Empowering the individual is critical to the D&I agenda

Last week I had the pleasure of interviewing Sir Ken Olisa, prominent IT industry executive and philanthropist, for our parent company Euromoney’s diversity week.

If you haven’t heard of him, give him a Google – he came from humble Nottingham beginnings and rose to be named one of the top 10 most influential black men in Britain. He also has a list of non-exec directorships and titles as long as your arm, on both corporate and not-for-profit organisations.

Olisa is known for his outspoken opinions on inclusion and social mobility in the world of work, and during our discussion he gave a number of different perspectives which I thought I would share.

I pressed him in particular on how companies can be more inclusive, and what frameworks should be put in place to encourage an inclusive workforce.

Olisa is not overly keen on diversity quotas, nor on affinity networks.

He argued that, while affinity networks can work to raise awareness of individual needs, they can also evolve to look like “victim groups” and end up being counterproductive to achieving the overall goal of inclusion.

And too often, diversity quotas and the creation of affinity groups can be a D&I box-ticking exercise for corporations.

Instead, Olisa is a big believer in empowering the individual.

He believes social mobility should be about ensuring each person rises to the best of their talent and contributes. It shouldn’t be about bringing certain groups down, or restricting their potential, so that other groups can benefit.

In order to do this at an organisational level, the model needs to move from being “input-obsessed” to output-focused, according to Olisa.

This means moving away from selecting incoming talent based on their background, their education, or what they look like. This is where biases can come in.

Instead, organisations should choose an output-focused model which is focused on talent management and retention, and places emphasis on value creation.

The key to achieving this, Olisa explained, is to empower the individual. Give them the tools and the freedom to rise to their best potential.

If this means writing a manifesto signed by board members which vows that the business ideas of any individual at any level will be heard and considered, so be it. Everyone should be capable of contributing to the mission, he said.

As long as everyone is aligned and clear on that mission, Olisa’s advice is – in his words – to empower employees to “do something stonking!”

How much does this happen in insurance?

If I am entirely honest, from my industry observer’s perspective I don’t see much of it – I mainly hear grumblings that said underwriter/broker had a great idea but there were too many hoops and too much red tape to push it through, and so it was shelved.

Perhaps employee empowerment is happening and The Insider just doesn’t hear about it?

If that’s the case, companies should sing about it more – one of this industry’s biggest challenges is attracting the next wave of bright young things, who are full of ideas and want their voices to be heard.

At the end of the day, this is not just about showing moral fibre, Olisa stated. This is about competitive advantage.

So go forth, and do something stonking.