Embrace diversity to boost the talent pipeline

AXA XL has been making efforts to place D&I at the heart of its recruitment practices and company culture, to ensure it remains relevant to its customers. Sean McGovern of AXA XL discusses this approach with Intelligent Insurer.

In 2020, AXA XL was one of 98 companies to secure a place in an important index designed to recognise companies that have successfully implemented best practice around issues such as diversity and inclusion (D&I).

The Diversity Best Practices Inclusion Index helps organisations understand trends and gaps in demographic representation, while creating a roadmap to drive internal change, and identifies diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) solutions to close the gaps. AXA XL was among the 98 organisations that earned a score of at least 60 percent (AXA XL’s score was 70 percent) and a place on the index.

That accolade demonstrates just how seriously AXA XL takes this issue—and reflects its hard work in recent years to make it central to its culture and ethos as a business. But, as Sean McGovern, chief executive officer UK & Lloyd’s market at AXA XL explains in an interview on Intelligent Insurer’s Re/insurance Lounge platform, implementing such practices will also improve its performance—as measured by a variety of different metrics.

“The insurance industry is very much a talent-based industry and we need to ensure that we can attract the very best talent,” says McGovern.

“That improves our ability to perform and be the best company that we can be. To do that, we need to be able to welcome different skillsets and perspectives into the business. That enhances our ability to innovate, to be creative and ultimately solve complex problems both for ourselves and our clients.”

McGovern adds that the company is set on building and fostering an inclusive and diverse workplace that properly reflects the global marketplace in which it operates.

“That will allow us to better understand and respond to our clients’ distinct challenges and opportunities and ultimately help us to create deeper and more meaningful relationships with all our stakeholders,” he says.

“We want to take our place as a responsible organisation that properly reflects our society.”
Sean McGovern, AXA XL

The issue’s importance is driven by changes in society and the way we live and communicate. McGovern notes that 45 percent of employers globally say they cannot get the skills they need, often because of emerging technologies and the changing needs of business.

“That is leaving employers with a skills gap, and the insurance industry is no stranger to that. We have shortages around data science, technology, actuarial skills, etc, but the talent base is becoming more diverse.

“For the insurance market to address its talent pipeline problem, it needs to better reflect the society it serves,” he says.

Actions speak louder

For AXA XL, this means implementing tangible actions to broaden its access to the skill base and talent pool. McGovern says that will determine the company’s ability to adapt and survive. He argues that companies that successfully capture and leverage the power of diverse top talent from around the world will be the most innovative companies.

“They will be the most creative,” he says, “and ultimately, they’re the companies that are going to succeed.”

McGovern cites a number of studies that prove this. Companies in the top quartile for ethnic diversity are 35 percent more likely to financially outperform those in the bottom quartile.

Companies that report the highest levels of racial diversity brought in 15 times more sales revenue on average than those with lower levels of racial diversity.

In terms of gender diversity, companies with more female board members achieved 65 percent higher levels of performance on invested capital than those with fewer.

But he stresses, making these changes isn’t just about performance.

“It’s the right thing to do. We want to take our place as a responsible organisation that properly reflects our society,” he says. McGovern explains that at the heart of this debate are individuals, citing studies that suggest some 60 percent of individuals say they feel the need to change who they are in the workplace to fit in.

“Imagine a world in which colleagues don’t feel the need to adapt, that they could bring their whole selves to work. They would be happier for it,” he says.

“They’re almost certainly going to be more engaged and therefore more likely to give their best.”

“I’m very proud of the engagement that we have from so many colleagues across the world.”

Inclusive for all There are three pillars to AXA XL’s approach to making these ideals a reality, McGovern says.

The first is to drive an inclusive culture. “We want to create a workplace that works for everyone with a culture that values everyone as an individual, and is welcoming of all backgrounds and ideas. And where all colleagues feel safe, valued and respected,” he explains.

Second, it wants to diversify its workplace; in particular it aspires to achieve a target of 50 percent of women in leadership roles by 2023, including a strong focus on other under-represented populations as well. “We want to be an employer of choice, but for all talent.”

The third element to its strategy is about supporting local communities and recognising its obligation to visibly and thoughtfully champion equality and equity around the globe.

To monitor the success of these initiatives, AXA XL conducts a regular Colleague Engagement Survey and a number of different business resource groups (BRGs) are driving this change. The Lead BRG is focused on leading, empowering and advancing diversity; second is Pride, which is the LGBT+ and Allies group.

“There is also Rise, which is looking to develop colleagues from under-represented racial and ethnic groups and recruiting from under-represented groups within our local communities,” McGovern says.

“Finally, we have the EnAble group, which is recognising and fostering the inclusion of colleagues with disabilities, both visible and invisible.

“That’s just a snapshot of what we are doing but I’m very passionate about it. I’m very proud of the engagement that we have from so many colleagues across the world on this very important topic,” he says.

Wrapped around this for the past 12 months has been the many and varied challenges presented by COVID-19. McGovern believes that in many instances, these challenges have highlighted the plight of some segments of the company’s workforce.

For example, he highlights research that has suggested the pandemic has had a disproportionately negative effect on women. “Sadly, research shows that it’s led to some women leaving employment,” he notes.

Another very visible effort AXA XL has made on this issue is playing a prominent role in the Dive In Festival, an insurance-industry led celebration of diversity in the workplace. McGovern says the event is important because it represents “an important way for the industry to come together, to celebrate how far the industry has come but also to recognise how much further we have to go”.

That, he adds, reflects the position of the wider insurance sector and what still needs to be done to move towards a more diverse and inclusive industry.

“We’re not where we need to be. But there has been a lot of progress and the industry should be congratulated for recognising the challenge and starting to take tangible steps in the right direction,” he says.

“I’d say the industry is on the right path, but everyone recognises we’ve got more to do.”

To view the full Re/insurance Lounge interview click here

For more information contact

Video courtesy of Adobe Stock / StreetVJ

Sign up to the Intelligent Insurer newsletter

Take a trial subscription