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Apr 2024

DEI continues to be a focus in recruitment

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Source: Asia Insurance Review | Apr 2024

There has been a dramatic change in how companies have approached DEI over the past few years, from changing hiring practices to introducing new workplace benefits. We spoke to INCLUDE’s Ms Helen Duce and Randstad’s Mr Josh Goh about the changes that the industry has implemented.
By Ahmad Zaki
Today, a more sensitive and empathetic workforce is demanding more from employers, beyond remuneration and career advancement opportunities. Equality and equity are the focus; to achieve this, diversity and inclusivity must be factored into an organisation’s business and hiring practices.
Josh Goh“In the 2023 Employer Brand Research, 21% of respondents in Singapore would rather be unemployed than work for a company that does not align with their values; 18% of respondents in Hong Kong SAR echoed this sentiment,” said Randstad Singapore associate director in banking and financial services Josh Goh.
Insurance companies have stepped up to provide more relevant support to the modern workforce. They are offering added benefits such as extra leave days for parents and caregivers taking care of elderly parents. Employers are also introducing more equitable hiring practices, such as excluding names and birth dates from job applications to focus on skills and experiences.
“What we’re seeing is that there is quite a serious intent, backed by budget, resource and activity to try and improve diversity within these organizations. The focus for the last five years, and I have a feeling it will be the focus for the next five years, is on gender equality within the industry,” said INCLUDE Consulting CEO Helen Duce.
Lack of female leadership
The industry, much like many other industries suffer from a ‘leaky pipeline’. Many organisations do well in ensuring that the workforce is at parity at the entry level, but moving up the ranks, the percentage begins to skew towards men.
“And so, we end up with only 15% to 17% of leadership being women, which we see across industries. I think the financial sector and the insurance sector are putting a lot of effort in trying to resolve this, mainly because there’s a lot of external pressure from stakeholders, from investors, from customers,” she said. “There is an expectation that these organisations will be representative of the people they serve, and therefore there’s significant effort in place to try and address this.”
This has led to the industry thinking about recruitment, employee branding and positioning, making sure that it is clear to the outside world that the industry is a place that is welcoming of women. Representation on their career sites, and statements around their intent to hire for diversity have become much stronger.
“In recent years, we have seen insurance companies expand and adjust their employee benefits and diversity initiatives to drive greater workforce inclusion. Although these efforts may be challenging to implement, they play a pivotal role in helping insurance employers broaden their talent pool and strengthen their employer branding. This is particularly critical as insurers strive to attract top-tier talent in an increasingly competitive manpower landscape,” said Mr Goh.
Understanding the ‘leaky pipeline’
The truth behind the lack of women in leadership can be seen in the data. There are a lot of myths regarding this – from women leaving the workforce to have children, or lack ambition for senior roles, or being saddled with greater caregiving responsibilities.
“All of those myths can be debunked,” said Ms Duce. “McKinsey does a survey every year, and the data shows quite clearly that when asked, women are just as ambitious as men in the workforce. I think it’s 2% of women versus 1% of men who leave the workforce to focus on their families. So, none of these things are what’s going on. And when we drill down into it, what the data shows is that there are less women being promoted and there are less women hired in at senior levels.”
A large part of the problem can be boiled down to unconscious bias and the lack of an inclusive workplace, both of which are subtle and unintentional. “If they don’t feel included, they don’t feel their points of view are being heard. If they’re being mistaken for the secretary every time they walk into a meeting, all these things that we know go on all the time, then it creates a sense that this is not a workplace for women and then they leave, also triggered by the fact that they are seeing that women are not getting promoted,” she said.
There are also additional challenges for women in Asia. “There is this sort of stereotype that you should be demure, you should be seen and not heard, you should be modest, you should not be pushy and assertive. I think those stereotypes are slightly stronger in Asian culture.”
At the same time, women in Asia still want to embrace the caregiving role that society has placed upon them, recognising it as a valuable part of their culture. “They don’t see that role as a burden. They don’t want to be challenging people’s ideas about what it means to be a woman. They want to be able to be that caregiver at home and a strong leader at work at the same time,” she said.
Implementing changes
Ms Duce also noted that ‘unconscious bias training’ has been proven not to work. “Many people think that because they’ve gone through a workshop or a seminar, they’ve been cured of their unconscious bias, but that’s not how it works. You can’t just de-bias a person, you have to de-bias the system,”
This means changing perspectives on hiring and even changing the way the hiring process is conducted, which takes a lot more time, effort and resources. “We’re asking everybody to rethink how they plan, structure and run interviews and putting in a rigorous process that is more time consuming and feels, like any new behaviour, a bit wooden,” she said.
Many insurers have begun to conduct structured interviews during hiring, alongside work sample tests, both of which have been designed to remove as much bias from the system as possible.
According to Mr Goh, HR teams also regularly conduct employee surveys and use feedback to implement impactful measures to improve diversity and inclusion, as well as eliminate workplace bullying and any forms of discrimination.
“To ensure that everyone is on board with this agenda, it is not uncommon for companies to set diversity and inclusion goals as performance indicators for their HR teams and recruitment agencies. During the hiring process, talent acquisition teams and recruiters servicing some insurers exclude names and birth dates from job applications to evaluate job fit based on skills, background and experiences,” he said.
“Insurers are broadening inclusion efforts beyond gender and ethnicity to enhance the employment of disabled individuals. Many organisations are introducing small steps such as flexible or remote work opportunities for disabled individuals. There is also a trend of hiring from the deaf and mute community for middle and back-office roles to foster inclusion in the workforce further. A small number of insurers are going further to improve office designs to accommodate disabled employees to cultivate a sense of community and belonging with the people they work with,” he said. A 
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