D&I: It’s Not About Ticking Boxes

D&I: It’s Not About Ticking Boxes

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One of the aspects of the re/insurance industry that has kept me engaged for over 20 years is the mix of art and science we bring to solving complex business issues.

We may geek out on data (admit it), but we have a facility for making friendships and deals.

The old chestnut remains: “it’s a relationship business!” The talent gap in the insurance industry has continued unabated for years, but it doesn’t need to. We have all the art and science we need to solve the problem and to thrive in the new economy.

The science is straightforward. The data is overwhelming: diverse teams produce better results across every critical metric, including increased profitability, investment performance, ROE, Earnings per share, revenue, sales growth, share price performance. The business case for diversity and inclusion has been made.

I believe data. I also believe experience. For example, I work with a person who was with the CIA. He is trained to spot a lie from a mile away.

Believe me, this is the guy you want in the room when you’re listening to a sales pitch. Another colleague is a combat veteran. Not only does he have a steely willingness to run straight into a gnarly negotiation, but he also makes nuanced observations about all the players.

A Personal Lines colleague told me how her employer couldn’t break into a certain market and wondered why. She had the cultural context to effortlessly unlock the door of opportunity there. For her, it was the simple social calculus of navigating her family and community.

There are so many examples of resiliency, creativity, and problem solving that exist in the wide world. Life experiences that come from existing in different kinds of bodies, with different kinds of brains, and from different socioeconomic backgrounds create a deeper, more nourishing pool of innovative thinking.

Consider William Kamkawmba. Using scraps and a library book, he built a windmill, which produced electricity for his family’s home in Malawi – when he was 14 years old. I’d hire that guy, wouldn’t you? This industry has faced insolvencies, unprofitability, and acquisitions.

We are solving for emerging risks and incorporating new technologies. We can’t afford to limit our thinking.

The art is in the creativity. Biodiversity makes nature more beautiful, and it makes business more fun and interesting. There is data behind this, too. The research supports the fact that a culture of inclusion increases productivity, employee engagement, creativity, and optimism.

Those metrics matter too, as shown in Shawn Achor’s deep research on what he calls “the Happiness Advantage.” I want that in life and in business.

I once attended a conference and noticed a breakout session for women entitled “Strategies for Managing Bullying and Harassment in the Workplace.” Bummer. I already knew how to handle that stuff. I wanted sessions on how to build strategic teams, to grow in a global marketplace, to innovate new products. Instead, we were relegated to more hand-to-hand combat in the muddy trenches. While the topic would have benefitted our allies, for us it was both tiring and limiting.

Inclusion is defined as “an atmosphere where all employees belong, contribute, and can thrive. Requires deliberate and intentional action.”

Here, we were playing defense, leaving little room for innovation. In a truly inclusive environment, we’d all be working together on the cool business issues, creating a dynamic culture of productive team players. True inclusion frees up diverse colleagues to think big.

I’ve heard the pushback, so let’s talk about it. Recently: “I have seen how diversity-based hiring … has put unqualified people in key positions, lowering morale.” D&I isn’t a process of plugging gaps with individuals to tick a box.

That strategy isn’t even implied here. Putting unqualified people in jobs is just poor people management. The recent buzz of “diversity fatigue” is a reaction to inauthentic, ineffective effort. Everyone can feel a lack of true inclusion. Setting an intention of building the highest-functioning team possible opens up worlds of possibilities and should be the starting point.

The numbers show that diversity & inclusion is an invitation to true excellence. The math adds up, satisfying the most technical insurance pro. But the art of thoughtfully building teams best optimized to tackle our thorniest problems? That’s the good stuff. That’s where we shine.

After all, it’s a relationship business.

Catherine A. Mulligan is Global Head of Cyber, Reinsurance Solutions for Aon.

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December/January 2020

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