Industry ‘has a duty’ to tackle social mobility

While the insurance sector has made some progress in improving areas of diversity such as gender, there is much more to be done, particularly around class and disability, speakers at The Insurance Insider's Insider Progress event said.

Last week brought the third instalment of the event series, at which a number of speakers shared practical knowledge on creating more inclusive cultures within their organisations.

A consensus emerged that while certain areas of diversity and inclusion (D&I), such as gender and sexual orientation, had improved, a wider-ranging approach to diversifying workforces could be of benefit.

Social mobility

Aon’s head of D&I Katherine Conway said companies “have a duty to encourage social mobility” through their hiring and training programmes.

While “great strides” had been made on evening out the gender balance of the sector, Conway said class was “still an issue”.

“We need to encourage diversity of thought,” she said.

Conway said that while Aon’s apprenticeship programme had been “hugely successful” in helping to attract and recruit people who did not attend university, the broker wanted to go one step further and reach out to young people for whom applying for an apprenticeship would have been a challenge.

The Aon Step-Up programme took a group of young people not in employment, education or training and in receipt of benefits and provided them with four weeks of classroom-based training.

Participants learned functional skills including communication, presentation and teamwork, as well as customer service skills. Conway noted that for some participants, these were the first qualifications they had ever secured.

Aon hired a selection of the programme participants on a permanent basis, bringing them into apprenticeships or its customer service department. Those who were not hired, however, had still benefited from work experience and qualifications, Conway said.

She added that Aon was working with disability charity Leonard Cheshire to attract disabled people to its internship programme, and that the broker had already hired some disabled staff via this route.

Meanwhile, DLA Piper partner Melanie James described a scheme at the law firm designed to promote social mobility via its hiring process.

The scheme was an attempt to take into account the disadvantages more likely to affect candidates from a working-class background in order to allow a fair comparison of their achievements and potential with those of more privileged applicants, James explained.

DLA Piper asked candidates a number of questions during their applications, including whether they had received free school meals, the immigration status of their parents, and whether or not they had worked while studying to support themselves through university.

James said DLA Piper also shifted from holding open days at specific universities to conducting these at the firm’s own regional offices, widening the range of universities from which it recruited and as a result the diversity of candidates.

She added that the firm had experimented successfully with more inclusive ways of assessing candidates at interview.

DLA Piper held workshop days with applicants rather than restricting this part of the hiring process to a 30-minute interview. James said that Oxbridge-educated candidates had been trained to shine in short interviews, giving them an advantage over other applicants, but that the workshops allowed the employer to see all candidates’ skills and experience more thoroughly.

DLA Piper also ensures that it uses a diverse hiring panel of partners in its recruitment process to try to minimise unconscious bias, James said.

Inclusive workplaces

Improving D&I within the sector also rests on creating working environments in which individuals feel respected and free from discriminatory language or behaviour.

On a separate panel, speakers discussed ways in which companies could prevent unacceptable language in the workplace without creating a culture in which employees fear ever mentioning identity in case of causing offence.

Pauline Miller, head of talent development, diversity and inclusion at Lloyd’s, said it was important for colleagues to ask each other when unsure of how to refer to, for instance, their gender identity, sexuality or ethnicity, rather than making assumptions.

However, she added that people in a minority group must “give people permission to get it wrong” and take the time to “explain what you would prefer to be called”.

Alasdair James Scott, inclusion and diversity consultant at PDT Global, said employees must also be given permission to ask questions about elements of diversity, but added that they had a responsibility themselves to “do their homework” and educate themselves.

On hearing inappropriate language in the workplace, James Scott suggested “calling people in” with an inclusive conversation comprising open questions, rather than “calling out” a statement and challenging it with outrage.

Rose St Louis, head of strategic partnerships at Zurich Insurance, agreed.

“It’s not about being more right than each other; it’s about learning,” she said.

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