How insurers can turn unconscious bias into opportunity

The concept of unconscious bias might have come to the attention of many re/insurers only recently, but it is already something they cannot ignore and must embrace if they are to survive—let alone thrive. Intelligent Insurer reports.

The unintended consequences of unconscious bias can have direct and profound consequences for re/insurers—and not only in terms of recruitment and talent development. Some commentators say it will represent the difference between surviving and thriving for many firms going forward.

That was one of the main takeaways from a panel discussion “Unconscious bias: how to avoid missing diverse talent”. The discussion took place on Intelligent Insurer’s Re/insurance Lounge, an online platform where interviews and panel discussions are available on demand.

The event featured Rebecca Bole, head of industry engagement, CyberCube; Natasha Scotland Courcy, SVP, general counsel, co-chief operating officer, Athene Life Re, and board member of Bermuda International Long Term Insurers and Reinsurers; Matthew Connell, director of policy and public affairs, Chartered Insurance Institute (CII); Lara Pedley, UK director, ISC Group; and Michelle Johnson, chief talent & diversity officer, Palomar.

Pedley said that it is more than just about creating equal opportunities. “You want to create a sense of belonging and make the members of your team feel that they have a place where they can thrive in the sector,” she said.

Scotland Courcy added that the industry has shown a great deal of progress in recent years. “You can already see a far more inclusive culture that successively provides opportunities to the broader industry,” she said.

To view the full Re/insurance Lounge session click here

“It is promising to see the re/insurance market confronting stale ways of thinking.”
Natasha Scotland Courcy, BILTIR

She explained that unconscious bias can have real consequences on an employee’s experience and that it is promising to see the re/insurance market confronting stale ways of thinking and addressing biases.

“When you look at attitudes and behaviours that prejudice a particular group of people it is often completely unintentional,” said Scotland Courcy. “The most prevalent example I still see is affinity bias, where managers are unconsciously recruiting and promoting individuals who are like them.

“You will hear things like this person ‘fits the culture’ or ‘fits our mould’. The complexity is that when you look for certain merits, it takes away objectivity.”

She added that business may be shooting itself in the foot because unconscious bias can create major barriers to industry entry. People in a potential pool have different levels of education and some may be disregarded because the perception is that their knowledge or skills may not fit a role.

Pedley pointed out that another unconscious bias trend is the use of language. “It’s important to be mindful of dialogue and expressions and learning to adapt so that people don’t feel excluded.”

To view the full Re/insurance Lounge session click here

“When you don’t recruit across a broad spectrum, you lose the ability to gain new perspectives.”
Matthew Connell, CII

Industry must adapt

Bole said that she had also detected the affinity bias trend and had documented it at an individual and industry level, adding that the industry must adapt to a changing market. This will have a direct impact on the future of the industry and its profitability.

“As we see risk changing in the industry, the re/insurance market needs new perspectives with different ways of thinking to address new challenges in order to remain relevant and create products that suit the market,” she said.

Connell agreed with the dangers of creating a subculture which makes it harder to ensure that risks are being adequately dealt with for a broader market.

“When you don’t recruit across a broad spectrum, you lose the ability to gain new perspectives in your organisation. You miss huge opportunities by failing to produce products for people who have a different life history,” he said.

“Re/insurance must be more diverse and more accountable to a wider range of people.”

Johnson added that widening the recruitment channel is important to drive change. She provided examples of how this can be done by creating diversity networks. “These teams of individuals can play a crucial role in engagement and driving equality,” she explained.

“There’s huge value in creating trust through internal diversity networks.”

Pedley added that creating an environment internally and bringing groups of people together to engage on where improvement is needed, creates a safe space for information that can be taken back to organisational leaders.

“Tackling unconscious bias especially at the hiring phase is crucial to bringing change to our industry culture,” she concluded.

To view the whole Re/insurance Lounge session click here

Image courtesy of Shutterstock / Ljupco Smokovski

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