’Insurance has a double whammy – firstly it’s not attracting enough people of colour and so by definition there’s a struggle with leadership levels,’ says co-founder and chief executive 

In October 2020, Oke Eleazu was challenged by his daughter to “do more” to improve the representation of people of colour holding senior positions in insurance. 

Eleazu is Nigerian and his daughter is of mixed parentage – English and Nigerian.

Back in 2020, Eleazu was working as chief operating officer at insurtech Bought by Many, which later rebranded to ManyPets.

By April 2022, his drive towards more ethnic representation in the c-suites of insurance firms came full circle, when he was promoted to UK chief executive of ManyPets.

At the time, he vowed to use his position to help others and deploy the mantra – “if you can’t see it, you can’t be it”.

His progress in this intention saw saw him named in the second edition of the Insurance Cultural Awareness Network’s (Ican) role models book in June 2023.

However, after being in post as UK chief executive for almost two years, Eleazu decided to step down in November 2023 to pursue his own interests, having been with ManyPets since its 2016 inception. 

Eleazu’s new startup business initiative Elevate Colour aims to improve the representation for people of colour in UK leadership roles.

Speaking to Insurance Times, the Elevate Colour chief executive and co-founder says: ”It was always in the back of my mind that I needed to do something and, towards the back end of 2023 it was the right time to move on [from ManyPets].

”I love starting things and I love the energy of a startup. I really felt that the moment was right for me to do something in diversity, equity and inclusion.”

However, it was a speaking opportunity at a bank’s black leadership programme that further confirmed Eleazu’s decision to focus in on the issue of representation, as he noticed that this challenge also existed for other sectors. 

He says: “There is a structural issue in insurance. I don’t believe that there’s enough talent coming through at the bottom of the industry, but I don’t think we have the data yet to prove it.

”Even at the lower levels, there are not enough diverse individuals.”

Properous culture 

Elevate Colour officially launched earlier this year on 1 January 2024 and is currently in its pilot phase.

Eleazu explains: “Leadership is an area I have credibility in and it’s a core component of driving diversity in business. All leaders need to understand how to manage diversity, almost as a capability of leadership. If we can do that, we will create a culture for leaders of colour to prosper.”

There are also stereotypes around what a leader should look like. For example, in the insurance the majority of c-suite leaders are white, middle class and male.

“People tend to hire and promote in their own image,” Eleazu notes.

Having worked in the insurance industry since 1991, he recalls often being “the only black senior level person in the room” and believes that this needs to change.

“The reality is that leadership in insurance is not made up of many people of colour,” he adds.

As an example of the positive impacts that Elevate Colour hopes to encourage, Lloyd’s Ethnic diversity in the workplace report (October 2020) revealed that out of 923 insurance professionals, 57% of ethnic minorities said having a senior leader support them with opportunities was motivating.

Elevate Colour has been working with businesses to explore how ethnically diverse leadership teams are.

Talent pipelines 

The newly launched business focuses on what Eleazu refers to as “talent pipelines,” helping firms to identify talent to subsequently elevate them into more senior roles by boosting skills that will grant them the confidence to seize opportunities.

“A lot of firms have employee resource groups, but they do not have the development programmes to enable staff to shine,” he says.

Elevate Colour is also developing an external cross industry development programme for senior leaders of colour to sharpen skills, improve talent pipelines and connect them to like-minded people across different industries. 

The tagline for the business is “helping leaders of colour arrive, survive and thrive”. For Eleazu, survival is the most crucial of these three goals, as it’s down to the culture of the organisation.

He notes: “The organisation has to help [people of colour] feel like they belong, like they are not a token and give them opportunities. You can’t thrive until you have survived. Creating a culture of belonging and inclusivity in teams is huge.”

But inclusivity isn’t only applicable to categories of ethnicity and race, Eleazu notes that it extends further to characteristics such as gender and disability.

This is why Eleazu says the lack of senior leaders in insurance and insurtech, “is not anyone’s fault, but everyone’s problem”.

He concludes: “There isn’t a sector I have met yet, that hasn’t got the same issue.”