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Making Flexible Work

Yvonne Braun

When I first set foot in the City of London in the nineties (for a short stint as a law student in a barrister's chambers), trousers were not acceptable attire for women in court. Thankfully, things have changed and diversity has become far more accepted as an important quality for employers and workplaces.

On 28 April, the ABI launched the biggest ever expansion of flexible working in the insurance and long-term savings sector. 27 firms and the ABI signed up to support the new Making Flexible Work campaign – making a series of new commitments – a watershed moment for our industry that has been a long time in the making. It is a reflection of our determination to improve gender equality and diversity more widely, and to attract and retain the best talent from all backgrounds to our sector.

Why does diversity matter in our sector?

There are three interconnected reasons: the bottom line, attracting and retaining the brightest and best, and reflecting the communities we serve.

The business benefits of diversity are clear. McKinsey research has shown that more diverse companies are more profitable and report higher levels of employee satisfaction.

Greater diversity will also make our sector more attractive to people from all walks of life which will allow us to recruit and retain the brightest and best talent from across society.

And we have a responsibility to reflect the diversity of the communities we serve within our own organisations.

For these reasons, a focus on diversity and inclusion has become ever more important to our members and it is an important area of focus for the ABI. Our latest D&I Strategy addresses three key areas: it aims to improve social mobility, increase Black, Asian and minority ethnic representation and reduce the gender seniority gap by increasing access to flexible working.

Flexible working has been making its way up the agenda for a while. Our experiences of working during a pandemic have also thrown the questions of where we work and how we work into sharp relief. Employees increasingly expect flexible working to be offered as the norm – the Government Equalities Office has called for flexible working to be made a standard option for employees and has published evidence showing that nine out of ten jobseekers are looking for greater flexibility.

Yet, flexible working is poorly defined and means different things to different people. So, talking about simply increasing flexible working is not enough. We need to offer the kinds of flexible working that will actually make a difference to diversity overall. Flexible working that benefits everyone and supports people – but especially women – to progress their careers while balancing other responsibilities.

Stark, new industry data – published to coincide with the launch of our campaign – demonstrates why the Making Flexible Work Charter is so necessary. Despite more women than men joining our sector at entry level (58%), they continue to be under-represented in the board room (29%) and at executive level (24%). And, when you delve a little deeper into the figures, you find a startling range of performance across individual firms. For example, in around a sixth of firms, fewer than one in ten executive team members are women.

The ABI’s own research shows that, to reduce the gender seniority gap, the industry needs to make it easier for part-time or formerly part-time employees to advance rather than for their careers to stagnate as is currently often the case. By signing up to the Making Flexible Work Charter, insurance and long-term savings providers are committing to publish their flexible working policy, make the majority of their roles open to flexible working – including part-time working and job sharing – and put in place the processes and guidance that will make these commitments happen within their firms, and to implement them in practice within a year.

Job sharing is one area where there is a need for greater understanding of how it can benefit employees and employers and the Making Flexible Work campaign will place particular emphasis on this type of flexible working. 87% of those who work part time in our sector are women – and increasing job sharing will support all those who want to work part time to progress in their career. Our members have helped shape this Charter and we’ll be working with them to share best practice and encourage more firms to join the flexible working revolution.

Last updated 10/10/2023