[Skip to content]

Sign up for our daily newsletter
The Actuary The magazine of the Institute & Faculty of Actuaries

Embracing inclusivity

Angela Darlington, Suki Sandhu, Michael Hastings,and Chika Aghadiuno speak to Richard Purcell and Chris Seekings about diversity, inclusivity and ways we can all drive change in our workplaces


Diversity event - @Tom Campbell

Diversity is being invited to the party, inclusion is being asked to dance – and I don’t think that you can do one without the other

With just over an hour to go before the IFoA’s debate, chaired by Chika Aghadiuno and introduced by former president Nick Salter, on harnessing the power of diversity and inclusion at work, entitled ‘The Carrot, the Stick and Strategies for Success’, we have an opportunity to question the guest speakers as they prepare for the main event.

Beginning with the benefits of diversity; Angela Darlington believes these are obvious in the context of effective risk management. She notes the importance of hearing challenges: “The main benefit is that you get diversity of thought, so having people who think differently and can challenge each other is a huge advantage in the modern world, and I think that is true in any industry.” 

Fellow panelist Suki Sandhu believes that it is more than just good business sense: “With diversity and inclusion there is so much research to present a business case – with increased productivity, creativity, innovation – that sometimes we simply forget it is the right thing to do, it’s part of being human; welcoming your employees and making them feel like they belong.” 

Creating very diverse teams is not without its challenges though, as Darlington admits: “Sometimes it is a complete nightmare to manage people who think differently. There are moments when you really want people to move on to make a decision, and just get on with it.” Slowing the decision-making process down can be a drawback, but Darlington also believes this is a good thing, resulting in a much better outcome: “I think it is hugely important that we do slow down sometimes, and other perspectives are taken into account. Take the global financial crisis, you can look at the cause of the problems and see people steamrolling an ideology through their organisation and not hearing the challenge.” 

Chika Aghadiuno notes another challenge is having to prepare people for diversity where there is currently very little. “If someone doesn’t look like you there is a bit of a reality check, and that is certainly something I have experienced, even with work experience students. When you get a student who satisfies the diversity criteria, you almost have to ready your people that they are not going to be the usual Surrey, private-school students.”

Gauging diversity

Sandhu explains the difficulties of measuring diversity: “It’s not just about the visible characteristics you can see, it’s about the cognitive diversity that you can also bring to the table. Measuring this is obviously harder, because you need the data to understand the make-up of your workforce. This can be easy when you are collecting gender and ethnicity, which is visible, but when it comes to sexuality or disability, the information is often given voluntarily.” He believes that the latter can still be useful though: “Some businesses learn that 3% of their employees are LGBT, but then 6% would rather not say.” For Sandhu, this indicates a problem that can be looked at and addressed. 

Darlington is also a believer in measuring diversity. As she explains: “In business we are competitive beings, if you don’t measure things, you won’t necessarily get the outcomes you need.” However, she adds: “It can’t all be about the measurements.” 

Looking beyond these figures is a view that resonates with Michael Hastings, who believes we should “stop labelling people, and putting them into boxes, and instead start embracing, understanding and accepting people”. Sandhu elaborates: “Diversity is being invited to the party, inclusion is being asked to dance – which I think sums it up perfectly, and I don’t think that you can do one without the other. They are not mutually exclusive, and there is no point in spending all that money on hiring diverse talent, to find that they do not feel like they belong when they get there.”

Hastings is in agreement, and believes that acceptance isn’t measured in any current methodology: “I think we have gone through more than a double generation of the diversity measurement industry, and I am not convinced it has delivered an inclusive society or an inclusive business culture. What it has done is flag up where the issues are, and that’s not a bad thing. But it doesn’t follow that the measurement methodology gets us through transformation.” 

When it comes to improving inclusivity, the panel suggest various ways. Hastings believes we need to think about hiring processes in the workplace. “We have all seen multiple pieces of evidence that if you apply with a certain type of name, your ability to get through the filter is substantially reduced, for example with an Indian or African name, rather than a tidy English or American name”.

Hastings is concerned with systems that are pre-programmed with certain expectations and cut-off points. “They say nothing about character, or strength of thought – the very things we are saying about diversity not being just about colour or sexuality or disability.” Instead, Hastings calls on companies to get rid of algorithms in selection processes and consider how we measure openness of thought. He believes it is something you can see the outcome from but you cannot put into an algorithm.

Diversity Event
Former president Nick Salter (second right) with speakers at the IFoA debate 'The Carrot, the Stick and Strategies for Success'

Recognising difference

Redefining our idea of leadership is also cited as another way to improve inclusivity. Sandhu explains how our view of leaders is often anchored by the existing leaders we see. “In most industries, the straight white older man dominates the boardroom or executive roles, so this is the benchmark set for being a leader.

If you are a gay woman, or an ethnic minority man, you are being benchmarked alongside him, including his behaviours and experience, which you would never match up to, because you are not a straight white man – you are different.” Instead Sandhu suggests we need to “help people look through the unconscious bias that comes through”, and think hard about the skills really needed and how commonly required characteristics, like gravitas, can come through in different forms. 

Improving diversity and inclusivity is often something focused on at senior levels within an organisation. Yet we know there can be much bigger challenges in the levels below.

We asked the panel to offer some practical ways that we can all improve diversity within our workplaces. One theme that stands out is humility. Darlington says: “We shouldn’t be afraid to ask questions that feel stupid,” as this is important for teams who truly embrace diversity of thought. Equally, she believes we should also be humble enough to celebrate when someone proves us wrong, as it is a sign of healthy debate and challenge. 

Another aspect is that we cannot realise the full value of diversity and celebrate differences, if we are not comfortable recognising and talking about these in the first place. Sandhu recalls being surprised at an event; “some people couldn’t even say the word black in a meeting and I had no idea that this conflict existed”. 

Aghadiuno underlines the importance of being comfortable about what makes us different: “I do feel sorry for a lot of people who are trying to figure out how to manage this particular issue. I wasn’t at all surprised that people do not like saying the word, and the issue gets even more complicated. It’s not just my white colleagues, but also my black colleagues who may not be comfortable with this. Often they prefer to keep a low profile and not engage with the debate.” 

Thinking about the ways we can celebrate and even normalise our differences, the conversation turns to the importance of allies in the workplace. Sandhu sums this up neatly: “You can’t really effect change without the majority. So if you think about LGBT specifically, we estimate that around 10% of the world is LGBT, which means 90% are straight, and we can’t really create the change if straight people are not helping us. So allies also have to ‘come out’ in our lives visibly to support us.”

Darlington explains the importance allies have played in her own journey: “People have spent a lot of time figuring out what it’s like to be on my side of the table, to make it more likely that I would put myself in positions that guys would have automatically gone into.”

Darlington’s comment highlights how we can all have a part to play, provided we are prepared to put in the effort, placing ourselves in the shoes of others and offering support.

We also discuss the use of more visible signs to demonstrate support and allegiance to others within the workplace, and the idea of lanyards to champion minorities is suggested as another way to celebrate differences.

Besides allies, role models are clearly important too. Aghadiuno says: “People really do need role models to see what is possible. I see them becoming increasingly important.”

Darlington reveals: “I was once told that I was a bad role model because I was not talking about it,” she says, referring to her own sexuality, “but I thought it had nothing to do with my job.” She quickly admits: “I was wrong and my colleague was right. And the enjoyment at work and my career have gone on an upward trajectory ever since that moment, because I have stopped trying to be something I am not, stopped trying to hide something about me at work, and I have started celebrating that difference in a way that I never did before.” 

Her point underlines the importance of being confident in who we are. Later in the debate Darlington shares her own challenges in finding this confidence. She recalls being encouraged by her colleague, who said: “Can I check you are not just being a woman?” when she had doubts about whether to put herself forward for her current role. 

Darlington admits to being “more risk averse than some of my male colleagues”. She reveals her secret of having an internal scoring mechanism to assess how qualified she is to do a particular task, and then adding two to the score, putting herself on a level playing field with her competitors in her own mind. 

Unconscious bias

One of the ways we can all make a big difference to diversity in the short term is through recruitment, and Sandhu offers some practical tips. Besides anonymous CVs, he suggests interviewing in pairs to address the unconscious bias of hiring people like ourselves. He challenges us to question and demand more from our own internal hiring managers and recruitment consultants. 

Another way we can make a difference is through reverse mentoring. This allows junior members of staff from minority groups to influence senior leaders and help them to open their minds to some of the opportunities and challenges of diversity within their businesses.

The debate was followed by a lot of interaction from the audience, much of it focused on practical tips for actuaries in the workplace. One question that resonated was what people should do if their employer was not open to improving diversity. Darlington’s response neatly summed up just how important diversity is as a business issue: “There are organisations who value diversity and those that don’t. I would say, go and work for the organisations that do value it.”

Dr Michael Hastings, (Lord Hastings of Scarisbrick CBE) is KPMG International’s global head of corporate citizenship. He served on the Commission for Racial Equality, is listed as one of the 100 most influential black people in Britain, and came sixth on the 2016 list of 100 Black British Business Leaders. He has served as a member of the World Economic Forum’s Global Council on Diversity and Talent.

Angela Darlington is group chief risk officer for Aviva Plc. She is a member of the Actuarial Council of the Financial Reporting Council and the global CRO Forum. She is a well-respected role model for LGBT and women in leadership, featuring in the ‘OUTstanding Leading LGBT+ Executives List’ presented by The Financial Times. 

Suki Sandhu is founder and CEO of Audeliss, a boutique executive search company. He founded OUTstanding, a membership organisation for LBGT+ executives and allies, supporting diversification of the boardroom. He subsequently launched the EMpower list, in partnership with The Financial Times. He is also a Stonewall ambassador.

Chika Aghadiuno is general insurance director of the group actuarial function at Aviva, and chair of the IFoA’s Diversity Advisory Group, which looks at ways to stimulate debate and drive greater diversity within the profession.