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A Time for Change

By Daniella Jenkins

TDaniella jenkinsime for change is an apt phrase for the year 2020. The Covid-19 pandemic and global responses to it have forced us to examine the ways that we trade, work and socialise. Perhaps unexpectedly, the year has also foregrounded the need to tackle racial inequality as an urgent priority. Vanessa Ijeoma has written an excellent blog on the ways in which racism can be institutionalised through discourse and unconscious bias, which I will not attempt to repeat. Instead, my focus is on five opportunities open to the Insurance industry to make diversity part of the way that it does business.


It seems strange to begin a pitch to a data driven industry with a piece about language, but the way that we talk about race and ethnicity really counts. When we speak about language and ethnicity, it is usually associated with arguments around offence but the larger challenge is thinking about how we frame the debate. American psychologists have shown that using negative language conditions people to think more negatively and actually inhibits our motivation to change[1]. It is important therefore that we do not make race a ‘problem’ but instead embrace diversity as an option for improvement. Let’s be honest, challenges are hard and it can often feel like one more thing to take on in an already difficult business environment. Prospects however are positive and speak to advantages that will be realised in the future. Translating this operationally, who in your business in leading on race and diversity? Is it seen as a compliance issue, HR imperative or performance target to drive growth? Framing drives energy and reveals organisational priorities. If ethnicity truly matters to your business, try and make sure your language reflects this.


Sooner or later any discussion with Insurers is going to turn to data! The industry is famously data rich but how much do we actually know and could the ways in which we structure and collate data in fact obscure our understanding of the issues? An obvious example is use of the category Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) for data collection purposes. Just over 86% of the UK population are categorised as White, meaning that within the 14% of the population who are non- White, there is a large amount of variation with a single term covering  a multitude of communities, each with distinct histories, cultures and experiences. That noisy dataset can obscure differences in income, educational attainment or life outcomes and ultimately makes it confusing to develop tangible strategies. This is not to say that data has no value, but organisations should be careful in drawing conclusions too quickly and validate trends with different sources. This is especially so as we see rapid gains in automation and digitisation across the sector which increase the risk of ‘inheriting’ racial bias in data.  The key learning here is when looking at ethnicity data, consider the source and better still weigh up what you really need to know to allow you to take informed positive action.


In February of this year the Parker Review highlighted that 37% of companies surveyed in the FTSE 100 and 69% of FTSE 250 have not met the target of at least one ethnic minority director on their Board[2]. To make the change that we want to see, the industry will need to attract, retain and foster talent from a wide range of communities. The good news is that Insurers and Long - Term Savings companies are well positioned to improve with a wide regional footprint across the UK and range of entry points through graduate and non- graduate roles, to broaden the recruitment pool. A learning point might be to think more widely about the recruitment base, encouraging mid life career changers and challenging the often held assumption that insurance is a cradle to grave profession where talent is found only in competitor organisations.

Supply Chains

The business of insurance can seem like an ecosystem, encapsulating a network of  supply chains. Risk management through the third party providers is well established with AML and compliance checks instituted as standard ways of doing business. So too, large brands can leverage their power in the market to drive positive behaviours around race and ethnicity. Do your suppliers report on their ethnicity pay gap? More importantly have you transferred your reputation to another party by not doing due diligence on their HR practices? Every firm has the opportunity to set the tone and increase reach by ensuring that their values are reflected throughout their supply chain.


Thinking about how we can do things differently is usually associated with technology but we can also innovate through our human to human interactions. New market segments, models of insurance and more effective ways of working are unlikely to be found by asking the same people the same questions and expecting different results. As disrupters to traditional business models enter the sector it is clear that there is a real need to bring in diversity at all levels. Change can be seen as risky - after all it demands that we think about things anew and act in ways that may be different from the behaviours that have been modelled to us. If everyone in your organisation looks the same and thinks similarly however, it hints at a business vulnerability -  after all your competitor organisations in 2030 are unlikely to have generic looking workforces. The greater risk it would seem is not embracing diversity now to create more resilient organisations for the future.

It’s hard to imagine that there is a silver lining to the pandemic, however by seizing this moment to reframe and redirect our actions around race and ethnicity, we might yet use this moment as a time for change.

Daniella Jenkins is Executive Director of The WOW Foundation and PhD researcher leading the Feminist Pension Project

[1] Alia-Klein, N., Goldstein, R.Z., Tomasi, D., Zhang, L., Fagin-Jones, S., Telang, F., Wang, G.J., Fowler, J.S. and Volkow, N.D. (2007) “What is in a word? No versus Yes differentially engage the lateral orbitofrontal cortex.”, Emotion7(3), p.649.

[2] https://assets.ey.com/content/dam/ey-sites/ey-com/en_uk/news/2020/02/ey-parker-review-2020-report-final.pdf


Last updated 07/10/2020