Giles WardDiversity is a key theme of the FERMA Forum 2015, and Giles Ward, Regional President for Eurasia and Africa at ACE, explains why diversity matters to business. ACE is the sponsor of the diversity and leadership breakfast on 7 October at the Forum.

Diversity of thought is the most important aspect of diversity, Without it, businesses will be unable to adapt effectively to changes in the marketplace brought about by cultural, technological or other socio-economic trends. This is why being aware of where you hire your talent, and ensuring that you have access to the widest possible range of talent, is important. It is difficult to have diversity of thought without diversity of experience.

How diverse is the insurance sector? 
From my experience, I think the insurance world has made good progress in this regard over the years. However, I also think there is more that we could do to encourage a wider range of talent to join, and stay in, the industry. The circumstances are particular to geographies and sectors. To give an example, according to the UK National Careers Service, both the actuarial and management accounting professions are 60% male and 40% female. So, for an insurer seeking to recruit those skills, the talent pool is skewed from the outset. But it is not just external factors: it is also undeniable that vestiges of the ‘boys club’ that the industry used to be are still present in some markets.

What, in your opinion, can be done about this? 
I think firms should be looking very hard at those things that act as ‘blockers’ to bright people progressing in our business. This means both a focus on culture – in particular that the way we go about making decisions encourages people to air their views in a positive atmosphere and generate ‘different thinking’ – and on the practical issues, such as enabling flexible working patterns. We also need to think about what data we need to track progress.

I also think is extremely important that we attract and facilitate the widest possible range of talent to join our industry. To the extent that this is inhibited by things like working practices that discourage particular sections of society, tacit acceptance of discriminatory behaviour or the failure of the industry to communicate and engage with as broad a range of people as possible, these things need to be addressed.

How do you feel about the future? 
Although there is still much to do, my view is that the industry has made significant strides – certainly since I joined it nearly 30 years ago – in addressing the gender gap in particular, and that we will continue to see progress in over the next few years. I hope that, a generation from now, people will wonder why this ever was an issue. There are still challenges, though. To give an example, how do we as an international organisation tackle issues such as discrimination on the basis of sexuality in countries where homosexuality is illegal? Or deal with staff issues where religious differences can be the cause of real conflict?