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Putting inclusion and diversity first

With inclusion and diversity at the top of many board agendas, PA financial services expert Knut Erlend Vik sat down with Gard’s Chief Human Resources Officer, Hildegunn Danielsen, to discuss how the Nordic marine insurer is addressing the topic.

Hildegunn DanielsenPA: Why is inclusion and diversity now on the agenda at Gard?

Danielsen: I believe that for Gard it was the recognition that a more diverse employee could really drive change. Our employees share many similarities in terms of background, education and competencies. On the other hand, Gard is a global company, which implies a certain level of diversity. We want to understand how to further realise the potential benefits of this diversity.

PA: Is this something that you recently became aware of?

Danielsen: I would say that Gard has had a growing awareness of the fact that our people traditionally have similar backgrounds. The industry as a whole is fairly traditional, and I think there has been a widespread perception that ‘that’s just the way it is’. However, in recent years, society has changed and the importance of diversity has risen. We need to look in the mirror and realise that we’re not at the top of our class in this area. My conclusion would be that there has been an increased focus on this over the past years.

PA: So what are you aiming to accomplish with this initiative?

Danielsen: Firstly, this is about extracting the potential in our organisation and ensuring we have the right competencies for future challenges. When we recruit for what has traditionally been our core competencies, we focus on diversity. That is, we focus on bringing in different profiles to those we already have.

We also recognise the need for new capabilities and how this places new demands on us as a workplace. A new generation of mindsets and expectations is joining our workforce, challenging the traditional mindsets and approaches of previous generations.

PA: Have you defined any specific measures to ensure progress in capability development?

Danielsen: Well, there are specific strategic decisions in place to ensure diversity and to increase the percentage of women in top management positions. Further, for us, this is about fundamental values and how these are reflected in every decision, big or small, in the everyday operations of the business. One example is our strategic approach to the design of our job adverts. We construct them to be inclusive to ensure that all the most relevant candidates apply.

PA: Evidence shows companies with a higher percentage of women in leadership that deliver better results. Is that something that motivates Gard?

Danielsen: We fully believe that. We genuinely believe that diversity of thought is key, and that this derives from diversity of gender, personality and background, among other things, and is an important part of driving innovation. Diversity will trigger new thoughts.

PA: Several organisations also link diversity and inclusion to corporate social responsibility (CSR). If diversity and inclusions drives profit, do you see any potential conflicts here?

Danielsen: No. Companies that focus on clear CSR policies also deliver better results. In Gard, we have said we want to take a firm stand in our market to drive CSR further. Including diversity. We are also part of a UN panel that requires members to engage with diversity.

PA: What is it that defines diversity in Gard?

Danielsen: Diversity of personalities is an area that Gard has evolved greatly in. Practically all employees have used our personality tool, which has raised awareness of personality strengths and weaknesses. This provides us with a foundation for further diversity work in our teams. We also consider gender and ethnicity in diversity. Currently, we employ more than 30 nationalities. Lastly, we consider education. We have a substantial share of lawyers and people with seafaring backgrounds. This is a result of the industry in which we operate. However, this is also facing changes.

PA: How mature would you say Gard is in terms of diversity and inclusion?

Danielsen: We have labelled this a focus area, established a diversity committee and work continuously with management on this. We have also done ‘as-is mapping’ to ensure the organisation’s beliefs and facts are aligned. We have performed internal surveys to ask direct and challenging questions regarding diversity, and the employees having shared their thoughts on how they experience being different in Gard and how they are treated in different settings. We are still gathering the last data before defining clear goals for further work on diversity.

PA: Although this is work in progress, do you have any examples of everyday things that affect your thoughts on diversity?

Danielsen: Yes. My initial thought is gender differences and job adverts. If, when writing a job description, you include a list of requirements such as ‘need to know this, that and this’, and add ‘English language proficiency is also a valuable skillset to have’, then research has shown men read this and think ‘I don’t know this, I don’t know that, I don’t know this, but I do know some English, so I’ll just apply’. A woman, on the other hand, would think ‘I know this, I know that, I know this, but I am not 100% proficient in English, so I won’t apply’. This implies that there is something about the way we convey a message. How we approach people.

When recruiting leaders internally, we accentuate that leadership experience is not a prerequisite, you just need to be willing to put in a learning effort. We facilitate everyone who might want to apply to ensure a broad selection base before we select the very best candidate.

We also actively use the team analysis we have on most of our teams. We analyse the team skillsets and personality traits and aim our recruitment to complement them. For example, if a team consists mainly of detail- and taskoriented people, then we will actively pursue people that are strategic and forward thinking in our recruitment.

PA: How do you ensure this contributes to developing the necessary capabilities in Gard?

Danielsen: We will not aim for diversity for diversity’s sake. It is not hard to obtain diversity in a workplace, it is hard to extract the positive effects from it.

Currently, we are in the middle of a process of deciding our new ambitions until 2025. We have set a new vision for the company. We are trying to understand which capabilities we should focus on to retain our position in the market. We want to be different to the other players in the market and believe in the power of ‘employer branding’ to make this happen. How we include diversity in the company and link this to our employer branding will be very important.

“To achieve success when working in such an environment one must work differently in terms of thought processes surrounding strategy, goals, communication and management.”

PA: How do you aim to involve the organisation in further developing inclusion and diversity?

Danielsen: Our diversity team consists of employees who drive the plans forward. This is one way of involvement. We also have a corporate stewardship system that is included in the diversity process. Yet, we still do not have concrete aims for including the whole organisation in workshops or other activities. Ultimately, I believe they will follow the targets that we set. However, we are quite aware that this is not a job for the top leadership. This must be grounded in the whole organisation.

PA: There are obvious benefits of diversity, but what kind of challenges may arise from this work?

Danielsen: Enabling similar individuals to approach a common goal simultaneously is significantly less complex than enabling diverse groups of individuals. We have an organisation where we have a leader from the UK working in Norway managing team members in Singapore. To achieve success when working in such an environment, one must work differently in terms of thought processes surrounding strategy, goals, communication and management.

PA: This sounds like a demanding environment for managers.

Danielsen: Absolutely, it increases the complexity of what a manager needs to be able to handle. All our leaders have undergone development courses, where most of the content emphasises methods of approaching individuals with different backgrounds and characteristics. We are purposefully coaching and training our managers on how one should manage a team composed of individuals with a range of cultural backgrounds.

It is important to remember that diversity management is a complex issue, which is also the key to success – understanding the complexity.

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