Expert June Sarpong says ‘the benefits are clear’ for insurance firms that seek to improve diversity

The insurance industry has been told that it is in danger of failing customers and shareholders unless it works to drive diversity across insurance businesses.

Speaking at the ABI’s annual conference, this year held virtually on 23 February, TV presenter and diversity expert June Sarpong said insurers were in a unique situation when it came to diversity and inclusion.

“You play a crucial role in society,” she said. “Your role is to make people feel safe.

“They have chosen a company they have trusted to be there in their time of need, but does your company reflect your clients?”

Sarpong said insurers had to ensure “everyone was in the room” in terms of an organisation’s diverse client base being reflected in the workforce in order to fully understand customers’ needs.

On racism in society, she said “we are seeing discussions that should have happened a long time ago”.

Spending power

There is, however, a clear economic benefit that inclusion and diversity will bring to the UK insurance sector.

In the period of a decade, the value of the “BAME pound” – which indicates the spending power of the black, Asian and minority ethnic community – has increased from £30bn to £300bn.

It is expected that this figure will have significantly increased when the next set of statistics are published.

“For an industry that seeks to insure as many people as possible, are you making sure you are speaking authentically to all your customers,” Sarpong asked. “If not, look at what you are leaving on the table.”

Diversity across the board

It is not just racial diversity that is in need of urgent attention, said Sarpong - the ability for those with disabilities to find careers remains a struggle for so many.

One in five people in the UK have a disability and 57% of those have a mobility issue. However, of those struggling with their mobility, 80% were not born with that disability.

“Is your workplace reflecting the people who use and need your services,” she asked.

Of the 1.4 million people in the UK with a learning disability, only 6% of that figure are employed - Sarpong described this as “shocking” and “unacceptable”.

She called on the insurance industry to look at the range of roles that those with varied learning difficulties could carry out and to factor this demographic into its thinking when it came to future recruitment.

Sarpong added that in some cases, the specific disability created a “superpower” for the transaction of certain roles, but those with disabilities were not being considered for these roles that could best suit them and add benefit to the company.

On gender, Sarpong said evidence pointed to the fact that the closer a firm could get to a 50:50 gender balance, the better its teams will perform, with the ability for any gaps in perception during decision-making reduced or eradicated by a genuine gender balance.

However, she said there needed to be a recognition that a move to greater diversity and inclusion was not a simple journey.

“It is a difficult thing to do,” said Sarpong. “Bringing people from all walks of life together and finding common ground is not easy. But when we do this and work through it, the benefits are clear.”