Occasionally an act of racial violence is turned on its head to become the catalyst of positive change. The cruel murder of George Floyd one year ago inspired ripples of progress towards tolerance and inclusivity which extended around the world. Here in London’s insurance market, 4,000 miles away, companies which had not yet addressed the challenges of inclusion were spurred into action. Others that had taken initial steps, like my firm Brit, were prompted by the incident to redouble their efforts.
Most important, though, is that individuals like me were driven to act. I was silent about such matters before the George Floyd incident. Now, following the reckoning we all experienced (intensified as it was because we were stuck at home for lockdown), I find myself much more active. I regularly talk about inclusion matters that don’t relate to my role in finance. I no longer expect the appearance of a diversity saviour. My epiphany is that anyone can influence and impact their organisation from anywhere within it, and that we all share the responsibility to influence and impact daily. It is now a habit for me.
In parallel, we have had some genuine successes at Brit which are intended to help everyone exercise their influence and impact. We have a longstanding policy of zero tolerance of discriminatory behaviours, which is a positive step. On its own, however, the policy does not prevent offensive acts, comments, and microaggressions, which must be the ultimate goal. Achieving that is much more difficult. It requires a cultural change that demands everyone’s involvement, which we now foster at Brit in several ways.
The Brit People Forum, a safe space for discussion and interaction, is one step in this direction. The Forum’s structured events provide a window into the way Brit thinks and acts, to reveal pictures that drive action. Each three-stage Forum event begins with a fireside chat with an external guest speaker. We hear first-hand about their lived experience before the meeting opens to become a safe and inclusive platform for discussion. In stage two, guest presentations are mirrored by open discussions which focus inwards, fuelled by participants’ revelations of their own experiences at Brit. This teases out potential changes to support an inclusive workplace. Finally, the Forum’s conclusions are taken to Brit’s Inclusion & Diversity Committee for action.
Because this process of listening, ideating, and acting is employee led, it yields actions which come from the heart of the organisation. Such inclusivity drives cultural change from the bottom up, ultimately to make a zero-tolerance regime redundant within an organisation which has become by its nature inclusive. We have held four Brit People Forums so far, on the topics of Identity & Belonging, Visible & Non-visible Disabilities, LGBTQ, and Mental Health & Wellbeing, but we have a distance yet to travel.
Another successful step towards infused cultural change at Brit is the creation of internal Employee Resource Groups. They cover personal characteristics from gender to neurodiversity, with more to be added as need is highlighted. Once created, these groups hold sessions and build ideas, doing as they wish and need. Each allows employees to step up and become champions of inclusion, and to join the team that delivers Brit’s ongoing, sustained effort to build an inclusive culture at Brit.
Like any cultural change, our effort is driven not by a complex formula or a magic API, but by hard work. Work of any type is performed by individuals. We will not overcome the challenges of inclusion by waiting for a saviour. We must make it part of our conversation. To make change where you work, you must add yourself to your firm’s initiatives, or launch them where they are absent. Join the conversation, as I did, to make D&I part of your firm’s DNA. That is the essence of cultural change, and the fuel that will keep us driving towards greater inclusive workplace culture.
By Dauda Jammeh, Group Finance Operations Manager, Brit