ABIC DEI chair Vandoninck calls for action not words on diversity


ABIC DEI chair Vandoninck calls for action not words on diversity

Bermuda’s international business community must turn good intentions into tangible progress in creating a more diverse and inclusive workforce, according to Philip Vandoninck (pictured), CEO of Fidelis Insurance Bermuda and Chair of the Association of Bermuda International Companies’ (ABIC) Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Committee.

Key to advancing the transition from words to action is finding and sharing best practices that can provide fair opportunities and career progression for historically disadvantaged groups in Bermuda’s unique context, Vandoninck stated.

“When you see the corporate numbers on the representation of groups by gender and ethnicity, it’s clear there’s a massive divide,” Vandoninck said. “You can’t hide from it. Then, the question is: what are you going to do about it?”

In 2019, Fidelis defined its DEI goals with an overarching target of achieving a proportionate representation at all seniority levels in the business. Specific goals to achieve this include a ten-year target for proportionate representation of BAME (Black, Asian and minority ethnic) employees at junior professional, professional, and manager/function head levels, and a 15-year target for the group executive level.

These goals factored in the company’s starting position, projected turnover, average time for career progression, and promotion versus external recruitment ratios. The company’s efforts touch on hiring processes, mentorship – both of employees in their career development and of schoolchildren from underrepresented groups — tackling unconscious bias and educating all employees on Bermuda’s social history.

This led Vandoninck to be asked to head up ABIC’s DEI Committee. “When you speak to people in the Black community on the island, they feel that there's been a lot of talk and willingness shown, but they want to see more action,” Vandoninck said. “To help encourage more business leaders to take action, it makes sense to share practices that have worked, so that others can adopt them.

“The DEI Committee hosted a roundtable with executives of some of the newer companies on the island. I explained what we’ve been through, the mistakes we’ve made and what we’re doing now. We will have more conversations like this to encourage positive change.”

He also noted that startups tend to lack diversity in their rush of initial recruitment. Having had personal experience of establishing two new companies on the island — Hiscox in 2005 and Fidelis in 2015 — Vandoninck explained what tends to happen.

“You have to do so much work that you're swept off your feet,” he said. “So, on the hiring front, you're likely to look for people you already know. That should be avoided, because it perpetuates the lack of diversity.”

He notes that some of the hiring managers in Bermuda are expatriates, who may not understand the roots of Bermuda’s racial tensions and social inequity. Education is key to addressing the issue. The company has partnered with the National Museum of Bermuda to provide a programme for all employees called “Exploring history through a corporate lens”, involving participatory workshops that explore the history of enslavement, emancipation and segregation in Bermuda.

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Bermuda Re