As a HR leader whose influence creates social change, what do you feel has been your most impactful action to date?
In itself insurance has a noble purpose in society, helping to protect individuals, communities and organisations, and all those things we care for, including our health, our lives, our livelihoods and our relationships with others. This gives Zurich a societal lens in all that we do. Sustainability is a key element of our business model, for our customers and employees – in times of great transformation, how do we support and protect? In 2019 we published our aspirations, driving how we create a sense of security and trust in the workplace. To share two examples that I believe are amongst the most important: firstly, we’ve actively chosen to up-skill our employees rather than hire externally; we’re bringing our employees with us on the journey of technological change. Secondly, we reject unsustainable behaviour such as off-shoring; we don’t go in search of cheap labour.
At the moment, in your industry, what do you think is the most exciting opportunity for HR to change the world?
To highlight an area that’s fundamental to work sustainability, we have an opportunity to create an inclusive and diverse workforce. There is a tremendous amount that companies can do that drives a broader change in society, that helps achieve true tolerance. The number of employees in some companies is the same as the size as a small city – so we can make a difference, we can educate and role model the change we want to see in society. I’m an advocate of part time work and job sharing as a driver of an inclusive workforce, with great results for our company and our people. In the year we made all our job specifications flexible, in the UK we saw a 30% increase in applications from women. In addition, our Employee Net Promoter Score increased, and where there used to be a 7-8% point difference in scores given by men and women (men giving a higher score), this year we have closed the gap completely.
Which particular areas of social and environmental injustice are you most passionate about, and see that your role gives you the chance to create change?
I wouldn’t have attended university without the support I received – my background influences my passion for addressing the issue of youth unemployment. There are still many people who can’t achieve their potential due to lack of support; companies must create educational opportunities for young people, to create bridges from education to the world of work. I view it as an obligation and I’m very proud that Zurich takes this seriously. I’m a big believer in apprenticeship programmes, in opportunities for school leavers and building entry level routes in to work. We currently have more than 200 talents at Zurich as part of our global apprenticeship programme, which for our workforce size of 55,000 is a good ratio. At the moment we’re working on a programme for the long-term unemployed, which particularly in our current climate, and in places such as Southern Europe, will have significant social impact.
How have you best used your position to create a more equitable and inclusive environment in ways that deliver your business goals?
By using employee groups that reach out to broader society, we’ve fostered bottom-up ideation, to help us adapt to challenges such as digital transformation and climate change. Such groups define our long-term culture and help us move away from a leader-led approach to a democratic and inclusive one. For example, in relation to our work with youth, we have a global group for Millennials and GenZ called NEXT. We recently carried out an Organisational Health Survey, the group was involved in the action planning that resulted. The Edelman Trust barometer shows that people’s confidence in government is falling, but that in corporations it is growing... corporations must take a leading role.
What is the one specific action you would like to see all HR Leaders take to make a positive change for the world?
I’d like all HR Leaders to make work better. To champion employees. This may sound strange as it’s what you might expect from HR, but in fact, there are many models of HR. Our role must be to unlock potential and realise aspiration, to create a workplace of optimism that has bridges to our personal lives. When this exists, it has a wider impact on society. One specific action, an example of a way to achieve this, is to do the right thing on unconscious bias – this work has a halo effect that radiates out into broader society. It sounds simple, but it’s not - there are many pressures, including financial. But we simply can’t go with the flow. We must make work better.