Bought by Many’s chief operating officer, Oke Eleazu tells Insurance Times about his plans to combat systemic racism and increase diversity in senior roles after being inspired by his daughter to take a stand 

“You don’t know what it’s like to be me” – these were the words that inspired Bought by Many’s Oke Eleazu to improve racial representation in the insurance industry.

The words uttered by Eleazu’s daughter rang true with the pet insurer’s chief operating officer as his daughter is of mixed parentage, English and Nigerian. 

Around the time of the Black Lives Matter protests, Eleazu’s daughter challenged her father to “do more” to address some of the arguments that were brought to light, one being the lack of black, Asian and minority ethnics (BAME) in insurance and senior roles.

Although Eleazu admits that he dislikes the term BAME due to its political connotation favouring the term “person of colour” instead as it is more inclusive.

“I have only recently thought of my job as a role model, after having a daughter and son and partly realising that people need to see someone who has achieved [to visualise themselves in that role]. The system may be stacked against them, but it is not impossible,” he told Insurance Times

Therefore, Eleazu is building an enterprise called ‘Black in Business’ to help SME businesses structure their own Racial Equality Action Plans as well as creating his own Black Leaders Network.

““The makeup of insurance is not very multi-cultural. I have spent most of my life beating the system, now I want to spend this part changing it, from the inside,” he adds.

Role model 

Eleazu intends to use Black in Business to tackle systemic racism – a form of racism embedded as normal practice in society and organisations.

Eleazu, who is British Nigerian and grew up in South London says: “My problem is when I am the best candidate for a job, and I don’t get it. That for me is a more fundamental problem – how do I deal with my CV not getting on the right pile? It’s that sort of thing that’s going to take us years to fix.”

Insurance has a historically low representation of people of colour as well as poor retention rates.

When asked whether insurance jobs are attractive enough to people of colour being a possible reason for this disparity, he says: “Maybe that’s a [something] that can make us feel better about the situation, but I don’t buy it.”

Eleazu hopes that SMEs will adopt the Black in Business framework, which he has put forward to help businesses in their own diversity and inclusion schemes. 

The model for Black in Business is as follows:

Awareness: Increase awareness of lived experiences and what it is like to be a person of colour through sharing stories for example in a podcast.

Challenge: Racism comes in many forms – overt, covert and unconscious – how can businesses do more to tackle this?

Education: Creating resources for businesses to help educate people young and old about what it feels like to be a person of colour

Opportunities: Addressing the stigma around black males and increasing opportunities for them

‘Pure chance’

Eleazu says he entered the insurance industry by “pure chance” at university. 

Starting out at Legal & General Insurance in 1991 as an operation manager after entering the profession on a graduate scheme, he later moved to Prudential Assurance in 1998 where he worked alongside Zurich’s Tulsi Naidu, who is a female of colour in a senior role. 

Eleazu continues: “Diversity is enriching, it hugely enriches organisations more than anything else. If you do not have a diverse organisation, you are harming yourself. They offer so much to the business. More diversity, more ideas and different ways of thinking.”

However, course uptake is also low, because candidates do not think it will result in a job, describing this as a “chicken and egg” problem.

Speaking about the lack of data on ethnicity in the industry, Eleazu says if data was mandatory some companies may not like the answer – however Zurich published its own ethnicity pay gap data in July.

Eleazu cites recent research by Bought by Many which found that 0.8% of vet nurses are people of colour. Bought by Many opened a Birmingham office, which improved diversity for the insurer due to the city being multicultural. 

Forefront of change

With the insurance industry still struggling to attract diverse candidates, Eleazu says he feels sad, “I don’t mind being at the forefront of the change, but I expect things to change behind me.”

Bought by Many is taking an active role in this by leading PSHE lessons in Birmingham in two schools later this year, as Eleazu says that “staying the course” is the key to getting coloured candidates into insurance. 

“The problem with race is no-one really wants to talk about it, but we have to otherwise nothing will change,” he says.

Last year Eleazu was nominated for Technology Champion of the Year in Insurance Time’s Technology & Innovation Awards. 

Read more…Black Lives Matter protest reawaken insurance under representation BAME debate  

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