‘Workplace culture determines employee behaviour and productivity’

MARY ALADE is the Chief Strategy Officer to the Global Chairman of Aon Reinsurance Solutions, the owners of Dive-In Festival that holds in 35 countries annually which promotes inclusive workplace cultures. In this interview with DANIEL OBI, she speaks on inclusive workplace cultures and many other issues. Excerpts:

Dive- In seems to be a movement in the insurance sector supporting inclusive workplace cultures, can you delve a little into these workplace cultures?

The culture of a workplace determines how your business distinguishes itself from others. It influences and shapes employee behavior and productivity and essentially summarises a company’s values, priorities, interactions, beliefs, and much more. A positive workplace culture attracts talent, has an impact on happiness and satisfaction, drives performance, and improves employee retention.

Additionally, how a person fits into their work environment and their ability to build professional relationships with colleagues and clients is determined by the culture of the organization. It also determines your work-life balance, growth opportunities, job satisfaction, and much more.

It is at the heart of all companies and therefore a culture of inclusivity should be one of the foundational building blocks.

Is this “movement” focused on the insurance sector alone and how would you describe the recently concluded Dive In festival which was held on September 21 -23, 2021?

This festival is focused on the insurance sector but the valuable tools and assets the festival provides means that those outside of the insurance sector can certainly attend and gain useful insights and practices that they can implement in their own sectors.

The 2021 festival has been fantastic. Building upon the success of last year’s virtual festival, the hybrid format, which made it possible for festival-goers to attend both physical and virtual events, allowed attendees to join from anywhere in the world – facilitating conversations about diversity and inclusion on a global scale.

With the global pandemic bringing diversity and inclusion into sharp focus, this year’s theme of Active Allyshipseeked to educate and empower those in positions of privilege to understand how to be active allies and champions for all. Attendees were urged to turn their commitments into actions when supporting underrepresented groups and take responsibility for creating an inclusive workplace.

What method and approach is the festival adopting to draw global attention to inclusive workplace cultures?

The impact of Dive In globally over the last two years is something we could have never predicted when the festival was launched. In 2016 we went global, and from there Dive In has never looked back.

Due to the festival’s new hybrid format which means events are being held both virtually and physically, Dive In is now hosted in nearly 40 countries around the world, breaking new ground in countries where D&I may not have always been in its DNA.

Dive In Nigeria only started three years ago and has covered the themes of empowering female leadership as well as gender and generational working. Events in Johannesburg and Lagos have explored the business case for diversity and inclusion.

Dive In Festival is in its seventh year, could you discuss the impact of the festival so far especially in the insurance sector?

Bit by bit, Dive In has helped to roll away the stumbling blocks that have stood in the way of D&I progress for the insurance sector. The festival has proven itself to be a catalyst for change by giving the insurance industry the tools, inspiration, and advice for best practice in inclusive workplace cultures. And you don’t have to look far to find evidence of its impact. The past few years have seen a burst of brilliant diversity initiatives that have been introduced across the market.

At Aon we have developed various workshops to upskill ethnic minority students. Insight Week for example is a week-long workshop for Afro-Caribbean students to learn about the insurance industry. The success of Insight Week resulted in the creation of BAME Future Leaders, a fast-track programme for BAME individuals to join Aon’s graduate programme which has led to a 40 per cent increase of BAME students in the scheme. Aon is also now partnering with Lloyd’s of London to provide similar opportunities for young people from low social-economic backgrounds. We’ve seen similar initiatives across the market, aimed at making workplace environments more inclusive and adaptable for their employee’s diverse needs.

Read also: A coaching approach to dealing with stress in the workplace

Tell us a little about the festival supporters, brands and people behind this impactful change-driven festival and how does Nigeria come into all of it?

The award-winning Dive In Festival was conceived by Inclusion@Lloyd’s, a collaboration between the Corporation of Lloyd’s, IUA, LIIBA, and the Lloyd’s Market Association and has grown to be a global, sector-wide festival.

A host of Global Festival Partners are once again supporting this year’s festival, including AIG, Aon, Arch, Aviva, AXA, AXIS, Chubb, CNA, DLA Piper, Dual & Howden, Gallagher, Marsh & Guy Carpenter, Howden, Kennedys, Liberty Mutual, Lloyd’s, Markel, MS Amlin, RenaissanceRe, RMS, Tokio Marine Kiln, Travelers and Willis Towers Watson.

Dive In Nigeria was initiated and supported by Aon three years ago. In 2019 we looked at empowering women in leadership and in 2020 panelists discussed D&I through the lens of gender and generational working, asking women at different stages of their career what they expect to encounter in their future working life and what lessons they would give themselves if they were to look back.

Building on the success of the Dive In events we continued with Dive In Nigeria for 2021, bringing in a panel of senior female leaders to discuss generational gaps within the insurance sector and the best way to bridge this issue.

To what extent would you describe the gap of diversity in the workplace in Nigeria, especially in the insurance sector where you operate?

Overall, I think the gap of diversity in the workplace in Nigeria is gradually reducing and it’s because companies are starting to realize the importance of having an inclusive workplace. I certainly think that there is still a journey ahead of us, but we are off to a great start.

Organizations are willing to engage in the discussions that are taking place and people are actively listening. We had over 200 people register for Dive in Nigeria and people are actively and passively watching and listening.

Whilst there are many factors in Nigeria that could potentially widen the diversity gap such as culture, religion, tradition, social status, Nigeria is gaining momentum when it comes to addressing D&I issues. However, as issues gain more public awareness, we will undoubtedly see this gap begin to close.

Due to the inherent economic benefits of having more women in workplaces, especially in leadership positions, would you support legislating diversity inclusion in workplaces?

I think ultimately there should be policies in the workplace that are consistent with the values of the organization and that create an inclusive environment, accepting of individuals’ differences and enabling all employees to achieve their full potential. However, aside from policies and adopting a legislative approach to diversity and inclusion within workplaces, I think companies need truly to understand the real value and benefits in creating and having an inclusive workplace and a diverse leadership structure. If diversity is truly understood and embraced, it becomes easier to implement.

Men and women have their respective strengths and weaknesses. Is it possible therefore to achieve equal representation, equal pay, and equal opportunity in all areas of the workplace?

The optimistic, utopian side of me would want to say yes. Afterall, if a person is good at their job, they should be rewarded and promoted accordingly regardless of age or gender, right?

However, this is not the reality at the moment and that Is just the truth. It’s not a unique truth to just Nigeria alone – its across the world which is why there are many conversations about Diversity and Inclusion in the workplace.

As we educate ourselves on the importance of equality, meritocracy and fairness, the hope will be that over a duration of time, and with the younger generation getting into positions of leadership with a new way of thinking, things begin to change and we can truly achieve equal representation, equal pay and opportunity in all areas of the workplace.

What future does the campaign for diversity & inclusion hold for Nigeria?

We certainly plan on running Dive In Nigeria for the foreseeable future. It is so important to continue the discussion in this country and I don’t think we have even scratched the surface. There are still so many more diversity and inclusion topics that we have yet to explore, topics such as mental health, disability in the workplace, sexual orientation, and unconscious bias. I think Nigeria is in the right place to start having these conversations openly and honestly.

Tell us about the plans for the future, what should the industry and global audience at large expect from Dive In Festival?

There is no doubt that the festival has made a lasting impression on the insurance space. But what’s next? The journey is far from over and the conversation around diversity and inclusion is ever-evolving. In 2021 our attention turned to the importance of allyship. It is a topic that has been addressed by Dive In many times in the past, but the events of 2020 and the pandemic have exacerbated long-standing inequalities and turned the heat up on it in this year.

The Dive In Festival recently conducted a survey from 11,000 attendees and found that mental health will be the most pressing issue for the insurance sector in 2021. There is no doubt that this is a result of the tumultuous last two years we have all faced which has seen us lose family members, caused us to isolate and changed the way we live our everyday lives. We’re only just seeing the damages this has had on our mental health and will be the topic of conversation moving forward.

QUOTE: There should be policies in the workplace that are consistent with the values of the organization and that create an inclusive environment, accepting of individuals differences and enabling all employees to achieve their full potential

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