At Ninety, we believe insurance is fundamentally a force for social good. We also believe in the power of innovation and customer-centred change. Our mission is to help insurers innovate and thrive, and our vision is a generation of insurers who are well- equipped to serve and stabilise a fast-changing world. Having said that, is the innovation environment of insurance companies an inclusive one? Are we achieving human-centricity in-house where innovation is developed? This article aims to explore how inclusivity benefits the innovation process.
To do so, we want to articulate what DEI (Diversity, Equality, Inclusivity) encompasses and how these concepts work in connection with each other and to the innovation processes. To shed some light on DEI in insurance innovation, we decided to talk to women who work in this space. We had the chance to interview women who work at Chubb, Mapfre, Lloyd’s of London and SwissRe. Their stories have helped us to understand different paths to building a diverse and inclusive environment that enables customer-centred innovation, and, of course, to identify what’s missing in the industry at the moment.
Ninety’s 123 Framework is about helping our clients to bring new insurance ideas to market quickly, whilst reducing the innovation risks and increasing the ideas chance of success. A key element of this process is customer-centricity. Innovation methodologies are the sum of Principles (fundamental doctrines) + Process (a series of actions or steps taken to achieve a particular end), such as Design Thinking and Lean Startup or Ninety’s 123 Framework. Putting the perspective of the customer at the heart of the proposition development is a central concept for Design Thinking. To achieve successful innovation, we need to make sure that the environment where those solutions are being developed is Diverse, Equal and Inclusive (DEI).
The ratio of women working in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) environments has increased in recent decades, but we still have a long way to go to address the issue of historical underrepresentation in our industry. Achieving inclusivity of diverse groups is the key to a more creative work environment and significant business growth. An interesting example shared in an HBR article describes an innovation in retail banking in India. The idea was driven forward by female employees who saw a gap in the way female customers were serviced. They changed the experience to a more inclusive one and achieved great growth in sales.
Gender bias is not just a problem in STEM fields. A host of studies show that people tend to rate women as less competent than men across many domains, from musical abilities to leadership.
In our conversations with women in insurance innovation, one of the interviewees highlighted: “Unique circumstances of power, privilege and identity leverage differences in how two individuals develop the same task. There’s been so much ‘hiring in your image’, hiring somebody who would do the job in the same way you would do it, and not recognizing that jobs can be done differently. If we unlock that, we would take one step forward towards achieving DEI.”
Our conversations show that there’s a concerted effort to be more diverse within insurance companies, but the execution is still lacking with insufficient framing of what that means and how to work in a diverse environment. Informed disclosure and accountability is also lacking; setting both long-term targets and specific short-term achievable goals, and holding people and organizations accountable for their follow-through. Therefore, it is often up to specific teams to work on including a variety of voices in a conversation and adopting behaviors that bring different perspectives to the table.
“Sometimes it comes intrinsically with the culture of the companies that they are used to having women in power, with programs to empower those responsibilities, and training that helps them develop leadership and technical skills.”
How can we move towards implementing some of the great ideas to create impact and make sure that leaders’ behaviors empower people to do things differently?
Firstly, it’s about understanding where those behaviors come from. Gender inequality exists due to bias, not differences in behavior. More specifically, it’s highly linked to unconscious bias, which includes anything from the preferences and perspectives we hold to the associations, roles, and behaviors we carry out. These differences can be found, for example, in promotion rates between men and women.
Secondly, it’s about taking action. Behavioral design is one of the instruments to add to our collective toolbox to promote change; it complements other approaches focusing on inclusivity in the workspace. Inclusivity is not just a numbers game. Bohnet’s studies share a pathway from the design intervention to the outcome, her four steps to eliminating bias and promoting inclusivity, are:
- Awareness of the possibility of bias.
- Understanding of the direction of the bias.
- Immediate feedback when falling prey to the bias.
- Training program with regular feedback, analysis and coaching.
It is important to note that not all intuitive judgments are inaccurate. Hence, the behavioral design creates better and fairer organizations and societies. It will not solve all our gender-related problems, but it will move the needle, and often at shockingly low cost and high speed. Why do we aspire to highlight unconscious gender bias development within innovation?
Innovation can happen anytime and anywhere. During this process, unconscious bias takes place and remains. As a recent study analysis suggests, when you value diversity, you encourage diverse ideas exchange, and that leads to a richer repertoire of ideas and a higher chance of meeting your customers’ needs.
Bohnet (2016) addresses the process of overcoming bias.
If we want to achieve bias awareness or stereotype reactance, changing behaviors means undertaking work that the vast majority of us are not motivated to do, but it’s the action that would help us be better as organizations in the long run. So the least we can do in our day-to-day working to support this change is to constantly keep ourselves accountable in our projects, take on board the perspectives of a variety of social groups, and promote collaboration.
We believe that, firstly, it’s important to remember the industry has changed, and some progress has been made. Secondly, though, what comes to mind when thinking about women and innovation, it’s still not enough.
An organization’s culture that aims to focus on innovation and its process, should offer equal opportunities for all genders, religions, races, and nationalities to take part. Making sure that innovation spaces are designed in a way that makes them accessible to all, and puts the employees at ease to create psychological safety, is the first step. To achieve this goal, there is a need to increase the fraction of counterstereotypical people in leadership positions (seeing is believing!) and to create inclusive groups (combine average ability with complementary diversity of perspectives and experience, introduce unanimity rules or political correctness norms…).
In a space that has achieved inclusion and diversity – of women, people of colour, people with disabilities, and people from other cultures – the perspectives available are more enriching. As a result, when approaching risks and innovation challenges, this cognitive diversity will help to find solutions that otherwise might remain elusive.
“While innovating, we spend lots of time considering solutions, shaping our target customers, building personas, understanding our users’ needs, considering edge cases… but what do the people that will be developing those solutions look like?”
We need to understand that diversity to be able to serve our customers in the best possible way.
Building DEI while innovating is not about aiming for ‘better decisions’ or ‘better perspectives’, it’s about bringing versatility to the room; ethnicity, ableism, variety of class, age and gender. It’s about seeing a different point of view that hadn’t been considered; listening to different experiences that historically haven’t been heard.
In conclusion, when answering the question: ‘Are we achieving human-centricity in-house where innovation is developed?’, the answer is probably: ‘We are on our way, but not quite there yet’. The first step is to make sure that we understand we are biased to then be able to design for it. We have the research and tools to quickly and easily redesign how we work and address both employers’ and employees’ attitudes. Human-centered innovation means putting customers at the center of project design and practicing more flexible co-creative processes. If we believe these values are important, we should see the urgency to have inclusive teams working on innovation projects. When advocating tools and approaches such as Design Thinking, Systems Thinking, Behavioural Insights… for creating positive impact, we need a holistic and diverse execution.