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11 January 2021updated 09 Sep 2021 11:05am

The future of work – modern, diverse, and fit for all

How new ways of working can make financial services more productive and inclusive.

By Dr Matthew Connell

The Chartered Insurance Institute is the professional body for insurance and personal finance. Our focus covers a large proportion of the financial services sector and our mission, as stated in our Royal Charter, is to secure the trust of the public in the profession.

We believe in supporting our members to meet the high standards of the regulated market they work within, and showcasing best practice and innovative methods of tackling some of the toughest challenges in the market and in society more widely. As part of all of this, we are completely committed to ensuring our profession is open, inclusive, and diverse, so that it can truly be one which reflects the modern world it serves.

I wanted to reflect on how recent changes in the workplace can support the equalities movement, and why we should keep many of the flexibilities that have become the norm when we hopefully return to a state more akin to the pre-Covid world.

When it comes to these workplace initiatives, the changes and adaptations we have made over the last few months eclipse the changes we had made over the previous years. The Covid-19 pandemic has impacted us all, and the workplace is one of the most visible examples of this change.

For many the reality of working from home has become the now exhaustively used “new normal”, while for others who still have to physically be in their places of work, new health and safety procedures, equipment or in some cases shift patterns, are being used to limit the likelihood of exposure.

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Adapting to this change has largely been possible due to technology, with video conferencing, webinars and cloud-based systems all being used to keep processes going and keep businesses open. An interesting example of this was seen in China, where some construction workers were able to use remote technology enhanced by 5G connections to control construction site machinery from the comfort of their home.

Fundamentally however, there is a belief that this experience has made us all revaluate how we work and run our businesses. We have been able to uproot entire workforces and allow them to work from home anywhere in the country, and in some cases, outside of it too. But what does this mean for a future without a pandemic, particularly for the insurance sector, which is heavily customer facing?

Firstly, I think it is important to understand that many of the changes we have had to make in recent months have been big asks of the diversity and inclusion movement. Flexible working arrangements, remote working, job share programs and cultural adjustments have been some of the biggest recommendations for improving inclusivity in the workplace.

Things that were sometimes seen as harmful to business or potentially reducing productivity, have since been proven to work and in some cases improve working environments, even if it is through difficult circumstances and government mandates. Our own work on improving the workplace (as well as the way the profession serves its customers) is wide ranging and based on an intersectional approach. Our Insuring Women’s Future’s Initiative created two extremely important and popular pledges.

One, the Financial Flexible Working pledge, focused on supporting female employees with financial advice when they make changes to their work structures. That was part of a wider set of recommendations for a more personalised approach to work culture. We have also partnered with Scope and published our inclusive workplaces guide for disabled people, as well as collaborating with insurers on guidance for managers with responsibility for neurodiverse employees.

These guides focus on how businesses in insurance and personal finance can adapt their workplace, their work expectations, and their culture, to the needs of their employees, and the guidance in many cases is intersectional, as it focuses on improving the culture not just functions.

What this means for the future is that there is certainly hope that employers will be more welcoming of less traditional working practices and actually be more open to working structures that suit their employees. Secondly, we must keep driving forward the momentum on inclusion and focus on the intersectional nature of it to truly be diverse and welcoming.

We have seen great strides in the gender equality movement among leaders, but we are still underperforming when it comes to disabled people (those with both seen and unseen conditions) and ethnic representation. The Black Lives Matter protests this year were a sobering reminder that the struggle for racial equality is still ongoing. I am also conscious as I write this article and we look ahead to an upcoming national strategy for disabled people from the UK government, there is still much to do for disabled people too.

As you read this article, our organisation is undergoing its own review and reporting process for diversity. We want to hold on to the positives we have seen come through this period, but also make sure we get to grips with where we are failing and where we can do better.

I would certainly say that systemic change needs to happen, the catalyst is here and now, but we must be honest with ourselves and each other, we must build trust with our staff to ensure their voices and their lived experiences are heard, otherwise we will never truly change.

Finally, my vision for the future of work in the insurance profession – a profession where productivity is on the rise, barriers for access to careers and progression have been removed for everyone, and our board rooms and office floors (or virtual corridors) reflect the diverse talent of our country – is one where we embrace the role of technology in bridging the gaps in access, but value people and the benefits of empathy and other soft skills that are so needed.

It might not be enough of a vision to find itself in a science fiction novel, but it is one built on trust, respect, and compassion, and it’s certainly a future we all deserve. 

Dr Matthew Connell is director of policy and public affairs at the Chartered Insurance Institute

This article originally appeared in a Spotlight report on the future of work and diversity. You can download the full edition here.