There have not been many years that have shaken up the world quite as much as 2020, and the repercussions of the global pandemic are set to be felt across the globe for many years to come – for both individuals and the wider business community.
However, aside from the pandemic, 2020 was also the year that the world asked some very difficult questions of itself when it comes to diversity and inclusion (D&I). The death of George Floyd shocked and saddened many and the subsequent protests and Black Lives Matter movement shone a light on some of the most uncomfortable issues still facing generations today. But, in my view, what this has resulted in could be the start of some significant and positive changes – not least among businesses whose customers, colleagues and partners are now demanding it.
When I joined BGL nine months ago, the business had a positive perception of itself in terms of inclusivity and fair representation. It met many of the quotas defined as being the ‘correct balance’ and was in line – particularly from a gender and leadership perspective – with what many of the largest FTSE companies considered to be right. There was also an extremely active grass roots movement championing diversity across the business. However, the events in America, along with various others, have made us – along with many other businesses – take a look at ourselves and we’ve realised there is still lots we want to do to drive positive change across the organisation.
Often characterised as stuffy and behind the times, the insurance industry has, in recent years, been making positive steps towards a more diverse workforce and as an industry, it’s vital that we adapt with the times and make our workplaces attractive to the best talent, no matter what their age, gender, cultural heritage or life stage. This was highlighted in a survey of more than 10,000 millennials carried out in 2015 – where over 80 per cent of participants said that an employer’s policy on diversity, equality and workforce inclusion is an important factor when deciding whether or not to work for them. Similarly, when it comes to performance, research has uncovered that diverse businesses create better outcomes for customers and furthermore, analysis of more than 1,700 companies across eight countries found that organisations with diverse management teams, had higher gross profit margins than less diverse companies. So, with clear commercial and colleague benefits at stake and importantly, with businesses now ready to make great strides in their diversity and inclusion efforts, where should leaders begin?
1) Understand the true picture: First and foremost, it’s vital to assess, with eyes wide open, the current state of play in your organisation and once you have clear numbers, then it’s time to do the talking. This could take the shape of employee surveys, or open forums, where colleagues feel comfortable and supported in sharing their views – both positive and negative. It’s only when you have a true picture, that change can be implemented but it’s in the obtaining of this information, when the often-difficult questions – and responses – take place. There is little point in starting a D&I programme if your leaders do not want to hear the feedback and take real action.
2) Empower colleagues to drive the changes: At BGL, we have already taken steps to understand our true picture and not only do we have leadership support, sponsorship and direction, we have also created a network of colleagues from across the business, all of whom have a passion for this area. Our D&I champions are now acting as the mouthpiece in helping us to create and embed an impactful Diversity and Inclusion strategy and having colleagues driving change from the ground upwards, should prevent the good work from simply being done in pockets, with the most successful tactics being rolled-out across the entire business. When creating a network, it’s important that those involved feel empowered to drive change and so equipping your teams with the training and skills required to lead and challenge on such an emotive area, could be useful.
3) Be honest: One of BGL’s values is authenticity and this is something that is vital as you try to embed a shift across a whole business. The best thing a leader can do when implementing a D&I strategy is to set out from the very beginning a tone of honesty. By this, I mean being clear and transparent when it comes to highlighting where your business needs to improve. It’s also important to show some vulnerability in this area because no-one has all the answers. While at BGL we are now at the beginning of our D&I journey, the fact we are making demonstrable steps towards change in such a short time period, is extremely encouraging.
2020 was a difficult year for many, but there is much we have all learned when it comes to remote working and if anything, COVID-19 has helped to break down location-based barriers for job opportunities. With businesses across the globe confidently using technology to work in a completely different and remote way, the world – in theory – could now be your oyster. However, those companies that are working hard now to improve and implement changes with diversity and inclusion, will be the ones to truly reap the rewards from this shift and attracting the very best talent. The question that businesses need to continue asking though is how to effectively manage the wellbeing of such diverse and remote workforces and the challenges that being isolated could bring. With minority groups often feeling isolated already, a strong and concerted inclusion effort will remain key.
There is still a long way to go but as we have seen on many occasions over the past few months, D&I is no longer simply a tick box exercise and having what people deem as ‘correct quotas’ just won’t cut it.