In the article below, written for a Danish financial news website POV – POINT of VIEW International, Anne Mette Toftegaard, CEO of ICMIF member LB Forsikring (Denmark), discusses diversity at her organisation and suggests that instead of seeing diversity as a hindrance, it should be seen as a huge opportunity. At LB Forsikring over half (58%) of the managers are women. We would like to thank Anne Mette for her permission to reproduce her article for ICMIF members to read here.
You do not create diversity from the bottom up. It starts with a management decision - or perhaps rather with a management team putting forward the case for diversity. Once diversity is a reality, it then becomes a matter of course to continue in the same direction, because it creates great results.
In recent years, a lot of stories and articles have been published about how we increase or have increased diversity within our management process, and how we did it.
However, this post is neither an attempt to brag nor a five-step guide to better diversity in the management process, but rather a quiet reflection on why we are still having discussions about the value of increased diversity when all studies, research projects and practical experiences show having a diverse leadership has a huge value.
But let me start with a confession:
When this year's accounts for LB Forsikring were coming out, my thoughts were not on diversity. We were in the middle of the coronavirus crisis, all 770 employees worked from home, so there were plenty of other issues to report on.
But diversity is one of the parameters we report on in the annual report, and it was written in black and white: over half of the managers in LB Forsikring are women, in fact 58% of our managers are women.
That is not the norm in the financial industry. The latest survey of female managers in the Danish financial industry is from 2018, and here the proportion of female managers was 26 per cent. The number of female employees is currently, on average, 47% in the insurance industry in Denmark.
It naturally makes me proud that our numbers are good, and I have made this very clear in interviews and on social media. But to be honest, it has never been a number we have focused on until several colleagues made me aware that what we view as normal is actually peculiar to our sector.
Or to put it another way: we have never focused on gender diversity specifically. Still, we have better numbers than organisations that have worked purposefully towards it. We have not had written targets, set out quota programmes or created special women's networks, nor do we have them now.
How does it add up?
I have thought about that, and my answer is that we have a good culture.
It may sound very pious, just to say: "We have a good culture", and I must in no way underestimate that written goals or special measures may be needed to get a greater diversity among a company’s employees, but this does not change the fact that without the right culture, one does not retain diversity for very long.
I have been very privileged to assume the role of a director at my organisation, where there was already a focus on diversity and community, but at the same time I also see it as my responsibility to maintain and expand that culture.
You do not create diversity from the bottom up. It starts with a management decision - or perhaps rather with a management case for diversity.
And once diversity is a reality, it then becomes a matter of course to continue on the same path, for it creates great results, and who does not want that! And if you are in favour of team leadership, as I am, it is indispensable.
Why miss good talent - and what exactly is talent?
At LB Forsikring, we have the highest job satisfaction rates for employees in the insurance sector, and happy employees provide a good working environment.
There is no doubt that our culture and values help to increase job satisfaction. This is demonstrated in all our employee surveys. Our business model is about putting our members at the centre of everything we do, and we have a sharp focus on getting money back to our members.
For me, it is important that our corporate culture is characterised by the fact that it is not only the individual who must be successful, but the community as a whole which must be successful. Such a work environment both attracts and makes room for diversity, and it ultimately provides a better business.
It is also incomprehensible to me therefore why diversity and a good culture is still something we can "brag" about having. Why is that not the norm?
I know that for some, the focus on diversity and community is not related to hardcore business. However, I do not agree with that.
Our task as business leaders is to create the greatest possible value for customers, shareholders and stakeholders, often in the form of the greatest possible return. Here we compete on equal terms, regardless of whether the return goes to shareholders or customers.
But mutuals solve the task differently. However, it is my experience and conviction that with diversity as well we have better conditions to solve the task in the best possible way.
As employers we are used to testing and benchmarking applicants and each other in the workplace all the time; we are divided according to the MBTI system, DISC profiles, and we put together teams based on whether you are an inspirer, analyst, team player, etc.
So, we are already used to assessing our applicants and putting together teams based on many different parameters, and this should also include other forms of intelligence, including social and emotional intelligence for example.
For talent is many things. And that also applies to CEOs. Because what a talented CEO "did" a few years ago is less important today, whereas now as a CEO you can put everything out of control if you are not a good communicator and if you do not have a good ethical and moral understanding of the world around us.
If you do not focus on diversity and culture, you miss both talent and development opportunities.
So, it is not enough to keep doing the things that you have always done and hire or promote as you have always done. If you do not focus on diversity and culture, you will miss both talent and development opportunities.
Here I am not just talking about having good gender diversity, but about thinking about diversity more broadly. We no longer live in a world where you work in the same place for 40 years, or where you retire at the age of 62.
And increased globalisation requires new skills, just as the demands on us as employers increase in relation to work / life balance. Job content must also be meaningful and people should be able to work part-time or with more flexible hours or even as freelancers.
At the same time, our companies should reflect the surrounding community and ensure that our corporate culture encompasses diversity in many dimensions.
Rather than seeing it as a hindrance, one should see it as a huge opportunity. An opportunity which would then give us optimal conditions to ensure good matches for companies which demand employees who reflect the diversity in society.
It starts with leadership
If you want to secure the future of your company, you need to have a management team that can help create the culture you want.
One of the managers' most important tasks in LB Forsikring is to unleash the potential of their employees and create a space where each individual employee can grow.
This requires a management team that can see and have a broad understanding of competencies before they look at external things such as gender and age. And it's clearly easier to do this if you already have leadership teams across the organisation that are already diverse.
If you can create a management culture where trust is a value at the same time, then I think you will go a long way.
If you trust that the employees do their best, trust that others will help you if you have a need, and the employees trust that they can be helped, then you get a culture where people dare to reach out for more responsibility and growth. Where one is not afraid of wanting to be a leader for example, even though one may not be the right age or “look” like the leaders who are already in those roles.
For me, this is what characterises a healthy business. Not just numbers in an annual report, but a company with a culture of community, trust and room for diversity, which together can create great results.