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Six lessons for real change in diversity and inclusion

By Emma Francis

8 minute read

This conversation is part of our series, Walking the talk, which explores the diversity of the UK’s charities and foundations, with perspectives from both in and outside the sector. Find the full collection here. 

Diversity and inclusion are among Zurich’s key people priorities. We are focused on improving the diversity of our workforce and ensuring we are inclusive so that all employees feel able to bring their whole selves to work.

We hold Disability Confident Leader status, we’re one of 13 in Stonewall Top Global Employers list 2018 (and the only insurer), and we won the Insurance Times Diversity Excellence Award in December 2018.

However, we acknowledge that we have a long way to go to ensure we have a workforce (at all levels) that reflects our customers and our communities. We’re working to address our gender pay gap (we were delighted that it was five percentage points lower in 2018 than in 2017), and to ensure Zurich is an employer where everyone feels welcome and able to realise their potential.

Why is diversity important?

We believe improving diversity and inclusion is critical to our business performance. It enables us to attract and retain the best talent, reduces risk (by decreasing the likelihood of ‘group-think’), improves decision making and delivers more innovative solutions for our customers. But we also do it because it is simply the right thing to do.

So what have we done about it? And what have we learnt along the way?

Lesson 1: Encourage employees to get involved in the debate and in developing the solutions. If your organisation is big enough, ask those who are passionate to set up employee networks to address different aspects of diversity.

Our first employee network group was established in 2014 – driven by employees who were passionate about the benefits of diversity. The Zurich Women’s Innovation Network (WIN) is delivering gender balance at all levels through a business focused strategy. Initial scepticism was quickly squashed by the activities and communications that help develop staff (both male and female) and increase productivity.

Other networks to represent BAME, LGBT and disability soon followed. All have done a phenomenal amount of work to drive the agenda within our business. People bring insights that have improved our products (e.g. ensuring they are truly inclusive of all types of families) and employees’ experience (e.g. improving support for disabled colleagues). Over a quarter of our employees are members of a network.

 Lesson 2: Know your Diversity and Inclusivity (D&I) data, so that you know what problem(s) you’re trying to solve.

Around the same time that the first network was started, we also started tracking our D&I data. It became apparent that women, although making up nearly half of our employees, were clustered in the lower grades. Meanwhile men were the majority in all our management grades. By understanding and tracking this data we’ve been able to understand the true picture, and we’ve also been able to track the impact of our interventions.

We ask our employees to self-declare their race, sexual orientation, any disability, and gender identity. We have more work to do to help people feel comfortable about disclosing this data and understanding of why we ask for this information.

Understanding our data led us to introduce a new intervention in March 2019. A very thorough analysis of all our people data resulted in a key insight: Our part-time employees do not progress at the same rate as our full-time employees.  93% of our part-timers are female so they are disproportionately impacted by this ‘part-time penalty’.

In response, we started advertising all our roles as being available part-time or as a job-share (which we spell out in the job title) to indicate that we are willing to have a conversation about flexibility in all roles.  It’s early days but initial data shows a 20% increase in applications from women. It’s too early to say whether these applications will result in more female appointments, but we are very encouraged by this increase. We hope it will result in more women feeling able to apply to Zurich, particularly for senior roles.

 Lesson 3: When recruiting, standardise your processes to prevent people hiring in their own image and ensure that you market roles in as inclusive way as possible.

As humans we instinctively gravitate to people who are ‘like us’. This is a disaster in a recruitment scenario because you end up with a bunch of people who look and think just like you. This lack of diverse thought has been demonstrated to result in less successful organisations.

Academics like Harvard Professor Iris Bonnet have concluded that it’s very difficult to ‘de-bias’ people. What you need to do is de-bias processes, so there is less scope for human prejudice to creep in. At Zurich we’ve introduced a number of changes to counteract bias:

We put all our adverts through software that identifies language that isn’t inclusive, or that might discourage certain groups from applying.  An unsubtle example: “At X organisation we work hard and play hard” might sound great to some, but to potential employees with commitments outside of work, or those of an introverted disposition, it will be very off-putting!

We also require our recruitment partners to provide diverse long and shortlists, and we push back hard when they claim the only suitable candidates are of a single gender or ethnic background. We also ensure that all interviews are conducted by at least two managers, ideally with a mix of gender and race.

We advertise in a range of media (including specialist diversity job boards) and have been working to ensure any imagery we use includes as many different people as possible.

 Learning 4: Make it clear you are an inclusive organisation. Call out inappropriate or discriminatory behaviour, even when it is uncomfortable, and ensure there are significant repercussions for the perpetrators of such behaviour.

There is no point going to the effort of ensuring your recruitment processes result in diverse employees if your culture is not inclusive – if it isn’t, these employees will just leave. We have done a lot of work in Zurich to ensure all our employees feel able to truly be themselves at work, whether they’re gay, straight, disabled, male, female, white or black.

In the summer of 2018 our CEO spearheaded the launch of the Inclusive Insurance Pledge, which asked CEOs in the insurance sector to sign up to a number of commitments, sending a very clear message that they would not tolerate discriminatory or inappropriate behaviour either in their organisation or from business partners or customers. ‘Behaviours before business’ is the mantra and there are now over 100 signatories.  The ‘Me Too’ movement highlighted that there are people who still think it’s okay to behave unacceptably and we wanted to emphasise that there will be zero tolerance of it in a work scenario. We reinforced this internally with new training to make it clear what an employee should do if they experience such behaviour.

Lesson 5: Track the diversity of your senior team and ensure that senior roles are flexible.

Employees generally want to develop and progress, and yet much of the leadership of UK organisations is not diverse. At Zurich we have set ourselves targets to ensure women are equally represented on development programmes and projects, and we are working towards greater transparency in the promotion process to remove any chance of personal bias and favouritism on the part of managers.

As referenced earlier, we are also making all our vacancies available part-time and as job shares, and we have also rolled out agile working, so that our employees are empowered to work where, when and how they choose. This means they don’t need to be sat in the office from 9 to 5 to deliver on their objectives.

 Lesson 6: Ensure you have the support of your leadership and use it to be bold!

So, I come to my final and the most important lesson. Ensure you have the support of your leadership. You can still make progress without it, but it’s much easier if your senior team believe in it and are willing to actively sponsor it. That way, you can be bold with your interventions. In my experience, it’s the only way real change can be brought about.

Emma Francis

Emma Francis is AICRS, Senior Manager, Diversity & Inclusion and Corporate Responsibility, Zurich Insurance UK, responsible for delivering Zurich’s D&I and CR strategy in the UK.  This work is currently focused on initiatives to address our gender pay gap and to expand our Youth Skills programme, which in the last academic year involved 177 employee volunteers delivering over 400 hours of activities to over 1900 students.

Emma has been involved in the D&I space since becoming a founding member of Zurich’s women’s network in 2014. She led the network’s initiative to implement agile working across the UK, involving nearly 1000 people in voluntary pilots.   

Emma has worked for Zurich for 20 years and during this time has worked for the Zurich Community Trust, in employee communications, change and project management, and public affairs. Prior to working for Zurich, Emma worked in politics and the wine trade.  

Emma is also a director of social enterprise ‘We Rise’, which provides meaningful work experience for young people in Brixton, South London, and a school governor. 

Emma is responsible for Corporate Responsibility and Diversity & Inclusion for Zurich UK. She is passionate about the value that improving diversity and inclusion can bring to organisations and does not claim to have all the answers!

Zurich in the UK

Zurich is an insurance company whose mission is to help their customers understand and protect themselves from risk. The company is also committed to attracting and retaining the best talent who can deliver the most innovative solutions for their customers. They employ over 4,000 people in the UK.

Emma Francis

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