Taking time to cultivate an inclusive culture at Allianz is paying dividends

Employee networks, executive backing and public displays of its commitment to diversity and inclusion are driving cultural change at Allianz

Allianz UK, one of the UK’s largest general insurers, was ranked in the UK Inclusive Top 50 employers for 2020, its Chief Executive Officer, Jon Dye, is also its Diversity & Inclusion (D&I) sponsor. Here he explains why driving cultural change to embed inclusivity must be a priority that starts at the top but is shared by all.

Allianz reached the top 50 Inclusive employers in 2020, how did you land that?

We were ranked one of the UK’s Top 50 inclusive employers in December last year and actually rose from 39th place to 30th. I put this down to all of the hard work that has been happening internally over a long period of time. For me, it’s all about embedding an inclusive culture, and that takes time to grow and develop. We’ve also taken concrete steps, like partnering with Mind, that have a strong and hopefully lasting impact.

D&I isn’t something separate from the business that’s owned by a few individuals or the HR team. We really want to bring it into the heart of our culture and strategy and have taken various steps to either amplify the existing good or drive change.

Our employee networks are a key part of the success. Eight employee networks have been formed around focus areas – sustainability, gender balance, race and international cultural heritage, LGBT+, working parents, inter-generational, disability and mental wellbeing. They provide support, networking opportunities and fun activities for members whilst also being a key voice in discussions to improve life at Allianz. All of the networks are represented on our D&I steering committee.

You also can’t underestimate the importance of executive-backing for D&I measures. Traditionally you might find leaders talking about the topic or enthusiastic volunteers coming up with ideas. Taken separately, these approaches don’t necessarily have the power or influence to drive real change. I believe we’ve struck a great balance with our D&I steering committee that consists of volunteers from the networks as well as members of the senior management team. We can really explore and discuss recommendations in detail before presenting them to the management board, making sure that all voices are heard.

The third strand that I think makes us successful is that we have committed ourselves to external parties and guidelines. For example, we are signatories to the HM Treasury’s Women in Finance Charter, the Race at Work Charter and the CEO pledge for Inclusive Behaviours in Insurance. We don’t just hold ourselves accountable; through these initiatives, we have pledged publically to uphold all of the key elements.

So in short, these three elements drive the approach at Allianz. We want to build an inclusive and diverse culture, and I really believe we’re on the right track. I’m so proud of the efforts we’ve made already, but of course, this will always be evolving, so there’s no real finish date!

How do you plan to reach higher on the list?

As I said, you can never really rest with this, and it’s about embedding all of the existing good but also pushing forward. We’ve already begun introducing new policies and events in 2020 to ensure that we keep up the momentum.

We have a whole range of initiatives in the pipeline that vary from further review of where we’re marketing new roles to training the next wave of mental health first aiders. Interestingly remote working could actually help us in terms of attracting a more diverse talent pool which is something we’re exploring.

Given the current situation, we are making active efforts to ensure that our virtual D&I programmes are just as effective at home as in the office. Indeed, many of our employee networks saw their views on our ‘Connect’ intranet page shoot up over lockdown – and we’ve responded by ensuring that there is interesting content and forums for our employees to chat on. For example, we are looking to set up a page for those going on paternity or maternity leave through our Jive intranet app, giving parents across the business the opportunity to speak freely and privately with each other behind closed doors.

It’s about looking at D&I from lots of different angles and seeing the bigger picture.

What does it mean to be the Diversity & Inclusion sponsor for your organisation?

For one, it’s about signalling to all our employees how key the topic is; it’s not just a view from the top, I’m actively involved. By chairing the steering group, I’m in a position to be at the heart of proposals and discussions and take the information back to the management board with full context.

It also means that I’m genuinely informed, which can help me be a better and more inclusive leader. Our D&I approach doesn’t sit separately from the business – with a more diverse and informed workforce we can better understand and support our customers.

I am very lucky in that respect as my colleagues are equally supportive of our programme, and indeed, many of our senior management team sponsor and actively participate in the networks.

How have you kept D&I as a priority in the pandemic?

It has been essential that we continue to prioritise D&I initiatives for our people while they have been home-based throughout the pandemic.

Through our partnership with Mind, we’ve been providing access to mental health support as well as regular webinars and intranet stories on the topic of wellbeing. We’ve encouraged people for their mental and physical health to take part in fundraising activities such as a virtual exercise class with Mr Motivator and our ‘Stronger Together’ campaign where colleagues were encouraged to track their walks and runs. We covered a distance of 140,785 km and raised £30,000 for Mind in the process!

Our employee networks have also continued to be very active throughout this year, providing invaluable support and promoting important topics. For example, our AllAbility Employee Network recently hosted an Invisible Disabilities virtual event, to raise awareness of a range of disabilities employees could be managing in the workplace without others realising. This session included talks from two directors who shared their personal stories. The feedback we received was extremely positive and has prompted further discussions on this important topic internally and encouraged others also to share their own disability stories.  

This year we had plans to join the London Pride Parade once again and take our Allianz float to Birmingham Pride, but of course, neither event took place. However, it was really important to us that we found other ways to show how we support LGBTQ Pride Month. We celebrated virtually with our employees, running several internal initiates including online events, a #DresswithPride photograph competition and promoting a range of employee stories about what LGBTQ Pride Month means to them personally.

ENRICH (our race and international cultural heritage network) has also been doing superb work. Obviously, it’s not a new topic. Still, following the events of the summer, they offered extra support for employees and through blogs and online events provided a safe environment for colleagues to discuss recent events and topics that they otherwise might find difficult or uncomfortable. We welcome all feedback, thoughts and ideas from our colleagues and are here to listen, so it’s been truly moving to see so many of our employees engaging through this network and also recommending articles, podcasts and books to others.

On a completely different note, our working parents’ network held three summer events to keep children entertained. The balloon modelling, cooking and magic workshops were a huge success and demonstrate how sometimes you have to think outside the box to offer employee support!

We’ve also switched as many things online as we can, such as our mentoring scheme, summer internship programme and promoted all of our online learning and development resources.

Why is executive backing for D&I measures so important?

As I said earlier, I think it’s a key driver if used in combination with employee support. Executive backing ensures that the topic is visible, high profile and consistently at the top of a company agenda. It also means that it’s front of mind when looking at wider strategy. The balance that needs to be struck, however, is that whilst talking about D&I is important it has to be backed by action. Words without deeds are of no use, and that’s where it’s so important for it to be an ingrained part of company culture – no one person owns it.

What has been the impact of the Global Inclusion Council?

Our Global Inclusion Council has been in place since 2007 and ensures the implementation of a diversity strategy in all Allianz businesses across the world. It is chaired by Niran Peiris, Allianz SE board member, and is a fantastic opportunity for best practice to be shared from companies and networks.

The council also monitors the implementation of D&I plans within the core Allianz Group. The Group head of inclusion helps to coordinate the various programmes and sees that we are on track to deliver on our commitments.

It has two impacts, really. The first is that having such a long-established and global council demonstrates internally and externally the importance that Allianz places on the topic. Secondly and on a more practical level, it means that although each country has the flexibility to run programmes as they see fit, by sharing knowledge, experience and guidance there is a consistent Allianz vision wherever you work.

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