D&I in the Insurance Market – Interview with Teresa Bentley

Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) has become a hot topic in the last five years.  Where more agile businesses are embracing this to attract and retain talent, the more traditional industries have struggled to keep up with the rapidly changing landscape of business.  Ben Johnson, Global Head of Insurance at Sheffield Haworth, spoke with Teresa Bentley, an award-winning Diversity and Inclusion change and transformation specialist, to discuss how the insurance market can adapt to new demands. Teresa has 30 years’ experience primarily gained in the insurance market and holds both an MBA in Technology Management and an MSc in Psychology.

 

Do you think that a lack of D&I is a threat to the London insurance market?

Most definitely. Having a diverse workforce throughout a business provides greater diversity of thought and innovation.  Effective diversity and inclusion strategies boost business performance by improving businesses’ ability to innovate, be more responsive to customer needs, and increase collaborative working. For organisations to remain relevant to their client bases, diversity of age, gender, ethnicity and thought will be important factors.

 

How have you seen things change in the D&I space over the last five years?

There has been increasing realisation from leaders of the importance of D&I to their business. Many organisations now have staff focused on D&I and there are some fantastic D&I groups and several industry awards in pl ace too.  In 2015 the London Market Group (LMG) published their London Matters Report, which examined the challenges the London market is facing, and one of the areas that came out was this lack of talent diversity. In response to that, the LMG board – made up of circa 20 CEOs from round the market – approved the formation of a talent and diversity programme, which I led.

 

 

Tell us more about your work at LMG.

I’ve led a wide range of projects and programmes during my career and over the last two years I have created and directed a talent and diversity programme for the London specialist insurance market at the LMG.

One of the highlights was a research project and Future of Skills in the London Market report, which examined the challenges the London market is facing, and one of the areas that came out was this lack of talent diversity.

The project covered the roles of broking and underwriting, the admin roles that support them and their leaders. It examined the impact of technology and wider disrupters on both the industry and the skill sets people will need in the future – new talent and re-skilling existing staff. The research was conducted with KPMG and published in May; it involved over 100 professionals who are already actively considering what the future might hold.

I also developed solutions to help the market develop a more diverse workforce. This included the Implementation of a campaign called London Insurance Life (@LIL), which harnesses the power of social media and aims to change the image of the London insurance market to attract new and diverse talent. The @LIL social media pages (Instagram, Facebook and Twitter) feature entry level roles and interviews with people who already work in the market.

This is particularly visually impactful on Instagram, with a vibrant display of diverse, relatable role models, which is far removed from general perceptions. The campaign has been very successful in attracting new talent to the market and has won industry awards for D&I and digital marketing.

 

You were telling us about Universum’s annual survey of over 1 million business students in 55 countries, which, amongst other things, asks them to list the companies they most wanted to work for.  In the UK, insurance was right at the bottom of the graph.  Why do you think insurance is less attractive to graduates?

Yes, insurance consistently receives around 0.5% of the votes cast and is rated significantly lower than industries like banks, audit and accounting and retail. I think insurance has an image problem – the stereotype of being safe, steady and, dare I say, boring.  When people think of insurance, they often think of meerkats and call centre work, which is far removed from the London market. Some of these jobs require an incredible amount of intelligence and charisma to perform well.

The Universum survey also asks students about employer attributes.  Worryingly, insurance inclined students look for financial strength and prestige, and do not seek creative and innovative companies.  To survive and prosper, the industry needs to be creative, innovative and embrace technology and data – this requires new people and new skills.  The @LIL campaign helps to attract new talent that can help them achieve this, but individual organisations need to be open to recruiting that talent and then able to retain it; and many of the current market organisation cultures are struggling with this.

 

Absolutely. It’s the culture of the industry that’s a challenge, which goes back to the D&I aspect. One example is Google, which is renowned for its forward-thinking culture.  However, Google’s success doesn’t just lie in the fact they have nap pods and free food; it is due to the fact they understand that their employees want to do interesting work and have ownership over it.

The Internet and social media enable people to quickly gain insights that they couldn’t easily before.  From online reviews such as Glassdoor, to facts and figures and qualitative insights projected by the organisations themselves; people can make informed choices about where they want to work and who they want to do business with. Savvy organisations have embraced the digital era and harnessed its power. Market organisations need to urgently consider their image and the culture that will help them succeed – D&I and culture change are vital to this journey.

 

If you were an HRD, what would you do?

I would focus on the culture of the organisation and the business’ overall strategy. By examining the challenges it will face in future and the opportunities available, a business will understand how its culture – and therefore, its diversity of thought – needs to change to better meet its future business strategy. This understanding will enable the design of suitable interventions.

Companies also need to think about where they are positioned in the market. You’re either ahead of the curve, or behind the curve – and a company that’s lagging behind isn’t going to attract the best talent.

 

Diversity of thought is key. The trouble is, most companies build out a creative team only to place them into a ‘Digital Hub’ in Shoreditch, outside the main office space, and by doing so, they are losing all that energy, buzz, and diversity. This also continues to do nothing for their main image.

Separating employees with different skillsets does nothing to help with diversity of thought. Business people have a wealth of insurance knowledge and collaborating with the technology and data specialists to solve challenges is vital to capturing the potential of an organisation. An open dialogue between domain specialists demonstrates diversity of thought in action to produce optimum solutions and creative ideas.

 

How do you get the entire team on board with all the D&I initiatives?

It’s very important to position D&I as one of many solutions to a wider problem or opportunity and relate this back to the business and individual objectives, with tangible actions and measures. Even if your business is doing well, the world is changing rapidly; leaders need to future proof their business strategy, and that includes their recruitment strategy.  This where diversity of thought is really going to help moving forward.

 

What is your approach to improving / creating D&I, and how does it differ to most existing programmes?

My solutions are founded in the psychological understanding of human beings and I tend to create new, tailored solutions for organisations and their specific situation.

Developing solutions informed by an understanding of human psychology always produces highly effective results. For instance, a major failing of many D&I interventions is that they focus on differences and trying to compartmentalize people, when commonalities are much more effective in increasing inclusivity. Establishing a connection with someone quickly breaks down any barriers and incorporating commonalities is always central to my solutions.

D&I programmes frequently fail because people often feel that ‘Diversity and Inclusion’ labelled interventions aren’t meant for them. If you explicitly advertise events and solutions as D&I initiatives, you generally attract people who are already interested in, or involved in the conversation – for example, HR professionals, or people who are diverse themselves.  The challenge, and aim, of D&I, is connecting with people outside of this and by using my change management and psychology expertise, I’ve had great success in creating solutions that have engaged previously unreached audiences.

The ‘change takes time’ rhetoric is masking the fact that many of the current D&I interventions just aren’t working and I implore leaders to look for new and more informed ways to increase the pace of D&I change.

 

If you would like to learn more about increasing diversity and inclusion in your organisation, please contact Ben Johnson.

E: b.johnson@sheffieldhaworth.com

T: +44 (0) 207 213 0786

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