Dive In – the festival for diversity and inclusion in insurance took place for the fourth time on 25-27 September 2018. The goal of this global event is to help the insurance branch to shape its future by highlighting the business case for diverse and inclusive workplaces. This is supported by practical ideas and inspiration on how to bring about positive change. The festival stretched across dozens of cities in about 20 countries, and attracted thousands of people. In Zurich two events were held, one in German and another one in English. They were co-organised by Swiss Re, Zurich Insurance and AXA XL. I participated in the second event as a guest speaker.
The event titled "Surviving or thriving: creating a diverse and healthy workplace culture" was held at the Swiss Re Future building at Mythenquai, and was attended by 140 people. The agenda for the evening was structured around personal stories of four presenters, who each reflected on their being-included challenges. This agenda cleverly showcased the depth of what is meant by Diversity and Inclusion (D&I). In corporate discussion the discipline often shrinks into a one-dimensional idea of bringing different people into organisational life, whereas it actually carries a macrocosm of meanings and practices related to what people and organisations are about.
The openness and courage by which Alexandra Brändli from AXA XL as well as Craig Duncan and Daniel Eckhart from Swiss Re shared their experiences as working parent, gay employee and someone with mental health issues moved, amused and inspired the audience. The bittersweet flavour of considering these every day experiences as ‘diverse’ nothing but highlights the urgency of all different people to be heard and seen exactly as they are in the every day business life.
That is where my highly intriguing and challenging task for the evening steps in. As a cultural theorist and D&I expert, I was to place these deeply personal experiences into a wider conceptual frame. By transferring the personal to public, the individual to universal, we find in the most intimate of an experience a shared social process. By understanding how these processes disadvantage people, helps to emotionally distance oneself from potentially hurtful or limiting events and act constructively based on intellectual evaluation. This is theory at its most practical!
We all learn through socially and culturally created stories about men and women, straight and gay, health and sickness as we grow up. These affect the ways we experience ourselves and our possibilities, and how other people relate to us. My age, gender, profession and how I appear cannot be separated from the ways I go about my daily business, how people attend to me, or what kinds of interactions take place between me and my colleagues. Our life experiences, as well as the history, values and priorities of the society that raised us, all contribute to the norms that outline our opportunities and disadvantages in society. By making these stories – the norms – transparent in how they position different people, helps us to find alternative, independent ways to define ourselves and how we choose to act towards others.
I further elaborated on how organisational change needs to take place at different fronts. This naturally includes access to power, knowledge and financial resources, the exercise of writing down rules and creating accountability, but more than anything, heightening individual awareness as well as the capacity of the organisation to work on its norms and deep structures, the cores of its culture.
The presentations were followed by a 20-minute Q&A session. The number of questions confirmed that the messages were heard and reflected upon. An opportunity for an exchange on a more personal level followed during the Apéro. The warmth and spontaneity of the personal discussions rounded up the evening in the most pleasant and promising manner.