Lack of flexible working was found in the 2019 Imposter Syndrome Research Study to be one of three hidden drivers of the gender pay gap. The increased out-of-hours commitment so often required in senior roles and the difficulty in fitting work around family was shown to disproportionately disadvantage women with school-aged children.
So Zurich Insurance decided to take bold action. Driven by data and a passion for diversity and inclusion, they have now succeeded in making 80% of their UK roles part time, flexi-time or job-share. And far from having a negative impact on the bottom line, they've seen astonishing results.
They're making measurable progress on closing the gender pay gap, and their employee engagement and satisfaction have increased. And all of this was during the challenges of the 2020 Covid-19 lockdown.
And in today's Lockdown Leadership Conference interview with Emma Francis, we're talking about:
Getting Buy-In For Flexible Working, Even From The Skeptical
What We Cover In This Interview:
In this candid and action-inspiring interview, Emma Francis - Head of Diversity & Inclusion for Zurich Insurance - shares:
- what prompted them to take action
- how they got buy-in from the key decision-makers
- what people's concerns or initial objections were
- how they overcame them
- the benefits they have seen - it's not just gender equity
- what advice Emma would give other companies who might be considering this route
Watch The Interview:
Note: the video and podcast audio also have captions.
If you've read the 2019 Imposter Syndrome research study, you'll know that it found
three hidden drivers of the gender pay gap. And these explain why so many companies
have been trying so hard to close it and their success has stalled.
Those three hidden drivers were:
1. The alpha- male culture in so many companies at the most senior levels.
2. The second factor was the lack of flexible working for women who have school age
children or caring responsibilities or commitments outside of work,
with that increased time commitment
outside of hours that so often comes in leadership roles.
3. And the third factor was Imposter Syndrome.
We found hard data on how women were
holding back on applying for those promotions.
They weren't being as visible, they weren't speaking up with their best
ideas, and they weren't asking for the pay rises that they knew they deserved,
because of Imposter Syndrome.
If you want the full details, the white paper link is below this video.
And something happened in the last few weeks that gave me huge hope.
Zurich Insurance has run a trial with turning 80 percent of their roles
into flexible working, part time roles or job shares.
And not only has it worked,
it has increased the proportion of women applying for more senior roles.
It has increased even more the proportion
of women who are actually getting those roles.
It is closing the gender pay gap.
It has increased employee satisfaction
and engagement, and they have rolled this out across the whole company.
I'm thrilled today that Emma Francis, who is Head of Diversity and Inclusion
at Zurich Insurance, has agreed to answer some of your
questions and some of my questions about how they did this.
What sparked the idea? How did they
overcome the naysayers, those who were objecting? How did they
make sure that this didn't damage the business and instead brought benefits?
And what advice would she give if you're looking at doing this in your business?
Thank you so much, Emma Francis, for joining me today.
So thank you so much for joining me
for this interview today about what Zurich Insurance has been doing on
part- time working, on flexible working and job sharing.
And I'd like to ask you a few questions,
and I'd like to start with:
what was the point where the team made the decision, " we're actually going to do this"?
How did you know the time was right?
So we had been measuring our gender pay
gap and we had also been tracking the representation of females at all
the different levels in our organisation for quite a few years.
And while our organisation is pretty much 50/50, male or female,
we had known for some time that our women tended to be overrepresented in the lower
grades and underrepresented in senior grades.
And we started on the journey of putting in place various interventions.
But the progress was slow.
I mean, this is difficult stuff, isn't it?
And nobody has got the silver bullet yet that fixes the gender pay gap overnight.
So there was an awareness that it was a tricky problem.
And at that time, the government decided to put some money behind some research
and they had commissioned some behavioural scientists to look at this.
And they happened to ask us, would you work with us on this program?
Would you be one of our partners?
So I'm always one for a freebie!
And so but I really like the idea of being
bold and really getting to the bottom of our data, which is what the behavioural
scientists were proposing to do , so that they could then design an intervention
that was focused purely on Zurich and our experience.
That would be a sort of
nudge approach to behaviour change and really
bring some improvements in our gender pay gap.
Now, we couldn't have done it if I hadn't
had a really supportive head of H.R. who was,
"Yes, let's go for it.
Let's give it a go!"
Steve is very committed to this issue and he's also
willing to take risks, you know, and it wasn't a huge risk anyway.
But of course, it takes time and effort
and the data team and spending a good deal of time on it.
So that was the
catalyst for getting involved.
So I think, you know, we had a thorny problem,
we weren't quite sure what to do about it.
It wasn't changing.
So timing, fortuitous contact with someone in government.
And and then before we knew, we were part of this program and really excited
about the insights that the behavioural scientists were giving us.
And, you know, we're a data based organisation, we're an insurance company.
We actually have these skills in-house.
But we had never looked at our data in that way.
And of course,
what the behavioural scientists then brought was some ideas around
the intervention that perhaps we wouldn't have thought of ourselves.
So it was it was very helpful to get their input.
So one of the things a lot of companies do is they spent a lot of time defending
the model and everybody works full time and it's only the lower skilled jobs
that could be part time or flexible working or even job share.
How did you get the buy in from the key decision makers in the company to say,
actually, we're going to do this despite all of those preconceptions and it will
not just not damage the business, it will actually benefit the business?
I think it was using the arguments
that we use around D&I more generally, actually, primarily it's about talent.
But how do we get the talented people into our business that we really want?
We say that we want to be the employer of choice, because we know that talent
drives business results and better outcomes for our customers.
So we said to our key stakeholders, this would hopefully open up all sorts of
new talent bases that we can't access currently.
Think of all those people who don't want
to work full time, but have enormous experience.
And actually, you know,
you might think that a company like Zurich attracts loads of applicants.
But the thing is, a lot of our roles are very niche.
And if you're trying to recruit a property
underwriter in Farnborough, they're not that thick on the ground.
So, you know, the average number of applicants per roll
prior to this intervention was 12.
So it's not that many.
And that was reflected the fact that some of our roles
will get hundreds and hundreds of applicants.
Some of them might get one or two.
But how do we open up that talent base?
But it's also about innovation,
about reflecting our customers better.
We need more diversity if we're going to truly understand and serve our
customers more effectively.
And also just being fair
and not having these sort of rigid rules on what a job looks like.
And, you know, there's no
reason why all jobs need to be full time. Some jobs, y es.
Perhaps customer facing
you do want somebody available for
35 hours or however long it is.
But some roles d on't need to be. They don't need to be full time.
It's just habit that we always say, "oh, yes, I've got the headcount.
So I must make it a full time role." And you don't want to lose the funding.
"I managed to persuade
the cost centre to give me however much money for a full time role.
So why would I give up some of that funding,"
Some odd thinking processes that go on sometimes!
And Emma, I know one of the things that many of us have come across anecdotally or
in personal experience historically is, for example, if a mother of a school- aged
child says, "right, actually, I want to finish at four today so I can go
to little Freddie's school play," that can be seen as a really
career- limiting decision.
How did you handle the cultural change
that needed to happen with everybody, not just the key decision makers on that?
So for a number of years now,
we've implemented what we call flex work, but it's agile working.
So this can apply to people,
whether they work full time or whether they work part time hours.
And it's the idea that you empower your people to work where,
when and how they choose, in order to deliver on their business commitments.
So we'd rolled that out across the whole
company in 2017 and I'm not going to pretend overnight
suddenly everyone was enlightened
and saying, "you know, off you go to your school assembly!" or whatever it might be.
But actually the majority were engaged
and it was a habit that we have picked up as an organisation.
And so the principle that you shouldn't micromanage your
people, that we employ adults at Zurich, we pay them good money.
Therefore, they shouldn't need to be micromanaged.
And that for in order to attract the best people, but also to retain the best people,
we need to understand that people have lives outside of work.
If you haven't got a child, then you've probably got a hobby,
or you've got parents you need to look after
or, you know, one of our employees is a vicar.
So he really likes to go off and do an occasional harvest festival service.
And we've all got interests outside work.
And sometimes the car needs an MOT.
So just allowing people that flexibility,
we have discovered that our employees then repay us
in leaps and bounds. The loyalty and the commitment.
So that that concept of allowing flexibility in the workplace was there.
When it comes to actually reducing your hours.
I think it comes back to just having a conversation.
So I'm going back to the property underwriter are in Farnborough.
The cost, ,
the people who can fill that role, there's not so many people who apply.
You want to talk to everyone who can do that role.
If they turn around and say, "well, you know,
I need a little bit of flexibility or I'd only like to work three days, four days."
Well, let's have that conversation!
Let's talk about flex work as well.
Does that does that give you more comfort
that you will be able to balance your work and home life?
And you know what?
Can we make work that works for the employee and the business?
So I think, with the part time job, our campaign
is very much about sending that message that we're up for conversation.
We can't guarantee that every role will be available two days a week.
But come to us.
Let's talk and let's see what we can make work for both parties.
It sounds like you laid the foundations already to move away from the culture
of presenteeism to actually, as you say with the agile working,
looking at, well, have you delivered your objectives, which allowed people to take
more responsibility themselves and will have started the cultural change that made
it easier for you when you set that intention of.
I think it is 80 percent of your roles now fit under this?
What's the figure?
Yeah, that's right. Yes.
So very, very impressive.
And so I'd love to ask you what the benefits are that you've seen.
We've seen in the media some incredible figures on the percentage of women now
applying for these roles and actually the percentage of women getting these roles.
So I'd love to hear about that.
And also, what are the benefits
that you've seen for the employees and for the organisation?
Sure. So it's been really exciting.
And the the involvement of the behavioural
scientists means that there's been a very rigorous analysis of the impact.
So there's no skewing the figures with them, you know,
they're very academic in their approach.
So overall, we've seen a 16 percent increase in applications from women,
which is brilliant because, you know, we have
historically had fewer applications from women than men into our organisation.
But most excitingly I think,
the applications from women for senior roles has increased by 20 percent.
Wow. So that's a massive number.
And then I guess the ultimate aim of all of this:
we've seen an increase in appointments of senior women increase by 33 percent.
So, you know, that is
that's the ultimate aim, isn't it?
And the number of people working part time has increased massively.
But we put that down to the fact
that actually this conversation that we're encouraging people to have,
if people get the comfort that they've got some flexibility, even when working full
time, they perhaps don't need those part time hours in quite the same way.
And what has been also very encouraging is
that applications for men have also increased, so that average number
of applicants per role has more than doubled.
So that's very heartening, isn't it?
And it just shows that, you know,
men want that flexibility as much as women, we think.
And, you know, we've also introduced equal
maternity and paternity pay and we're seeing nearly all of the men
who qualify for that take the full four months that they're entitled to.
So that sort of message is coming back to us in a number of ways that are
male colleagues really want to be part of this team.
So when I think about the wider
impact, I think it comes back to that that talent piece.
You know, we we want the best person for the role.
And we acknowledge that not everyone,
that that person will want to work full time, or they might want some flexibility.
So, you know, getting some
great diverse talent into our organisation.
But it's also, I think, empowered our employees to
think about their own roles and how they
can really embrace flexibility. And for sure, Covid's
been one of the few silver linings of this whole horrible lockdown has been the
the proof that flexible working, that working offsite can absolutely work.
And we know, of course, it's not perfect and it would be fantastic
to see colleagues face to face for at least some of the time.
But we've surveyed our employees
and they've told us loud and clear that they want increased flexibility
whenever we go back into the corporate world in terms of
not being expected to sit at the desk in the office, 9:00 to 5:00.
So I think the culture has really
matured and that's come through in our
employee listening exercise that we did over the summer.
The numbers have increased hugely and in terms of employee engagement.
So that's not all down to flexible working, but I think it's generally around
that sort of grown up progressive view of employment.
If you empower your employees,
if you trust them, then they pay you back in commitment,
productivity, and engagement in spades. It's wonderful.
So Emma it sounds like you kind of took one for the team industry-wide by working
with the behavioural scientists and then actually putting this into action.
You took a risk that hasn't just paid off.
It's actually showcased now what we could all be achieving.
If you were to advise another company that's considering this,
say there's another head of HR or Diversity & Inclusion who's thinking, "yeah,
we know this is a factor in the gender pay gap, we're going to do it!"
Or if you the 'you' a few years ago when you first started talking about this,
if you were to give that 'you' some advice, what advice would you give?
And is there anything that you would do differently?
Yeah, that's interesting.
I would encourage people,
any organisation, to give it a go because of the good results that we've got.
And because you're not promising anything.
You're setting yourself up, you're indicating your willingness to talk
flexibility, your willingness to have a conversation.
But ultimately, if a role needs to be done full time,
then you don't have to give it to somebody who works part time.
So you've got nothing to lose. But if you do do it,
then all sorts of interesting people are going to come out of the woodwork
that you, you know, I've heard stories of managers
who were initially skeptical in our organisation.
But then when the talent came through,
they were just blown away by who was on offer.
So they was like, "well, obviously,
whatever it takes, I'll get this person in."
So, as with anything, give it a go.
And if it doesn't work out, then you can always change it.
You don't have to sign in blood.
And if I was going to go about it differently?
I'm not I'm not sure there's much I'd reflect on and regret.
There's still some of our roles that we,
the business leaders, feel would be difficult to accommodate as
part time, and that's my next challenge, to work with them,
to think about how it could be done more flexibly.
And that comes down to,
I always believe it comes down to mindset: if you want to do something,
you can always make it work, can't you?
If you've got that mindset that you want to achieve it.
Whereas if you think, "oh,
that's too difficult," well, you're not going to make it happen.
I think, work with the people who really believe in it.
Start with the believers. Get them to prove that it works.
And then you can move on to the people
who are perhaps more skeptical or who can't see how it will work for them.
And they'll soon be won over or their competitive streak will kick
in and they'll say, "you know, I want some of that!"
So, yeah, you can always start small or
trial in a certain business area if there is nervousness.
But, you know, it's been it's been a really positive thing for us.
And I always come back to, if you've got the data,
if you've analysed your data, you can prove whether where
the bottleneck is, the kink in the hose pipe
that's stopping people flow through, as I've heard it referred to.
Then you can address that kink,
really focus your intervention, because in the D&I world,
there are so many things that you can put in place aren't there , whether it's
blind CVs or mentoring or whatever it might be.
But you might be directing your effort and your funding at the wrong thing.
So, yes, just being clear on the issue you're
trying to solve and then designing an intervention that addresses that.
That's brilliant. Thank you.
And I love what you just said there about start with the believers,
because so often when we want to create change, we think we've got to start
with convincing the people who are anti. And actually trialling it
with the believers is a very easy way of convincing those who might be more
skeptical and as you say, bringing out their competitive streak,
so they want to be involved in it, too.
That's amazing! To wrap up:
Is there anything else that you'd like to say?
I just think it's
a sign of maturity, in a way, in an organisation,
I think if you can cope with flexibility, part time, full time workers,
because it's all about focusing on the customer and delivering
for the customer the absolute best for the customer.
And in business, we always talk about empowering our
employees, how important it is to empower them.
And then what I used to see,
you know, 10 or so years ago, was actually a lot of micromanagement and "oh, we
couldn't possibly let our junior people do do their own thing!
They need supervising!" Well, a lot of those junior people were
women who'd done the job for 20 or 30 years, were supremely
skilled in their role and experienced.
They didn't need somebody looking over their shoulder all the time.
So I just, as you can tell, I'm a massive proponent of this and I
encourage anyone in our positions to just give it a go.
And because, I think, it's it's the new world.
It's the future. And the sooner you get with the program,
the more you have the opportunity to reap the benefits.
That's brilliant. Thank you so much, Emma.
You're welcome .
Thank you again to Emma Francis,
Head of Diversity and I nclusion at Zurich Insurance. And for you watching this.
Thank you for taking the time.
I really hope that you found this useful.
The research study is below this video.
There's also a downloadable transcript of Emma's interview,
if you want to be able to share her key insights with those in your company to be
able to start this journey for yourselves or take it to that next level.
I'd love to hear from you.
What action are you going to take as
a result of watching Emma's interview today?
How might you find your believers
and start working with them so that you can create a positive wave of change?
That adult conversation,
as Emma describes it, in your business, to help close the gender pay gap so
that every role is available to the person who is the best fit for the role,
who has the skills, the talent and the potential,
rather than being determined by the number of working hours.
Get in touch. I'd love to hear from you.
And if you've got a story that could
inspire people about what you've been doing on diversity, inclusion,
closing the gender pay gap, Ditching Imposter Syndrome get in touch.
I'd love to interview you for a future episode.
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Take Action Now!
If you do one thing as a result of this episode, make it this! What one action could you take today to encourage and support more flexible working in your organisation?
For My Organisation
Which roles might we be able to offer more flexibly, to attract the best candidates and foster work-life balance?
What does flexible working mean to me? And how might I have that discussion with my organisation?
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