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Diversity: Why Bother?

October 20, 2017

Significance of a recent D&I event in Mumbai!

There is a dominant feedback that one keeps hearing since the first ever insurance industry Diversity event, held here recently in Mumbai, under the auspices of the Chartered Insurance Institute. “There was no mention of insurance” during the proceedings. Now, that is precisely why insurance requires a regular and urgent dosage of Diversity!

This country is the world’s oldest melting pot, which continues to brew vigorously. Many of the internal dynamics call for a revisit and reset so as to align with modern times.

The celebrity speaker Nandita Das was candid, crisp and passionate in unpeeling layers after layers of our inherited unconscious biases. Her experiences both inside and outside the country went way beyond skin colour, caste, region, gender and profession. To quote Hetal Dalal, COO Institutional Investors Advisory Services, “I liked Nandita Das’ comment on identity and recognition that historical wrongs get suppressed in the argument towards a pure meritocracy”.  Somewhere something in our historical past did not go right and we started creating barriers and status quo. Some of us became self-serving. How can the insurance business be unaffected? If we must restore trust we need to be more representative.

After a couple of sabbaticals says Samina Patel, who has had a chequered career in the financial services,  “In fact many female HR Heads used to wonder how I can even think I can get back into mainstream after a 3.5 years break. But I believed in myself.” Such courage is generally rare. She adds, “I have also started an initiative in my current role to look for women candidates looking to get back part-time for sales lead generation.”

Sian Fisher, CII CEO, took over the mantle of “HeForShe” well ahead of any other financial service. Proving more than a point – that insurance need not be a laggard and also a lady can lead this charge from the very front.

As this market reaches out to build trust amongst women, digital natives, retirees, rural populace, those who communicate in vernacular and all the potential first time buyers – the very ones who have resisted our embrace – we need to transcend beyond the physics of our business. Apart from a deep DiveIn, we must ensure an intense ongoing chemistry too. This was a call to open up our minds and strive for “Empathy, Education and Engagement”, in Sian’s words. I am tempted to add Endearment, here.

Data seekers at the event too would have realized that Diversity is very much a right brain activity. Insurance is a business of trouble and calls for empathy. We are also currently faced with a talent crunch and a tectonic shift thanks to the arrival of a new generation of employees and customers – the Gen Z which will make the Millennials seem old.  Diversity & Inclusivity (D&I) is one mantra that will reverse the dysfunctionality and hopefully endear insurance to a wider base.

That diverse boards generate superior ROI is well established. We are yet to reconcile with a lesser known fact about the growing power of women in household spend. Why does home insurance not really sell here? If we were to make one and one two – are we pitching and appealing to someone who has it within her to decide? Bandhan Bank, for instance, does it very well – micro-lends only to women. A sure shot way to ensure there are no bad debts!

“It was a truly sincere effort at promoting diversity rather than just a tick in the box sake kind of event”, an observation from Samina that more than sums up the success of the maiden event. This is more vital than any other statistics!

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