I N T E R V I E W
“We can’t legislate against attitudes” – iDAWN calls for a shift in mindset to promote inclusion across the insurance industry
Published: 20 October 2022
By Millie Tunstall
As the world opens its eyes to the importance of diversity and inclusion in the workplace, there’s no denying that more needs to be done by the insurance industry, particularly when it comes to challenging perceptions around mental ill health and embracing disability and neurodiversity.
That’s why, ahead of Insurance Innovators Summit, 16-17 November, we interviewed Kalpesh Shah, Joint Deputy Chair & Treasurer, iDAWN to get his thoughts on these crucial topics. The Disability, Ability & Wellbeing Network (iDAWN) is uniquely positioned to advise on this subject, as they support those with mental ill health, disability and long-term medical conditions working within the insurance industry. From encouraging open discussions to providing scalable initiatives and accessible information, iDAWN is a key industry player in this space.
If you want to hear more and be part of the conversation, join Kalpesh and other mentors from iDAWN at our Diversity, Inclusion & Allyship Networking Breakfast on day two of Insurance Innovators Summit.
How has the insurance industry evolved to tackle some of the issues surrounding mental health?
K.S. If we go back five years the landscape has changed a lot. There are three main areas where the industry changed:
- Gender Perceptions – Men have traditionally been seen as a gender that doesn’t talk about feelings and puts on a brave face. The sector (and society in general) has pushed to promote men’s mental health and that it’s ok to talk about feelings and be vulnerable. There have been numerous sports stars who have helped the cause by being open about their experiences.
- Covid and Lock Down – This has impacted all aspects of society. With people being forced to stay at home a lot of people have not had an opportunity of finding a release in the same way they would have if they were in the office. Companies have realised that the health of employees, both physical and mental, when working from home has become paramount. They have started to offer enhanced resources and benefits to employees, including simple items such as tips on how to keep active. The larger enhancements to benefits include the ability to speak to a therapist if needed (some companies already offer this, but it wasn’t promoted and thus not visible, whereas now the signposting is much more prevalent).
- Mental Health Groups – most of the larger companies now have their own committees/groups that focus on mental health and as a result, there is more of an internal push. For example, some companies are supporting their workforce, by training some employees as Mental Health First Aiders. Visit Mental Health England to find out more about what it all means and how it can help.
What is working well across the industry?
K.S. People are more willing to talk about all topics. People used to shy away from difficult conversations but are now breaking that mental barrier and are willing to talk. This is helping to highlight areas of concern and areas we should be focusing on.
What more needs to be done in this area?
K.S. Whilst we have achieved a lot, we can always do more. We still need to continue the discussions; more companies need to promote Mental Health First Aiders and we need to make culture more accepting so people of all backgrounds feel it is ok to talk about mental health and discuss issues they may be facing.
| “We can legislate against restrictive access to premises, but we can’t legislate against attitudes.”
What barriers face different groups, such as those with a disability or who are neurodivergent in the insurance workplace?
K.S. When we talk of barriers, people automatically think about what stops people with disabilities from accessing the workplace. Whilst that may still be a problem the biggest barrier is people’s attitudes. We can legislate against restrictive access to premises, but we can’t legislate against attitudes. The best way to overcome that is to create familiarity and let those with disabilities or neurodivergent traits be seen and mingle as colleagues. This fosters friendships, mutual respect, and comfort. Some of the most common attitude-based barriers are (and there are plenty more);
- Fear of saying or doing the wrong thing and as a result avoiding those with disabilities or neurodivergent traits
- Focusing on the disability, rather than the abilities they have
- Making negative generalisations or stereotypes
- Treating them as second class or inferior and thus assuming they can’t do the role or meet expectations
How can employers cater to different groups and avoid common pitfalls?
K.S. There is a lot that can be done but we must start with the basics. Constantly review and update inclusion policies (the world is ever evolving), challenge stereotypes/stereotypical thinking, and make reasonable adjustments (enshrine it into corporate policies). Companies that start with the basics and get those right are on the right track – once word gets about them doing something that is seen as a positive, it has a snowball effect and other companies start following suit.
| “We need to be seen as an industry that is attractive to that segment of society – we need to break down that mental barrier that says it’s not for us.”
Looking ahead, what more needs to be done to challenge perceptions of disability and neurodivergence and embrace the skillsets of neurodivergent individuals working in the insurance industry?
K.S. There is a bit of a vicious cycle, we as an industry need to recruit those with disabilities or neurodivergent traits as we are missing out on an untapped skillset. To do that, we need to be seen as an industry that is attractive to that segment of society – we need to break down that mental barrier that says it’s not for us. People like to see those with similar backgrounds as them in roles so it feels familiar to them and thus, they can see themselves in the same or similar role. We do have a small number of talented individuals from those backgrounds, but we need to be doing more to highlight them and show what they are doing to help the industry. Create those role models that stand out and make those with similar disabilities or neurodivergent traits start to think “that could be me”. It will take time, but we must start somewhere. Oh, and let’s keep talking and listening. There are numerous people with disabilities or neurodivergent traits issues that happily talk about their lives, the good, the bad and the ugly, so let’s talk to them and listen. We may just learn something.
Joint Deputy Chair & Treasurer, iDAWN
Apart from being the Joint Deputy Chair & Treasurer at iDAWN, Kalpesh Shah is a Senior Finance Professional, specialising in the Business Strategy, Planning and Development in the Insurance Industry. He is also a School Governor and sits on a number of committees in the Insurance Sector, with focus on the Diversity & Inclusion and Mental Health & Wellbeing.
Want to hear more from Kalpesh? Join him at Insurance Innovators Summit being held at QEII Centre, London on 16-17 November 2022, where he will joining our Diversity, Inclusion & Allyship Networking Breakfast on day two of Insurance Innovators Summit.