How Allianz’s diversity leader gets executives to drive D&I success

There are three key internal strategies that help support and drive tangible diversity and inclusion outcomes within insurance firm Allianz

There are three key internal strategies that help support and drive tangible diversity and inclusion outcomes within insurance firm Allianz, according to its head of diversity and sustainability, Charis Martin-Ross.

There are different ways to segment diversity and inclusion strategies, but an important first lens is identifying target groups, Martin-Ross explained.

For Allianz these are gender and culture, which both have public targets: 40 per cent women and 14 per cent Non-Europeans in senior leadership by 2020.

“Most organisations have moved past an exclusive focus on gender, but at the same time, as with any strategy you’ve got to make trade-offs and balance priorities,” said Martin-Ross.

Another key strategy for Allianz is shaping the internal culture to be more inclusive: “there’s no point bringing in diverse talent if there isn’t an environment here in which people feel a sense of belonging, safe to speak up and inspired to do their best work,” she said.

“We want there to be no doubt of our enduring commitment to diversity and inclusion for our employees, partners and customers and so an important cultural lever is creating symbols of this support.”

Allianz, which employs approximately 4,300 staff throughout Australia and New Zealand, has been recognised as a WGEA (Workplace Gender Equality Agency) employer of choice for women for nine consecutive years.

“This is in every employee’s standard email signature and if you think about how many emails the average employee sends every day, across nine years, that’s more than 300 million times that Allianz has reinforced its commitment to gender equity,” she said.

“You’ve got to have leaders who understand the business case and then care enough to do something about it”

“The third, and what I believe to be the most important strategy, is building leader motivation and capability,” said Martin-Ross.

“HR can’t ‘do diversity and inclusion for the business: you’ve got to have leaders who understand the business case and then care enough to do something about it.

“That ‘care factor’ will come from different places – some executives have an intellectual engagement with the topic because they see that diversity around the table will help them solve their toughest business challenges, while some connect emotionally with it, possibly because they’ve experienced what it feels like to be excluded.

“For me it’s not important where it comes from, but it’s my job to help them find that connection and then build capability and tools for them to do something about it.”

Practical diversity and inclusion initiatives
Allianz completed an audit of its diversity and inclusion program late last year and Martin-Ross said this exercise reminded her of how much her team can effect change.

“Our diversity and inclusion work is embedded across the organisation and in every part of the employee lifecycle,” she said.

Recent initiatives that have made a difference include:

1. Inclusive leadership coaching for all senior executives. Using the concept of the leadership shadow, all of senior management team members were supported with a coach to help them consider the impact they have on culture and how the diversity and inclusion ‘shadow’ they cast provides employees cues on what is rewarded, or conversely tolerated.

“The stories I’ve heard back from actions our execs have subsequently taken have convinced me this should be a staple of every company’s diversity and inclusion strategy,” said Martin-Ross.

“It’s my job to help them find that connection and then build capability and tools for them to do something about it”

2. Allianz’s cross-cultural diversity strategy. As part of this, the firm’s sustainable employment program in partnership with settlement services international, provides refugees with permanent employment opportunities.

Over the past two years Allianz has hired 21 refugees and migrants, “which might seem small in terms of actual cross-cultural headcount, but the power of this program comes from the level of pride we all feel in being able to make a small difference,” said Martin-Ross.

3. Diversity and inclusion month. For the second year running, Martin-Ross said the firm has put the spotlight on diversity and inclusion in March and also wrapped a campaign around International Women’s Day, Harmony Day and Mardi Gras.

“Using events, comms and the energy of diversity and inclusion advocates across the country we raise awareness and commitment to action that spans all levels of the organisation,” she said.

4. Allianz’s partnership with the Australian Paralympic Committee for the past six years and the 2018 Commonwealth Games.

“Ensuring our brand partnerships align with our commitment to diversity and inclusion is so important in reinforcing what we stand for as a company,” said Martin-Ross.

“This year we’ve also appointed our first-ever Allianz Ambassadors in para-athletes Nic Beveridge and Madison de Rozario who won two golds and a silver at the Games and are such inspirations both on and off the track.”

Learning lessons in diversity and inclusion
Martin-Ross said there have been a number of important lessons for Allianz in its diversity and inclusion journey, and said the number one point to note is to “focus, focus, focus!”

“We raise awareness and commitment to action that spans all levels of the organisation”

“You can’t do everything and that’s a struggle for diversity and inclusion professionals (and business colleagues) whose driver is social justice, because you see worthy causes everywhere and you want to do everything,” she said.

“But the reality is you can’t have leaders doing diversity and inclusion 24/7, so I encourage Allianz to be practical and focused on where it can make a difference.”

Martin-Ross reflected on her experience, and said that while it may seem simple, she has come to realise that diversity and inclusion is just culture change – “a narrow aspect of culture, but culture nonetheless”, she said.

“So it’s complex, long-term and at times messy.

“Some of it is routine but necessary – like the policy documents I’m refreshing at the moment, which creates the rules of engagement.

“Then there’s the space for innovation and the ability to connect with people, which is what gets me out of bed, and also what gets people to sit up and listen,” said Martin-Ross, who added that getting the balance between routine and innovation is very important.

The role of HR in diversity and inclusion
HR has a difficult role in diversity and inclusion, Martin-Ross said: “While it’s our responsibility to set and manage the framework, as I’ve said before, HR can’t ‘do’ diversity and inclusion for the business,” she said.

“Ultimately, we’re the change agents but it’s more than that – our role is to find the appetite and energy in the business, strengthen it through capability building, and then provide channels to amplify it.

“One of my favourite parts of my role is the interaction I have with leaders – I get to see their commitment and values, and it’s a big part of what makes me proud to say I work for Allianz.”

Measuring success and ROI
Martin-Ross said the impact of the diversity and inclusion efforts have been seen in four key areas.

“Our role is to find the appetite and energy in the business, strengthen it through capability building, and then provide channels to amplify it”

The clearest and most visible indicator of tangibly increasing diversity is the boost to the number of women in senior leadership in Allianz, which has increased from 27 per cent in 2014 to 34.5 per cent in 2017.

A second key measure is how included and equally treated employees feel, and she said Allianz’s annual engagement survey found 90 per cent agreed they experience an environment where people with diverse backgrounds succeed.

“One of our goals is to be seen as an employer of choice for diverse talent, so an important part of our outcomes comes from external recognition,” said Martin-Ross, who noted that Allianz also won the Business Award from the Australian Human Rights Commission, as well as a number of other award nominations both in and outside the HR industry

A fourth indicator is how Allianz’s commitment to diversity and inclusion impacts people and how they feel about working at Allianz.

“This is where it’s hard to quantify but I think is actually the most valuable outcome,” said Martin-Ross, who explained that in response to the question “what’s the most positive change you’ve seen this year?” 12 per cent referenced Allianz’s commitment to diversity and inclusion.

“Comments spanned examples such as a leader who had started leading their team more inclusively, our work with refugees, through to the pride felt when we signed the marriage equality register,” she said.

“It’s heartening to know that business strategies can have such an impact on how people feel about working with us.”

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