with local companies. The sponsoring companies engage on a regular basis with the students, providing mentoring, training, and internships that round out the education.

Making the investment to encourage under-represented people to feel empowered, get the education they need, and achieve their ambitions will build the future pipeline. And it will also have a significant impact on changing the culture of your organisation.

These are difficult issues to address, but for those who are able to honestly say that diversity and inclusion are their competitive advantages, rather than an issue on the board's agenda, the investment will ultimately be worth it.

Pat Renzi is a principal at Milliman focusing on technology solutions