Insurance Times: Time to improve ethnic diversity - iCAN panel calls for action

By Clare Ruel | 23 May 2019

Diversity doesn’t end with gender. A panel debate by iCAN this week shed insight on the lack of ethnic diversity in the insurance industry and what can be done to tackle this issue

Gender diversity has been hotly debated and at length in recent months.

While in February the ABI found that gender diversity is improving in the sector, the Insurance Times Salary Survey showed the situation is still far from where it needs to be.

Industry bodies including the CII have been calling on the industry to do more to tackle the disparity in insurance.

ABI ndings show only 78% of rms have a diversity and inclusion strategy, and while gender diversity continues to be a problem, a less spoken-about issue is only 16% of the insurance are black Asian or minority ethnic (BAME).

The ongoing debate about gender disparity has opened the doors for other more dif cult conversations – and the reminder that diversity doesn’t end with gender was the message at iCAN’s role model publication launch on Monday.

Jennifer Thomas, Direct Line Group; Erik Johnson, Pioneer Underwriting; Ashwin Mistry, Brokerbility; Liam Gray, Startupbootcamp and Chika Aghadiuno, Aviva. @ican_uk

Jennifer Thomas, Direct Line Group; Erik Johnson, Pioneer Underwriting; Ashwin Mistry, Brokerbility; Liam Gray, Startupbootcamp and Chika Aghadiuno, Aviva. @ican_uk

Difference in the workplace

For Jennifer Thomas, head of international communications and experience at Direct Line Group it is now more about difference than tting in.

“I remember a time when no-one wanted to talk about difference, it was all about blending in. The gender agenda has turned this on its head, for the rst-time people were challenging each other and businesses. For example – what does it feel like in insurance to be one of few rather than one of many?

“I remember when having that conversation was dif cult to hear for a senior executive, because they wanted to know that it was all ne and that they weren’t breaking any laws, but that is not the point,” she said.

She explained that it is about ensuring that people feel part of your organisation. She said that conversation needs to be had, as “it’s about difference and how we bring it into our workplace”.

Thomas stated that more action was needed in the sector and the challenge remains in how you approach having these conversations about ethnic diversity in the workplace while ensuring that people feel they t in.

Lost in translation

Ashwin Mistry, executive chairman at Brokerbility, believes that direction from the board could be

“lost in translation,” with the problem being with middle management.

While Mistry admits this is a large generalisation, he reiterated that middle management drive the business and its culture, and interpret it differently.

He called for action to tackle this issue with middle management and said that everyone has a responsibility to tackle diversity in the sector.

Ethnicity pay gap

Following on from the gender pay gap there is currently a consultation ongoing for rms to reveal their ethnicity pay gap. The panel agreed that the data from this needed to be used effectively.

Thomas said: “You only need the numbers to drive the conversation and then see the action come out of that. Think about the overall picture and what it is actually trying to tell you.”

Young people

Gray added that “diversity and inclusion is more on a young person’s radar, but when you come into a workplace sometimes you mould to what is around you”. This he believes presents a further problem. But he does see positive aspects with many young people starting multicultural networks.

Gray said: “I was at AON before, then I moved to Startupbootcamp which is a lot smaller, and when I moved to the start-up world what I saw that was linked to diversity and inclusion was opportunity.

”You can build a culture and it’s very easy to do that if you have three or four people. I have seen that in my organisation. So, my chief executive is a black woman and my director is a black woman, I am a black man and we are all senior people in a business which is unheard of in insurance and in technology.

“Insurtech is bringing together two male dominated areas. There is so much opportunity to build teams like these from the ground up,” Gray added.

He later said that he was concerned that the issue lay in scaling the business and this culture being lost.

No one answer

The panel agreed that there was no one answer to the problem of ethnic diversity. Erik Johnson, head of syndicate management and European distribution at Pioneer Underwriters said that it was important to have someone to go to speak to in the workplace when a problem arises.

Chika Aghadiuno, group risk strategy and analysis director at Aviva, added that not everyone wants to be a trailblazer.

She admitted that to go forward, businesses might need different people to make a change while acknowledging the importance of young people to the industry.

Thomson added that she enjoyed being a “myriad of things” and disliked being identi ed with a label or put in a box.