Blog: Why it’s important for insurance firms to prioritise social mobility

diversity

Social inequality increased during the pandemic. Kieran Jones, director of client relationships at Weightmans and member of the board of directors at the Insurance Industry Charitable Foundation, explains what the industry can do to help.

Social inequality continues to be a critical issue in the UK, which has one of the lowest rates of social mobility in the developed world. This has been amplified further by the economic impact of the Covid-19 outbreak, with the Social Mobility Commission’s recent survey of public attitudes revealing that most people believed social inequality had increased during the pandemic mirroring growing evidence that the most socially disadvantaged had been hardest hit - from jobs and living standards, to healthcare and access to digital work and schooling.

There are concerns that the attainment gap will grow even wider as we recover from a year of global disruption, but we can’t afford for it to get much worse – already only 2.5 in 100 young people from the most disadvantaged backgrounds get a top university place, and people from wealthier backgrounds are 80% more likely have a professional job than their working class peers.

In 2019, I joined the Insurance Industry Charitable Foundation UK’s board of directors alongside my colleague Peter Forshaw, partner and LGBTQ+ strand lead for the firm; we share its ethos and admire the impact it has had in encouraging social mobility generally, and in the insurance industry in particular, which greatly informs our work to this day. The grants the IICF regularly makes to a number of social mobility charities and not for profit organisations make a material difference to young people across the country.

We all want to provide the best service to our clients and customers, give back to our local communities and recruit the best people from all walks of life, creating an environment that helps everyone to thrive. It is well known that diversity in any organisation makes good business - as well as moral - sense. So what can we do as an industry to address the challenges?

It’s important that we drive a socially inclusive culture from all levels; leadership and values go hand in hand. At Weightmans, our managing and senior partners are part of a national steering group that drives our inclusion programme forward, regularly monitoring the statistics gathered and implementing policies to advance equality at the firm. Peter is also our national CSR lead and a leading advocate for socioeconomic diversity and inclusion, liaising with HR and other departments to ensure support for the strategy and that every team understands their role. Board directors are aligned to our key diversity areas – mine is gender equality, to ensure that the inclusion goals of the firm are understood and progressed at all levels of the organisation.

Facilitating leadership and culture

The IICF’s conference on Leadership, Innovation & Diversity in London demonstrates how it facilitates leadership and culture. A great example is how, after listening to a speaker who was part of Key 4 Life’s programme to transition young men from prison into employment, a CEO of an insurance business recruited the speaker, who has now worked there for over two years. 

Outreach forms the backbone of any good social mobility strategy. National mentoring and tutoring programmes can level the playing field, ensuring that everyone has similar opportunities to self-develop, secure employment and thrive which are not dependent on wealth, connections, or parental precedent. Regardless of the sector in which any individual flourishes, mentoring can greatly advance that growth and development. We have worked with the Social Mobility Foundation for a number of years, taking part in successful mentoring programmes and assisting with CV writing and other practical skills-based tutoring, which has had numerous benefits both for our volunteers and the recipients.

It can depend greatly on internal interest, but there’s clearly appetite for volunteering – often staff consider this a development opportunity themselves, rather than a sacrifice of time. The IICF supports this with its Week of Giving, where employees have an opportunity to volunteer with local community charities, and thousands of industry volunteers across the UK and USA give more than 10,000 hours during this unique, industry-wide initiative. This is just one of the many benefits of being a member of the IICF.

Of course, you can raise awareness, implement policies and educate your teams but without a robust and innovative recruitment and progression strategy, these efforts can only be so effective. Recruitment policies should be focused on seeking potential rather than qualifications and we now undertake blind recruitment; removing schools and universities attended to remove the chance of unconscious bias. Offering alternative routes into the industry is becoming more common, and we have found that schemes to support school leavers such as apprenticeships are not only improving the diversity of our workforce but can deliver real commercial benefits – the Social Mobility Commission recently released statistics which showed 92% of firms who run a scheme believed it resulted in a more motivated and satisfied workforce, while 80% reported higher retention rates.

Collaboration is truly key – we find that there is strength in numbers and working with the IICF means that the range of beneficiaries we can reach in respect of the digital divide and social poverty is far greater than any one organisation can reach on their own.Through the IICF’s global network we have been able to work alongside colleagues in the insurance industry to give beneficiaries insight into career opportunities, as well as giving us all greater insight into how we can help people from diverse and disadvantaged backgrounds. 

While we continue to make progress, there’s still much we can do to reduce social inequality and ensure our workforces are built and rewarded based on their merit and talent, rather than their economic status, social background or connections. And we are stronger, together.

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