COVID-19 has put a strain on many industries over the past year. General uncertainty and disruption to traditional approaches has forced businesses to focus on steadying the ship and prioritising survival.
In the face of such difficult circumstances, it is commendable that the insurance industry has continued to progress in the important area of diversity and inclusion. Recent studies by NTT DATA found the industry to have an average female representation of 49.5%, with particularly high numbers of women in senior roles compared to the economy at large.
Whilst such progress is to be celebrated, there is still plenty that need to be done. Problems remain with the placement of women in senior positions. Almost 60% of women in the five leading insurance companies we analysed were in the lowest paid roles. It’s clear that in order to establish an inclusive and diverse culture, change is needed at the top.
Standard Life Aberdeen is one of the companies that is leading the way. In 2019 it launched a career development program, ‘Accelerate’, with the aim of helping increase progression for women in the middle of their careers. 87% of participants believed the program would make a significant difference to their careers. Standard Life Aberdeen have also partnered with Sponsors for Education Opportunity, a development program looking to remove barriers for candidates from lower socioeconomic and minority ethnic backgrounds.
Aviva is another insurer leading the way in diversity initiatives. It was the first FTSE 100 to sign up to the 30% club, and has set its own target of increasing the number of women in leadership roles to 40% by 2021.
Change from the top
The insurance industry is clearly committed to addressing inequality. But that should not justify complacency in the sector. There is clearly not enough diversity of representation at the highest level. We know what the problem is, the question is now about the best approach to tackle it.
Now is not the time for half measures. A forceful and disruptive approach is required if we are to see real change. We need to start from the very top and look at the make-up of boards. Improving diversity at the summit of an organisation can help accelerate change throughout the business. With this in mind, we need to explore all options available to us, including measures such as mandatory representation. Such a disruptive approach is necessary if we are to make genuine progress. Advisory boards play a large role in appointments at CXO and senior management level. By increasing the diversity of representation at this level, we can trigger a ripple effect that will instigate change in the areas it is needed most.
Admiral Group has shown just how effective such an approach can be. The appointment of Milena Mondini de Focatiis as CEO in 2020 meant Admiral was only the second ever FTSE 100 company to have both a female CEO and Chair. The board currently has 42% female representation (exceeding its goal for 30% female board by 2020) and it has committed to increasing female representation at executive level (currently 34%) to 40% by 2023. Admiral is proof of how changes at the top can help drive greater diversity throughout the entirety of an organisation.
Diversity in a remote world
Most of us have experienced remote working in some form over the past year, and can expect a future where hybrid working is the likely norm. Fundamental changes such as these pose challenges. We are naturally social creatures, requiring creativity in how we build relationships virtually.
But this kind of disruption can often be a springboard for change. Geographical restrictions that have previously created limitations in recruitment are falling away as we become more comfortable with remote working. There is a significant opportunity here for businesses to plot an ambitious new course post-pandemic, tapping into a global talent pool to efficiently find individuals with exactly the required expertise, and ultimately build a more agile business primed to grow at pace.
At NTT DATA, we’ve been implementing agile working models, with the broader aim of changing our workplace and recruitment culture. Flexibility is key. The one-size-fits-all approach of the past is being replaced by an appreciation that each role has different requirements.
A lot of roles are not time critical and can be fitted around a person’s other commitments. By being less prescriptive and understanding that regimented core working hours do not work for everyone, we can open opportunities for those with parental and other caring responsibilities, ensuring such commitments are never detrimental to their career. Fewer barriers mean a more diverse, and more productive workplace.
Insurance is well-placed to be at the forefront of driving diversity initiatives. As we emerge from the disruption of the pandemic, there is an opportunity to redraw the entrenched lines that have held us back in the past. If we are to succeed in this endeavour, we can’t afford to accept half-measures. Unless we create tension, change will not occur. By being ambitious at the highest level, and creating a supportive culture that encourages flexibility, we can address barriers that have stubbornly held back diversity and enact lasting change.