The World Economic Forum 2018 Report indicates that the world is 202 years away from bridging the Global Gender Gap and ranks India at 142 among 149 countries on the economic participation and opportunity factor. In India, especially the insurance industry is still among the many sectors striving to achieve a gender balanced workforce. As per the annual report 2017-18 of the Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority of India (IRDAI) , women constitute around 27.81 percent of the total life insurance agency force as of early last year.
Given these statistics, for the companies in the insurance sector it becomes all the more necessary to look at the ratio of women employees in their teams. However, it also important to note that enhancing diversity shouldn’t be looked at as a tick in the box activity. Ultimately what matters is the potential of the talent and the value they bring in, irrespective of their gender.
While gender diversity is a focus area for Shishir Agarwal, Director HR, PNB MetLife, it is actually creating more equal opportunities that matters to him the most. In a recent interaction with People Matters, Agarwal discussed the changing scope of diversity and inclusion and shared how PNB MetLife is working towards creating a more inclusive workforce.
According to you, what are the different areas of diversity that organizations need to work towards?
I think traditionally every organization starts with gender diversity. But many organizations have now matured in their journey of diversity and have started focusing on other areas, like generational, LGBTQ, PwD, and cultural or geographical diversity.
What’s becoming more and more relevant today is ensuring that there is equality in all forms and manners at the workplace. The focus has now shifted more towards building inclusive cultures where anyone irrespective of their age, gender, and background can contribute, work together and grow.
How can leaders create a truly inclusive workplace?
Diversity without inclusion is of no value. Leaders in any organization play a critical role in ensuring that inclusion is embedded in the culture. At PNB MetLife, we are working with people across hierarchies and regions of the country to put in place inclusive practices and ensure that people in the team follow unbiased processes, whether it is in terms of hiring or planning for career progression.
There are three key pillars of building an inclusive workplace which I strongly believe in:
- Valuing uniqueness: Be more open to new and diverse ideas, respect others' opinions and ensure that you value the uniqueness that everyone brings to the table.
- Building belongingness: This is relevant especially when you are welcoming new joinees in your company culture. They are not familiar with the terms used by existing colleagues and that could often create a gap. It is important how you make them feel like they also belong, how do you help them get familiar with your company’s culture and lingos without making them feel uncomfortable.
- Critical eliminating barriers: When you seek multiple points of view, use objective measures to respond to them all. Be conscious of your own unconscious biases. Be aware of not being too critical and proactively try to create an environment where people are not hesitant to share their opinions but have more freedom to speak them out loud.
What are your top priorities for D&I in 2020?
At PNB MetLife, we have achieved 35 percent gender diversity, which is above the industry standards. But now we strive for 50 percent. And the journey from 35 to 50 is not going to be easy and also is not a year long plan but is something that we would be working on for a few more years.
Insurance industry has no entry barrier as far as having any technical background is concerned. Hence, if someone is driven to learn something new can pursue a career in insurance.
And while we focus on encouraging more females to take leadership positions and focus on strengthening gender diversity, one thing we also follow is creating equal opportunities. It is ultimately about meritocracy and every decision from hiring to succession planning is based on that.
Can you tell us in one word what Diversity and Inclusion means to you?
It is the BACKBONE! It is something which is non negotiable. It’s the foundation on which organizations can build a sustainable people strategy.