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Diverse pathways key to results

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Insurance businesses risk kicking an own goal if a laser-like focus on traditional profit measures causes them to overlook employee diversity and inclusion.

The message from this year’s expanded Lloyd’s Dive In Festival is that diversity and performance are intertwined – and the insurance industry has a considerable amount of work ahead to ensure its future success.

Globally, Dive In events were held in 32 cities and 17 countries last week. In Australia the festival included talks, discussions and workshops in Sydney, Melbourne and Perth.

The festival’s broad theme encompasses gender, sexuality, ethnic background, religion, age and mental and physical health as well as other personal circumstances.

But inclusion is not just about fairness and equity and doing the right thing by members of the community. In a global war among sectors to attract the best talent, there can be no stone left unturned.

“How we do business, where we do business, how our customers buy is all changing, heavily driven by technology,” Allianz Global Corporate & Specialty UK CEO Brian Kirwan said in London.

“So when you go through that dynamic change you have to make sure you can attract people from different industries, different walks of life, different ways of thinking, if you are going to survive and thrive.”

Lloyd’s points to research from the Centre for Talent Innovation, which says organisations that rate highly on diversity and inclusion are 70% more likely to have success in new markets and 45% more likely to improve their market share.

And a PricewaterhouseCoopers CEO survey has found 85% of CEOS whose organisations have a diversity and inclusion strategy say it has improved their bottom line.

In Australia, research shows that $43 billion could be added to national GDP over 10 years if disability discrimination was addressed, while 740,000 women would join the workforce if their participation rates reached those of men.

The diversity business case is also linked to the insurance industry’s battle to stay ahead of potential insurtech start-up rivals.

“We are a company that has focussed very strongly for the last five years on innovation,” XL Catlin Country Manager Australia Robin Johnson says. “We think we need to be highly innovative to stay relevant in this business environment, and we believe a diversity of thought fosters creativity and innovation.”

Despite the business imperatives, a global Dive In survey of 2800 festival attendees found 71% believe the culture in their firms needs to change to attract and retain top talent.

Close to two-thirds said their firm should do more in the areas of gender, LGBT (lesbian, gay bisexual and transgender) diversity and mental health.

Locally, Lloyd’s this year released its first Australian insurance industry Diversity & Inclusion Survey, produced by Macquarie Bank, which provides a first step in benchmarking the industry’s diversity and inclusion performance. Just under 2500 people from 21 organisations participated in what was considered a strong first-up response.

The results reinforced findings from a range of other corporate and finance sector reports that have shone a spotlight on the lack of female representation in Australian business management.

The Association for Women in Insurance said recently that women are paid on average 33.5% less than their male counterparts. While the industry is superficially gender-diverse, female participation is weighted toward lower-ranked or part-time roles.

Other Dive In findings show that of 10% of the respondents who identify as LGBTI, 83% are completely open about their sexuality at work, while 6% actively hide it.

And one in four people didn’t know whether their company executives are committed to diversity and inclusion.

The inaugural results provide a foundation for future surveys, with the next version likely to include more qualitative questions that deepen understanding of the issues involved.

The challenge is for the industry to find ways to improve its performance in the areas where it is lagging and to show it’s committed to driving positive change.

For example, there’s plenty of work to be done about the fact that the insurance industry in Australia is not at all diverse. When it comes to background, three-quarters of the industry’s workers were born in Australia or the UK.

That raises all sorts of problems when it comes to widening the industry’s social and cultural base, because as one A Dive In session in Melbourne highlighted, the problem of “unconscious bias” is more widespread than prejudice and a difficult barrier to be overcome.

As Lloyd’s General Representative in Australia Chris Mackinnon explains it, unconscious bias “often means we are more likely to employ people just like us”.

Potential solutions include hiring processes that remove identifying features, more balanced interview panels and additional training within the workplace.

“This survey has allowed us to capture data and make it possible to collaborate on how businesses can replicate successes and avoid pitfalls,” Mr Mackinnon says.

“Teams of mixed gender, ethnicity, age and sexual orientation are more representative of the diverse customers we serve. Diversity can deliver dividends and we risk losing business if we don’t address it.”