Putting diversity at the centre of change

13-09-2018

Putting diversity at the centre of change

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The Association of Bermuda International Companies (ABIC) is encouraging its members to champion the issue of diversity. Here, Patrick Tannock, ABIC chairman and CEO, Insurance at XL Bermuda, and Kirsten Beasley, ABIC D&I committee chairperson and head of Healthcare Broking, North America, Willis Towers Watson, offer their views on why this is important—and their own experiences of prejudice.

“I believe that diversity has the power to be transformational for a company and inclusion enhances an organisation’s ability to achieve better results by engaging people from diverse backgrounds. A diverse workforce measurably improves an organisation’s decision-making, problem-solving, cultural awareness, creativity, innovation, effectiveness and enhances its ability to adapt rapidly and successfully to change.”

That is how Patrick Tannock, ABIC chairman and CEO, Insurance at XL Bermuda, describes the reason the body has put this issue at the top of its agenda.

“It’s also a fact that in order to remain relevant and competitive, a company must attract and retain the best talent. A diverse workforce and inclusive culture are talent magnets,” he says.

Tannock says he feels privileged to have the opportunity to play a leadership role in his capacity as chairman of ABIC and CEO of XL Catlin’s Bermuda Insurance Operations in shaping mindsets as to why diversity and inclusion (D&I) matters and how it can move the needle by engaging with other business leaders to advance dialogue, collaboration, best practices and action on D&I within the workplace.

While D&I is important everywhere, he argues that is true even more so in Bermuda on the premise that the international business industry in Bermuda is such a driver of the economy, accounting for 75 percent plus of our GDP.

“It is also because the industry’s demographics, particularly in middle management and the executive suite, do not even remotely reflect the demographics of Bermuda’s population, from neither gender nor racial perspectives,” he says.

“Clearly there is room for improvement.”

Authentic leadership

Tannock notes that merely having a D&I programme in place is no guarantee that behaviour will change without strong, authentic leadership from executive management.

“We must work to ensure that on the basis of merit, qualified highly-educated Bermudians—be they men, women, black, white, mixed, straight or members of the LBGTQ community—have equal opportunity to participate and thrive in an industry that is the economic engine of Bermuda. We can and must do better.”

Kirsten Beasley, ABIC D&I committee chairperson and head of Healthcare Broking, North America, Willis Towers Watson, says this issue has been on her radar for some time.

“Upon entering the business world, it was evident that corporate demographics in Bermuda were not reflective of our community; having grown up here it was a startling realisation for me. I took diversity for granted as it was always inherent in my environments, but clearly that doesn’t always play out in the corporate world,” she says. 

“This disparity is particularly evident when the industry lauds our leaders; whether it’s our overall insurance leaders or prominent women being recognised, I find that there is usually a clear and visual lack of racial diversity.”

Tannock adds that while he acknowledges that D&I is not just about identity group representation, he agrees with Kirsten’s comments about the clear and visual lack of racial diversity.

“International business has been such a driver of our economy for the last three decades and when one looks at the numbers there is an overt lack of racial and gender diversity in the executive suite and middle management. A lot of work needs to be done; it is a fool’s errand to perpetuate a situation where certain demographic groups of our population don’t believe they will get a fair shot to enter and thrive in the economic engine of the country,” he says.

“We can’t advocate enough about the power of diversity in terms of enhancing a company’s results and being the right thing to do. Bermuda is the epitome of behavioural economics. Unlike other international business jurisdictions, here people who are making materially different incomes live right next door to each other. No-one cares how well they’re doing relative to their parents. They care about how well they’re doing relative to their neighbours.

“Prolonging a scenario where people don’t believe they have equal access on the basis of merit to opportunities in the engine that drives our economy is just not sensible and could have profound negative consequences to the social fabric of Bermuda if not addressed.”

He believes urgency is now required on how Bermuda can increase diversity and inclusion at all levels. The ABIC is committed to increasing awareness of not just the ‘what’ but also the ‘why’ and, just as critically, identifying and sharing best practices with its members.

“We can’t lose sight of the fact that we have to change mindsets as to why this matters and what it can do for the companies and for the community as a whole to help us remain relevant and competitive as a jurisdiction,” he says.

“I support positive initiatives such as international business-funded scholarships. I was the recipient of one 30 years ago and without that I would not have been able to pursue and attain a university degree. Providing scholarships will eventually pay dividends by increasing the pool of talent. However, we must go further.

“As an industry we can’t just hire people with diverse backgrounds and expect there to be a payoff. As leaders we must acknowledge and understand that supporting diverse talent within a company is just as critical, if not more, than the initial efforts to attract that talent. Conscious mentorship and sponsorship will be vital to increasing diversity and inclusion at all levels.”

Perceptions and prejudice

Beasley says there is now a lot of dialogue in Bermuda about diversity and inclusion in all its forms. She believes that public, and at times contentious, discourse has been a key precipitating factor in the creation of the ABIC diversity charter. “It became apparent that ABIC was well-positioned to take a leadership role in creating urgency and increasing awareness in the manner Patrick discusses,” she says.

“I will admit to being an idealist—but we are in the business world and the business case often comes to the forefront of the D&I discussion very quickly.

“The business case has been made. Our role is to make sure that everyone understands it, absorbs it and factors it into their discussions, and that was the genesis of ABIC’s CEO pledge. We want to facilitate companies’ transition from conversations and awareness to concrete actions, metrics and evaluations for which companies should hold themselves accountable.”

She says the ABIC D&I committee has an internal mission statement explicitly affirming its commitment to diversity and the importance of creating a culture of inclusion. “It’s fairly straightforward and differs from the CEO pledge, which is the public pledge that we’re asking CEOs within Bermuda to make: a pledge both to themselves and to their companies to prioritise diversity and inclusion.

“The CEO pledge facilitates a multidimensional approach to diversity and inclusion fomenting critical top-down engagement by encouraging CEOs to take an overt step towards D&I. As it is a public pledge, we hope that it will inspire the corporate community to use their voices and hold their companies accountable. We want individuals to directly ask their leadership to publicly support the pledge; we hope to harness the collective ‘grassroots’ power of all of our industry’s myriad voices.”

Tannock also stresses the importance of D&I initiatives being driven from the executive suite to ensure that D&I doesn’t become just a catchphrase.

We view this as a milestone not an endpoint as execution eats a pledge for breakfast every day and the numbers reflect the reality that we are very much in the genesis of the journey to diversity and inclusion.

“We’re excited about the pledge and support and believe in such initiatives as they can only help. However, we must not lose sight of the fact that there is still so much to do. We view this as a milestone not an endpoint as execution eats a pledge for breakfast every day and the numbers reflect the reality that we are very much in the genesis of the journey to diversity and inclusion.”

He also admits that when he first started in the industry 30 years ago he too experienced some prejudice.

“There were perceptions in Bermuda that people who looked like me, who came from humble backgrounds like mine, were lazy and didn’t have the mental aptitude to even participate in international business. Obviously we’ve worked very hard, sometimes twice as hard, to dispel those perceptions but the D&I numbers don’t lie, and the reality is that we have quite a way to go,” he says.

“As an industry and in Bermuda in particular, we’ve got to tackle the elephant in the room which is the lack of diversity in terms of people of colour in middle management and the executive suite. We can’t just start with women and pat ourselves on the back and say we have arrived. We need to hold each other to a higher standard of accountability and stop giving people the unconscious bias ‘pass’. There is so much discussion on the topic there really should be no such thing!

“I unconditionally agree with leading D&I experts who have constantly advocated that executive leadership must lead the charge to change attitudes and behaviour of organisations as to why diversity matters, and champion the prioritisation, creation and promotion of a culture of equity within their companies.

“When I reflect on the journey that we’ve been on with respect to diversity and inclusion when people talked about diversity in previous generations it was all about representation and assimilation, and differences were consciously suppressed under the premise that we are all the same.”

Being true to yourself

Tannock stresses that people today don’t want to, and shouldn’t have to, conceal their authentic selves—differences positively contribute to business results.

“Today it really must be about having a collaborative workplace that encourages contributions from colleagues with varying views and the distinct factors that contribute to their personalities and behaviour. We have to move towards transcending assimilation and differentiation and enable common differences to transform and empower the way our organisations work.

“I’m cautiously optimistic that increasing the awareness, championing the why, changing mindsets and sharing best practices will accelerate the industry’s journey to move from just diversity—which is all the ways we are different—to inclusion, which is all about harnessing our differences to make us stronger.

“As an industry we must move to a new paradigm where colleagues’ differences really matter.

“As members of this industry, but more importantly citizens of the world, we all have a duty to drive diversity and inclusion forward to generate sustainable solutions for our clients, and ultimately for the world, today, tomorrow and in years to come.”

Beasley adds: “The core of any D&I initiative should be a people-centric approach to creating a culture that attracts, retains and develops talent. CEOs need to dive in and take a bold step forward. I believe that there is a great deal of consternation about public accountability for D&I measures and this makes some CEOs shy away from public declarations and pledges of support.

“The simple fact is that companies and their leaders are accountable for their D&I statistics whether they choose to be or not (for example, the publicly available data on the gender pay gap in the UK). The leaders who step forward and embrace D&I measures and accountability will better position their companies to find and mobilise the strength of a diverse and inclusive workplace culture.”

ABIC, inclusion, Bermuda, diversity, pledge, Tannock, Beasley, racial, awareness

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