CIN Manager Aaron Gavin sat down with Dauda Jammeh, Brit’s Group Finance Operations Manager, and Wayne Page, the Lloyd’s insurer’s Head of Inclusion & Diversity, to learn about their lived experiences of I&D at Brit Insurance during the pandemic.
Aaron: We’ve learned a lot about inclusion at Brit in your individual blogs. Now that we’ve got you together, I’d like to hear about some of your experiences of inclusion at Brit, and how lockdown impacted the effort.
Wayne: Something that struck me is a side-effect of the forced move of our I&D meetings and events to Teams during lockdown. Turnouts have been much higher than expected. Our U.S. and international colleagues have been able to join, for example. We’re used to working as a global business, but we’ve been able to interact, engage, and connect much more easily online than we ever did through townhalls in Leadenhall Street. It’s made our inclusivity events more inclusive.
Dauda: The move to online has even led to family engagement. People have invited their partners and children to listen in, which couldn’t happen in the office. It allows broader engagement, and has prompted us to extend our I&D engagement with resources that specifically target employees’ families, like books for children. The Brit People Forum regularly has kids participating now!
Wayne: The pandemic forced us online, but I am pretty sure it’s how we will continue to operate. Feedback from around the company tells us that online events have been received in a very positive way.
Aaron: What makes them so popular?
Wayne: They’re really good! Most of them happened before I started here, so I can’t take any credit, but the team did a great job of organising speakers with broad appeal.
Aaron: Like who?
Dauda: Well, for Black History month we had two great speakers. One was the well-known British rapper and activist Akala. He’s considered one of the 100 most influential black British people in 2021, and is sought-after as a speaker on racial equality. He educated us on the contributions of black scientists from ancient times through to the modern era. It was extremely enlightening!
Next was Avril Nanton, a tour operator who specialises in black history. She took us on a virtual walking tour of London’s statues of black people, told us the backstories of the individuals, and explained their contributions. It was also really well received.
Then for Celebrate Difference Week we had a load of guest speakers on different topics. A highlight for me was Tony Adams, the Arsenal footballer and England captain. He spoke about mental health, and focussed on his own tumultuous times playing, drinking, recovering, and playing again in a cycle, at the height of his career. Everyone saw his talent, but he was struggling. He talked about how he overcame the challenges. Another notable speaker was Monica Lewinski, who everyone of a certain age will remember from her ordeal with Bill Clinton, the president. She talked honestly about how it impacted her, how she navigated her way through, and how she put her life back together.
Aaron: So lockdown has had an impact on your event turnout. Has it have other effects on your diversity efforts at Brit?
Wayne: Even working from home, microaggressions still happen. They’re just done remotely. Maybe you don’t give someone room to speak, or constantly get names wrong. But it’s harder to call things out in a Zoom meeting… raising a virtual hand just doesn’t have the same impact. Things can go under the radar more easily than when you are sitting in a room together.
Dauda: I agree with that, Wayne, but overwhelmingly I think the side effects of lockdown have been positive. One really personal example: last year I was fasting during Ramadan, and working from home. I mentioned this very casually to a colleague, and later received a call from one of Brit’s wellbeing champions in HR. They had called to check that the company was doing all it could to support me. I certainly hadn’t expected that. It’s a great level of care.
Another example is the way Brit treats bank holidays. England has eight public holidays based on local traditional or religious festivals, but at Brit you can take them on other days that are more meaningful to you, say for Gay Pride or Passover. That approach is incredibly inclusive to me as a Muslim. I can celebrate Eid with my family without using vacation days, and come in instead on the Easter bank holiday.
Aaron: What’s on Brit’s post-Covid inclusion agenda?
Wayne: When I arrived here, I was incredibly impressed by the huge amount of effort and focus on I&D at Brit. People are passionate about it, spending day and night making I&D part of our DNA. That makes everyone realise we can always do more. The effort so far has created an appetite that will let us find creative ways to improve standards and practices. Each success amplifies our efforts, and helps to make the insurance market a better place to work, and to make people want to work here. Post Covid, we take all that to the next level!
As Brit’s new Head of I&D, it’s my job to create and implement a collective, strategised approach that will ensure Brit neither misses an opportunity nor falls short in its responsibilities around inclusion. Brit’s senior leaders have decided to make inclusivity a business imperative; it’s my job to act on that directive. I am accountable.
In the previous blog in this series, my colleague Dauda Jammeh revealed how I&D is everyone’s responsibility. He’s absolutely correct. My job isn’t to ‘get inclusivity done’, since no single individual can change an organisation’s culture. It’s down to everyone. Instead it falls to me to facilitate by creating the avenues and acquiring the tools for all to use.
Sometimes I do that by helping Brit follow best practices. I think of that as the ‘I&D compliance officer’ part of my role. For example, Brit had signed Business in the Community’s (BITC) Race at Work Charter when I took up my post (then, Zurich was the only signatory from the insurance sector). But signing is more than just a PR exercise. It creates tangible commitments which require ongoing actions (five of them). It’s my job to ensure we continue to meet those responsibilities (and I am pleased that since we have signed, several other London market companies have done so too. It makes all of us accountable.)
Another important part of my job is to ensure everyone at Brit has an accessible, suitable platform to discuss I&D. That involves very much more than providing a way to raise an issue in confidence (although that’s important, too). For example, we formed the Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) which Dauda explained in Part 1 of this series. They create safe spaces for anyone to share their experiences, aspirations, frustrations, and negotiations, and provide a direct channel to senior management.
The ERGs are just one of many new I&D communication routes at Brit. We introduced a Microsoft Teams submission page which anyone can use to offer observations and ideas to Brit’s high-level I&D Committee. Recently we polled all employees about their I&D attitudes and experiences through the firm’s annual Employee Engagement survey for the first time. Sometimes we ask I&D-related questions internally in the weekly Pulse survey Brit uses to check on employee wellbeing. All that serves to ensure everyone has a channel to be part of the journey.
Allyship is another step on the route to inclusion. Brit works regularly with external partners to help us stay engaged and move forward. Our sponsorship of the ACIN is just one example. Organisations of its type are only as powerful as their members, and we are pleased to lend our support. We get plenty back, from recruitment support through ACIN Recruit to the Six Steps to Racial Inclusivity, which makes ACIN a great navigational aid.
I am helped enormously in my work by the passion of our Chief Executive to do the right thing for all the right reasons. Every one of us at Brit who has embraced the cause of I&D shares our eagerness to do more. Our ambition is to be the best. We have accomplished a great deal so far, but there’s a lot left to be done. As the person responsible for I&D at Brit, that mountain will be much easier to climb, because in Brit’s culture, everyone is responsible. A head of I&D can march alone, but the impact is very much greater when everyone is travelling along the road to inclusion.
By Wayne Page, Head of Inclusion & Diversity, Brit Insurance