Q&A: Ajay Mistry, partnership director, Brokerbility and co-chair, Insurance Cultural Awareness Network

Ajay Mistry

As part of the Inclusion at Lloyd's programme six partner networks have been set up to help bolster diversity and inclusion in insurance. Post spoke to a representative from each one to get an insight into what they doing, today focusing on The Insurance Cultural Awareness Network.

What are the main objectives of your network?

The Insurance Cultural Awareness Network was founded in 2017 by myself and a small group of insurance professionals to consider challenges facing Black, Asian & Minority-Ethnic and those from outside the UK working in the insurance sector. Our mission is to promote multicultural inclusion and progression, engage with allies and celebrate benefits of inclusion and diversity in the insurance industry. Our strategy is based on developing solutions for three areas of focus.

First, the development of multicultural leaders and ensuring we can support and develop high-performing BAME/International colleagues to reach their full potential by delivering soft-skills training and opportunities to develop key mentor relationships, embedding a longer-term thinking to career planning.

Second, developing an industry network to bring current multicultural employee resource groups/ champions together, as well as being able to provide an umbrella network to those organisations that don’t have the critical mass to form their own resource groups.

Finally, promoting and celebrating visible multicultural and international role models, including promoting those who often don’t see themselves as role models and embedding diversity and inclusion thinking into their development.

In addition, we are committed to working with individual companies to help drive their own agendas, as well as promoting intersectionality and commonality, working with groups across the industry.  

Why did you personally get involved?

I feel like I grew up as a part of our insurance industry, as my father, Ashwin Mistry has been involved in the sector for his entire career and his energy and passion for what we do has been passed on to me.

Given this, and the experiences both he and I have had over many years being from the BAME community, I could see that we really needed to make progress on this topic in the industry we love. On a daily basis, I was meeting people who were saying the same things I was, and I wanted to be at the forefront of making the change happen. The time was right, and as a result, ICan was born.

What activities has your network undertaken to help increase understanding and achieve its D&I goals?

There are so many, it is difficult to narrow down – but, in line with our objectives, here are a few highlights.

In terms of multicultural leaders we recently launched an innovative initiative, ‘ICanApply’, a new online platform to promote career paths and retain our talent in our industry. To achieve this, we have partnered with Aston Charles recruitment to deliver soft skills training courses, white papers and career tips on social media to our membership. We are also building a new mentoring scheme aimed specifically at BAME women, to develop this pipeline.

In terms of industry networking earlier this year, we hosted a roundtable, connecting all the multicultural resource groups from across insurance to develop thought leadership and best practice.

Elsewhere we’re actively supporting organisations to develop their internal employee resource groups (Marsh, QBE) and to refresh existing networks (Talbot, Chubb) and we’re even advising outside of insurance.

We’ve also run a series of events for our membership including the celebration of cultural festivities and partnering with organisations and other industry networks.

With regards role models in May we published a book with the Chartered Insurance Institute, Multicultural & International Role Models in Insurance, in which we shared personal stories of 35 inspiring people. We are now using our current resources to promote them within their organisations and throughout the industry. 

And last but not least, we launched our YouTube channel called EyeCan to promote our visible role models

What has/ been the network’s biggest achievements to date?

ICan targeted 2019 to be our ‘year of impact’, and I’m really delighted to share what we’ve achieved so far. Not only have we developed five new sponsor relationships (including Allianz Global Corporate & Specialty, Premfina, Zurich and Chubb), we’ve also cemented our position as a partner network with Inclusion at Lloyd’s. Our membership numbers have increased significantly over time – starting out around 350, now at more than 700 and a target of 1000 by the end of the year.

Our program of events has been a fantastic achievement as well. In 2019 we’ll have over 1000 attendees for nine events – which have an amazing range of focus areas – including wellbeing, role models, speed mentoring, ethnicity pay gap, and of course all have featured an opportunity for our members to engage with each other and network. Linked to the events, we’ve established a positive, energetic presence on social media – with things like EyeCan on YouTube, plus a strong identity on Linked In, Instagram and Twitter.

What has been the biggest barrier to the network achieving its objectives?

The biggest challenge so far has been raising the profile of multicultural inclusion as a topic of importance – so actually getting on the agenda of companies in our industry. This topic has been quite slow to get on the priority list of many companies, but it is exciting to see momentum start to build, both for ICan, and many of the partner networks and employee resource groups within organisations themselves.

Could you single out some of the bright stars within the network and outline why their input has been so important?

There are so many great examples of bright stars, that it is hard to pick just a few.

However, I am lucky to have an amazing steering committee who I work with, and I would like to mention two members – Gareth Mutema and Natalia Zurowski. Two years ago, Gareth walked into one of our mentoring sessions with a limited knowledge and understanding of multicultural inclusion and its impact. Today, he is a member of our  steering committee and through networking has recently secured a new career, and has also developed to be a role model who is sharing his insight with others.

Natalia joined our committee earlier this year, and since then has transformed our presence on social media, bringing her creativity and innovation to the fore. Earlier this year, she was recognised in the We Are The City awards as a Rising Star. I am so proud of them both, and honoured to be working with such a talented group.

And, one final example, which is quite personal for me. I met Alice Tu when she was just trying to get into the insurance industry and did not have a clear idea of where to take her career, and what the best focus was for her many skills and talents. Through ICan, and some top notch networking, she secured a role at Chubb, where she is flourishing.

It’s so exciting to see that something I’ve helped to build can have a real impact like that.

What could the insurance sector start doing/ stop doing in order to help increase awareness in your network’s D&I specialist area?

Start doing, is putting multicultural inclusion and BAME on the agenda in a serious way. Many firms are doing this, but many more are still not, and that needs to change.

In terms of stop doing – treating topics such as multicultural inclusion, gender equality, LGBTQ, and support for families as separate focus areas. It is all about D&I, but many see it as something that can only have one area of focus at a time. With that approach, other areas lose out, and we’re missing opportunities to collaborate together to leverage our collective impact.

What has your network got coming up in the future; and how can people get involved?

Our next whitepaper will be published in October, and there will be more of those to follow. As a part of Black History Month, we’re working with Aon to host an event. Speed mentoring has always proved very popular for us, so we have the next session planned in November. And, December is upon us quickly, so we’ll be hosting a festive event with our members, in partnership with the Insurance Families Network.

We always welcome people getting involved – so if your readers have ideas for events or initiatives, or would like to speak to us about multicultural inclusion in their organisation – they should go to our website, where they can sign up as a member, or get in touch with the steering committee.



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