By Nor Izmawati Mostapar, Head of Corporate Communications & e-Learning at MII
Everyone benefits when an insurance company or any company for that matter, has a diverse, inclusive workforce, ranging from employees and executives to partners, clients, and individual policyholders. In this context, diversity means individuals are recognised, respected, and valued for the different perspectives they bring. Likewise, inclusion means individuals are given equal opportunity to contribute to business success, regardless of their background.
Every industry regardless of its ethnic and demographic profile or its history of change management has both an obligation to tackle unconscious bias and the ability to make a difference. By recognizing the potential for unconscious bias and intervening appropriately to remove bias from operations and processes, change managers can drive change that will influence the actions of their peers and competitors. This, in turn, will ultimately yield a larger systemic change.
So, before you conclude that your company advocates diversity and inclusion, try answering these questions:
- Do your leaders understand the business value of a diverse workforce?
- Do you have the right data to help you understand the diversity in your organisation?
- Is there a clear vision to help you to attract and retain the best talent?
- Are your current initiatives making a difference?
Managing unconscious bias
Unconscious biases or stereotypes that we hold unknowingly, often keep our company and industry from achieving success. Unconscious biases based on age, gender, and sexual orientation are the most common examples, but they are not the only areas of concern. For example, hiring decisions might be influenced by perceptions of educational background, favoring a candidate who is a graduate of an ‘elite’ university over a similarly qualified and skilled applicant who graduated from a state school. This too is unconscious bias, and it may take several conversations for your executives to understand that a diverse set of educational backgrounds contributes to a diverse and more productive workforce.
Banishing unconscious biases and truly embracing diversity requires action. A company cannot simply declare its commitment without making any substantial changes to its hiring practices, community outreach, or workplace culture. Diversity initiatives need not start with a bang, especially when you are still exploring what works and what doesn’t. Instead, begin by examining internal processes. Then, think about how you can break down your goals into actionable steps to improve these internal processes.
For starters, companies that purposefully address unconscious bias, are likely to hire a more diverse and representative workforce and to partner with diverse suppliers and customers. Many executives are ready and willing to commit to diversity and inclusion and make their core elements of company strategy, planning, and culture. However, HR leaders will have to initiate the ‘uncomfortable conversations’ that help teams identify and understand the various unconscious biases that they may be holding onto, despite their best intentions.