Marsh's Ailsa King on including mental health in diversity agenda

Ailsa King, Chief Client Officer, Marsh UK & Ireland

  • Organisations need to create cultures that make us feel comfortable talking about our mental health issues
  • Insurance is fundamentally a people business and key to our industry’s continued success is creating workplaces where everyone has the opportunity to thrive

Insurance has progressed on diversity but stigma persists around mental health, writes Ailsa King, chief client officer, Marsh UK & Ireland, calling on the industry to create supportive workplaces.

In Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Polonius’ parting advice to his son as he leaves for Paris is, “This above all: to thine own self be true”. While Polonius’ remarks were originally intended to offer fatherly counsel against moral turpitude, today they lend themselves well to the narrative around self-belief, individuality and authenticity.

In the context of mental health, authenticity relates to being able to present our whole selves: the positive, the negative, the robust or the fragile state of mind that we all experience as human beings at some point in our lives.

As an industry, we’re making significant progress in breaking down barriers and creating more inclusive workplaces, where people feel comfortable in bringing their whole selves to work. However, while we’re continuing to reduce workplace biases relating to gender, colour or sexual orientation, the stigma around mental health persists.

According to the Mental Health Foundation, nearly one in seven people experience mental health problems in the workplace, and 12.7% of all sickness absence days in the UK can be attributed to mental health conditions. Mental health is an illness just as any other – it affects us at every stage of life, from childhood and adolescence through to adulthood – and, therefore, should be a crucial element of the diversity and inclusion narrative.

Mental health is a deeply personal issue. People need to feel empowered to speak out, seek help, and – where appropriate – seek treatment, without fear of recrimination, shame or damaging their career prospects.

At an organisational level, this means that the firms we work for need to do more to create cultures that make us feel comfortable talking about our mental health issues.

At an individual level, each and every one of us has a role to play in ending the stigma surrounding mental health.

By speaking out about our own experiences, and listening with compassion to others, we can help drive change through spreading greater understanding that mental health issues can affect anyone.

We’re seeing positive signs of change. At last month’s Dive In festival, mental health featured prominently on the agenda and people gathered at events around the world to share their experiences. I’m very proud to be an Ambassador for Marsh’s mental health colleague resource group, an internal network created by colleagues, for colleagues, to provide support, change attitudes and remove the stigma surrounding mental health in the workplace.

Yet despite progress, more still needs to be done to embed mental health into the wider diversity and inclusion narrative. Insurance is fundamentally a people business and the mental health of the people we work with should be top of our employers’ minds.

Key to our industry’s continued success is creating workplaces where everyone, irrespective of their differences, has the opportunity to thrive. Employers that create wonderfully open, diverse – and above all, supportive – working environments where people can truly be themselves will reap the benefits of more motivated teams and improve their overall performance.

It’s our business to take care of each other; by doing so, we also take care of ourselves.

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