Black Lives Matter conversations have been 'raw' and 'revelatory': Dive In panel

diversity

The momentum behind diversity and inclusion programmes changing society and the industry for the better continues to build but there remains much more to be done, according to experts at the industry’s Dive In festival.

Speaking on a virtual panel yesterday on the second day of the three day event the specialists shared their thoughts and experiences in a session titled Leadership: Advancing D&I during a Pandemic.

Trevor Gandy, senior D&I consultant at Markel addressed how the insurer had reached out to colleagues during the pandemic to talk about the Black Lives Matter campaign.

“Silence on this was not an option,” he stressed underlining that the tragic events had affected all employees deeply.

The provider’s two co-CEOs held Town Hall meetings: “What I would call the virtual listening and talking table,” he said noting that the pair “wanted to provide a safe environment to address these tough issues”.

It was an emotional discussion, Gandy detailed,

He said: “The CEOs and all of us were committed to listening and ensuring we keep the lines open for candid dialogue.”

The firm’s global diversity and inclusion steering meeting was critical in helping, he noted.

“The exchanges have really been a differentiator at Markel, to bring everybody to the table to discuss not only what has occurred but then what behaviours and actions can progress our company but what can we do potentially to help transform the larger society,” he continued.

And he underlined that this was being maintained going forwards with “the need to continue to challenge ourselves to step outside of our comfort zones”, build relationships and promote change to the fore.

Similarly, Pamela Thomson-Hall, head of Central and Eastern Europe, Middle East and Africa and managing director, international at Willis Towers Watson recounted that it had been a “really emotional process”.

Like Markel that business had a need to talk about BLM and the racial injustice everyone had witnessed.

WTW used its inclusion network colleagues to guide it on how to have conversations in a safe space.

“They have been emotional, raw, painful, revelatory,” Thomson-Hall said.

“We have discovered things we didn’t understand and we have created actions around those discoveries to make our environment a better place. Make it a place where people feel they can express these views and share with us these experiences in a way they weren’t able to do so before.”

She summed up that the journey had been “an incredible experience and we have had an awakening”.

Adding: “We have been able to take some positive steps as a result of the tragic circumstances we have witnessed.”

This she said, had been led by the CEOs around the world who had been actively participating and empowering colleagues to have the discussions.

The panel session, chaired by Heather Melville, director, people networks and client relationship programmes at PWC, analysed how leadership could be shown on such issues at this difficult time.

“It is not easy,” said Alex Bertolotti, UK insurance leader at PWC adding that compassionate leadership was needed.

And the debate turned to how to bring everyone into the conversation.

“This is certainly a time when an organisation’s commitment to its employees comes into the light very clearly,” Gandy said pinpointing that trust and empathy are needed and cannot be created in one moment. It needs leaders not managers and “role modelling is critical”, he stated.

Sabine Vanderlinden, CEO of Alchemy Crew, said: “What I see is we are working very differently now.”

She listed the qualities needed as trusting in individuals, caring, wanting to adapt and being inspiring.

“What you are going to see is a lot more authenticity coming out of people,” she forecast. “That actually it is okay to be normal to have another layer.”

Melville brought the online event to a close by focusing in on how inclusion is being talked about around the world.

“It is the biggest drive for inclusion leaders that we will ever see in this century,” she stated asking: “How do we keep that momentum going?”

Bertolotti responded that momentum has built over the past five years.

“It feels like the D&I agenda is starting to become part of mainstream business,” he set out.

“If people or organisations don’t grasp this then their employees and their customers may go elsewhere,” he added.

Thomson-Hall pinpointed that there were still “naysayers” but predicted that “we are coming into the age of fervent leaders”.

She praised the development saying leaders have to embrace making their teams successful, including and developing them.

She concluded: “Without that drive from leadership to role model into good behaviours and ensure that the talent is along the journey with us we won’t be able to deliver those results.

“There is a need and an opportunity.”

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