Breaking down the barriers


Breaking down the barriers / rawpixel

Diversity has been identified as a key issue for Bermuda, as the re/insurance industry does its best to move on from the stereotypes of the past and embrace a more inclusive future. Bermuda:Re+ILS explores the latest developments.

Diversity is a word that has real meaning on Bermuda. The history and the demographics of the Island have led to a debate over just how diverse its government, society and business community are.

The Island’s financial industry has had a very similar debate over diversity—the re/insurance industry has for many years been seen as elderly, male and Caucasian.

Bermuda has moved forward, however: diversity has taken root and a positive culture is growing steadily; there is a great deal yet to achieve, but the foundations are there.

In March 2018 Bermuda’s Ministry of Education and Workforce Development announced a series of new or amended scholarships designed to encourage a more diverse Bermuda, and the Ministry of Economic Development and Tourism is pushing to encourage more Bermuda-based companies to employ Bermudians rather than look overseas to fill vacancies.

The trajectory of the conversation is also much more wide-ranging. There is a clear acknowledgement that the industry needs to do more to encourage women and that all individuals should have the opportunity to fulfil their potential regardless of their background.

Speaking up

One major figure in the re/insurance industry has made an impact by pushing diversity to the top of the agenda.

A keynote speech given by Brian Duperreault, then CEO of Hamilton Group, at the Bermuda Captive Conference in June 2014 pointed out that while women make up half the workforce and come to that workforce armed with diplomas from the finest business schools, according to the research firm Catalyst, less than 5 percent of CEOs in Fortune 500 and Fortune 1000 companies are women.

As Duperreault pointed out: “In our industry, the figures are even worse—just 1.3 percent of CEOs in finance and insurance are women. According to a large number of recent studies, a variety of factors are at play.

“The interesting thing is they’re interconnected, and each has an impact on the other. One factor is the gender bias we all bring to our jobs. Whether we’re male or female, we have a concept of what we think that means. And it affects how we perceive and interact with each other.

“Often, that concept involves stereotypes. As much as we’d like to think we can shake them off, those stereotypes are embedded by our upbringing and by our cultures. When you add race and ethnicity, you add more layers of stereotypes.

“We use words like ‘aggressive’, ‘decisive’ and ‘independent’ to describe men. When we see that type of behaviour, we recognise it as male. We use words like ‘helpful’, ‘sympathetic’ and ‘understanding’ to describe women.”

Duperreault added that in April 2014, The New York Times reported on a study by researchers at the London Business School and University College London. The researchers looked at how colleagues perceive each other in their work environment.

According to Duperreault, this study found that men were automatically afforded the status of ‘brokers’ for networking and teamwork. Dominant and authoritative men were applauded as natural leaders. Women who were also dominant and authoritative were judged as effective but they were criticised for those traits—by both men and women—and weren’t considered as legitimate brokers of influence.

The authors of the study called this ‘stereotype violations’. Women who don’t fit a certain perception of how they should behave are penalised. Another factor in how men and women advance in their careers is the difference in their levels of confidence.

After making this speech in 2014 Duperreault, who is now at AIG and no longer quite as Bermuda-centric as he used to be, would often return to this subject, stressing that Bermuda’s re/insurance industry had to become more diverse if it wanted to survive in an increasingly competitive and diverse world.

According to a global diversity & inclusion (D&I) survey by PwC, age—more than gender—is a stronger predictor of the degree to which diversity is perceived to be a barrier to progression. The PwC survey found that 49 percent of respondents aged 18 to 29 agreed or strongly agreed with this statement, while only 20 percent of those over 60 did.

Unleash the potential

According to PwC this speaks to the “untapped opportunity for organisations to more effectively engage their youngest employees in driving forward their D&I strategies”. However, PwC adds that what drives younger workers to feel this way will not be the same for any two organisations. To unleash this potential, and continue to attract and retain these employees, organisations will need to start by understanding the viewpoints of younger workers within the context of their own cultures.

It seems the Captive Conference has a knack for producing speeches of this Ilk. The 2018 Bermuda Captive Conference had ‘Diversity: of risk, talent, and products’ as the theme behind it, and featured human rights visionary Derreck Kayongo and insurance industry leader Jonathan Reiss as spotlight speakers. Reiss’s speech was along similar lines.

During the conference key industry sessions explored the issue of board diversity and the perspectives of millennials, with an opening-day session spotlighting female corporate leaders, titled ‘Women in the Captive Industry—Empowering Industry Awareness’ which was well attended.

The Association of Bermuda International Companies (ABIC) has recently made diversity a major issue for its members. ABIC is calling on CEOs of all its member companies to adopt and sign the ABIC D&I pledge, which calls for awareness and action on these issues.

Patrick Tannock, chairman of the ABIC and president of Bermuda insurance operations at XL Catlin, says the body has taken this approach because it believes that embracing diversity has the potential to transform companies. 

Bermuda, industry, diversity, re/insurance, women, Duperreault, diverse, potential, workforce, conference

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