From apprenticeships to flexible working; female empowerment starts here

From apprenticeships to flexible working; female empowerment starts here

“Despite the progress made over the last century to improve women’s economic empowerment, in the main, women’s financial independence is only being realised by a minority”

Insuring Women’s Futures’ Manifesto: The full report, Chartered Insurance Institute, Jan 2020

This represented an opening quote to a recent Generali ‘Be Bold For Inclusion’ event, in line with International Women’s Day. From Generali’s apprenticeship programme and employee benefits, to flexible working and psychological safety, the discussion was wide ranging, but with one goal in mind; a focus on gender equality through economic empowerment for women. In other words, the ability and opportunity for women to live, work and thrive on a level playing field.

This not only brings benefits to women, it also brings benefits to business. For example, evidence shows that female leaders don’t just improve innovation and financial performance metrics, they also de-risk organisational performance and improve aspects such as Corporate Social Responsibility and Environment Social Governance.

With the understanding that inclusion starts – and continues – with employee voice, the discussion focused on gaining employee views on the economic empowerment of women. This involved zooming in on where Diversity Equity & Inclusion (DEI) policies and practices at Generali are helping empower women and where there is room for further evolution.

Our guest host Chantelle Dusette for Enolla Consulting (formerly known as The Centre for Inclusive Leadership) led the discussion, together with a panel and audience of Generali employees; male and female.

The discussion included a strong and central focus on how to encourage more women into the insurance industry and Generali specifically, including those: straight from school or further education; returning to work after time out to care for children; working while also providing care for loved ones, whether children, elderly relatives, or both.

Here are some of the key take-outs:

Inclusion matters. Whatever an individual’s gender, race or socio-economic status.

Whatever an individual’s gender, ethnicity or background, Generali is working hard to create a level playing field in terms of recruitment straight from school or college. For example, individuals no longer need a degree to work at the organisation. The panel members discussed that going to university has become such a costly exercise that it is at risk of creating a distinction between the haves and the have-nots. 

This is one of the reasons  that Generali established an apprenticeship programme; providing opportunities to those that perhaps didn’t see further education as an option.

“We’re seeing a huge amount of success in this programme. It’s allowing us to bring people into the culture of the organisation at a very early stage in their career. And we’re seeing people really flourish,” said Peter Leslie, Chief Underwriting Officer at Generali Corporate and Commercial.

The discussion went on to highlight the fact that the insurance industry is relationship-driven. It’s a trading industry where people want to trade with people they like and know. Everybody tends to know everybody else and, traditionally, like the rest of the financial services sector, getting a job was often more about who you know, than what you know. Again, this created an uneven playing field for school, college and university leavers.

However, hiring and recruitment practices have changed hugely. For example, anonymous CVs are increasingly common.  

“Apprenticeships will help here too,” adds Peter. “Apprentices will be supported to start building those all-important relationship skills from a very early stage in their career. And where there’s a diverse pool of people as part of that apprenticeship programme, it’s only a matter of time before we see real and sustainable change in opportunities for all.”

KPIs should only be considered a tool. The end goal is equity.

Supporting people to bring themselves to work was also discussed. This, instead of trying to make people fit a rigid, pre-determined mould once hired. This is about embracing and valuing different qualities, different voices and exercising flexibility for all.

Kay Needle, Early Intervention and Rehabilitation Expert at Generali UK – a member of the discussion panel – commented here that she felt strongly supported by Generali in this regard. “In my experience, Generali guided me to the right opportunity as opposed to trying to make me fit a pre-determined mould. This meant waiting for the right role, but I knew through prior discussions with the team at Generali that they wanted to hire me, they just wanted to make sure it was the perfect fit.”

The importance of psychological safety was also raised as a vital factor in helping ensure a sense of inclusion. This is about creating the conditions for employees to contribute, challenge and feel heard, to call out problems, to fail and learn.

Employee benefits and flexible working were also considered important to creating a more equitable and inclusive culture.

On employee benefits, the importance of childcare support, maternity and paternity leave were discussed, as well as support for working carers.

Francesca Antenucci, Head of HR and Organisation at  Generali UK Branch, commented: “Perhaps instead of separate maternity and paternity leave, it should be about equal parental leave. This would allow the family to make up their own minds about who the primary and secondary carer will be and how they want to structure their work and home lives. Generali UK Branch is currently investigating  this and we hope to bring you further news by the end of the year.”

On the subject of flexible working, one audience member commented that the option of job sharing might be useful; perhaps three days each with a crossover day. It was suggested that this would be particularly attractive for those mums who’ve taken a career break to raise young children. In response, the need to first overcome the barriers that a generally  industry-wide focus on “headcount” brings, was raised. 

It would be impossible to solve everything all at once. But the importance to progress of having such open and candid discussions cannot be overstated. The economic empowerment of women – indeed, the evolution of DEI as a whole – rests on listening, learning and growing together.