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Keeping up with emerging trends in diversity and inclusion

Julie Humphreys

09.04.2019

employees

The concept of diversity and inclusion (D&I) has steadily been gaining traction in the corporate psyche over recent years and in the last few weeks has been garnering particular attention as the culture of the London insurance market has come under scrutiny.

But D&I is not a static concept; as it has been gaining acceptance as both the right thing to do and a key driver of business success, at the same time it has been evolving and developing. There are a number of developments it is worth taking note of.

Shifting to a focus on belonging

First, forward-thinking organisations now recognise that D&I isn’t just about gender, sexuality or race. And that it isn’t just about making pledges or hitting targets or ticking boxes. It’s about making a step-change to shift emphasis towards creating a culture of belonging.

If people are allowed to be their authentic selves at work they feel comfortable that they belong. And this means they can better concentrate on doing the best they can at their job. Companies are better able to retain talent and, with having people with a range of viewpoints, drive innovation to get the best outcomes for their customers and their business.

A culture of belonging is founded in the concept of intersectionality – the idea that social identities such as race, gender, sexuality, class, marital status and age overlap and intersect in different ways to shape each individual person. In other words, all of us possess more than one social identity, an idea that is already well understood among millennials who, as a generation, are rejecting the idea of being identified by any one dimension.

According to a recent survey by EY and YouGov, 90% of respondents said that ‘belonging at work’ is important to them – it means they enjoy work more (72%), feel happier and healthier (71%), and more motivated (65%). Given that the desire to belong is a basic human need – a core part of what holds communities and societies together – its position in the workplace seems obvious.

More employee resource groups and allies

Next is the role of Employee Resource Groups (ERGs), a key element of creating a culture of belonging, bringing people together based on shared characteristics or life experiences. ERGs focus on providing support, enhancing career development, and contributing to personal development. Although the idea of ERGs has been around for a while, we have seen their role transformed, from event facilitators to agents of change, empowered to alter behaviour and perceptions.

At AIG, in the last 12 months we have seen a 70% increase in the number of ERGs across EMEA and in the UK, 29% of employees are members of at least one ERG. Increasingly, there is now genuine collaboration among ERGs through cross-industry diversity network groups and with peers from outside the industry, which has the effect of helping to break down barriers and amplify key messages around belonging.

Allies have a similar role, acting as the loudspeaker for core messages, and are thus an essential aspect of D&I. We are also seeing more organisations recognising the importance of allies in helping to build an inclusive culture of belonging, and putting programmes in place to encourage people to align themselves with a group that may require support to achieve equality and inclusion.

The emergence of genuine accountability

Another emerging trend is the development of meaningful objectives and targets to drive and measure the progress of D&I. There have been some positive regulatory developments in this area, such as the introduction of gender pay gap reporting. Elsewhere, Christopher Woolard, Executive Director at the Financial Conduct Authority, in a speech at the end of 2018 pointed to a noticeable upturn in reports which concern issues like discrimination and sexual harassment in financial services, stating that the FCA’s message to firms is clear: non-financial misconduct is misconduct, plain and simple.

While these developments are to be welcomed, it is change that comes from within organisations that will be most impactful. If we look back a few years we saw the emergence of informal pledges or goals, for example around the UN’s HeForShe initiative. Now focus is shifting towards organisations setting more meaningful, measurable and effective goals at a personal, country and regional level.

We are also seeing increased recruitment of D&I professionals as organisations are realising that this is not a responsibility that can be picked up as an extra task, usually by somebody in human resources. For a D&I approach to be aligned and central to the core business strategy, it needs the full-time attention of dedicated experts.

Destigmatising mental health

Finally, mental health is a topic that has seen a huge rise in awareness. Rightly so – it is estimated that approximately 1 in 4 people in the UK will experience a mental health problem each year. Depression is the leading cause of disability worldwide. However, because mental health is not as visible as other diversity dimensions, and because mental illnesses often give way to “invisible” or non-apparent disabilities, mental health is often misunderstood, stigmatised, and overlooked.  

We need to include mental health in the conversation when we talk about D&I, to help educate and destigmatise, creating the opportunity for genuine empathy and open dialogue. When we shift the focus away from ‘mental health problems’ towards “good mental health’ we can begin to raise awareness of mental wellness, challenge assumptions and better understand how to remove barriers to inclusion.

This article first appeared in Insurance Day on 5 April 2019