Public commitments to D&I are welcomed but there is a wider question on who is holding firms to their word.

This week, the ABI and 32 other insurers announced they had signed up to the Race at Work charter.

Set up by Business in the Community, it commits signatories to initiatives aimed at improving the experience of black, Asian and minority ethnic people in the workplace.

These include appointing an executive sponsor for race, capturing data on staff ethnicity and publicising progress, and ensuring zero tolerance of harassment.

It is great to see further momentum behind the push for racial equality, an element of diversity and inclusion (D&I) which has been brought sharply and rightly into focus by the Black Lives Matter movement.

What is even more encouraging is that the charter pushes for tangible and measurable actions, which should in theory result in change rather than a collective back-patting exercise.

But who is – or should be – accountable for driving that change? It’s a question that needs to be asked more widely than just on this Race at Work charter.

D&I initiatives come with the best of intentions, but real progress can be difficult to track.

The London market launched its own inclusivity charter in 2017, through which more than 100 signatories – this publication included – vowed to take a zero-tolerance approach to bullying, harassment and discrimination.

However, it is hard to tell where the successes and failures have been here – at the very least, major wins from this initiative have not been publicly shouted about.

Multiple companies in this industry have also individually pledged to take a stand against discrimination and actively fight against inequality in the workplace. And yet, we still hear the stories and read the negative headlines.  

The data also shows there is much more to be done: Lloyd’s first culture survey revealed 8% of respondents had witnessed sexual harassment in the Lloyd’s market in the last 12 months, while 22% had seen people in their organisation turn a blind eye to inappropriate behaviour.

So who is following up on the pledges and the promises, internal or otherwise? 

Perhaps it comes down to the question of who ultimately drives cultural change in a company.

Many believe that at this stage in the industry’s D&I journey, change needs C-suite buy-in. That a commitment to more inclusive workplace practices needs to be built into a company ethos and its internal KPIs – and that when a firm fails to meet its targets or drops the ball on workplace culture, the CEO should be able to hold their hand up and explain why. 

But this clearly doesn’t always happen. 

Do the regulators then step in with D&I targets and increased oversight? 

Lloyd’s has already taken a step down this path, enforcing targets on 35% female leadership by 2023 and ethnic diversity targets to follow.  As things currently stand, women hold 29% of leadership roles in the Lloyd’s market.

Regulators have already made clear that they will use the lever of the Senior Managers and Certification Regime by taking conduct into account when performing “fit and proper” assessments of senior executives. Further measures from the watchdog are also being considered (see our interview with PRA general insurance chief Anna Sweeney).

There is another school of thought that change comes from the bottom up – that attitudes and behaviours are forced to alter due to an underlying groundswell of desire for change.

That employees from lower down within an organisation can create pressure for things to improve.  

Now, for this theory to hold true, it assumes that leadership is open to hearing staff opinion, that robust measures are in place for whistleblowing and that younger employees feel they do not need to emulate the (sometimes unsavoury) behaviours of more senior staff to progress in their careers.

Nevertheless, it remains the case that talent will vote with their feet if they do not like what they see.

In a similar vein, there is the idea that companies could force their peers to change by taking a zero-tolerance approach to discrimination and refusing to trade with bad actors. However, despite public assurances from executives that this is indeed their company line, we are yet to hear of any examples where firms are willing to part with revenue in exchange for taking the moral high ground.

There are some who also believe that an industry league table on female leadership or other D&I metrics is the only way to create that market-wide transparency and encourage commitment to change – after all, no one wants to be at the bottom of that list (and it worked for PPL adoption in London). At this juncture it should also be said that better data on D&I will be crucial in monitoring progress, and it is encouraging to see industry frameworks emerging on where to start on this.

Perhaps the ideal scenario is a three-pronged approach, with pressure for change coming from C-suite, regulators and the wider market community to ensure tangible progress is made.

As a member of the trade press we also will do our best to hold feet to the fire – both via commentary in this column and by publishing instances of misconduct where is it suitably verified and corroborated.

The industry has made huge strides on raising awareness on D&I in the past five years, and we know that change doesn’t happen overnight – that new policies and structures take time to implement, as does building new pipelines of talent.

However, that change can be accelerated and momentum maintained if there is a concerted effort on all fronts to hold companies to account on their D&I promises.

Public commitments to D&I are always welcomed, but we need to ensure we are pushing past the performative.

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