Managing director, of Legal and General’s insurance arm Ali Crossley, appeared on the Diversity and Inclusion Finance Forum (DIFF) podcast to speak about the firm’s reverse mentoring program which saw employees from minority groups mentor colleagues who wanted to learn how they could be more understanding.
Crossley said the idea came about when she was speaking to a former co-worker who had set up a similar program at her firm.
“The reason I wanted to do it is because it’s essentially about helping people to put themselves in the shoes of others. and I guess it’s specifically turning up the volume on the ‘inclusion’ bit of diversity and inclusion,” she added.
The scheme focused on sexuality, gender, age, disability, ethnicity, and work status in a bid to make “people feel very comfortable to bring their full selves to work”.
It began among the executives at Legal and General over the pandemic. Each session was overseen by a facilitator and involved one mentor and one mentee.
The facilitator was tasked with making sure conversations stayed on track and complied with pre-agreed rules.
Crossley said rolling the program out to executives was “absolutely the right thing to do because it was about attitudes and cultural shifts and increasing awareness”.
Crossley was mentored by someone who worked on a part-time basis and said hearing their experiences opened her up to things she had not considered.
Crossley added: “Two big takeaways for me out of the work status group were one; never assume. Never ever assume that people who work part-time, male or female, aren’t serious about their careers.
“Two, don’t be daft in terms of scheduling meetings like town halls and other big group company meetings at school pick up times.”
She said simply being mindful of arranging work commitments around people’s personal lives was “so easy to change” if companies wanted to be more inclusive.
David Ware, senior HR business partner and Morgan Spillane, IT and change management director both took part in the program with Ware acting as a mentor and Spillane as a mentee.
Spillane was “educated on subject of gender in the workplace”. He said he assumed he already knew enough but soon discovered gaps in his knowledge. The sessions made him look at opportunities and challenges in the sector in a new way and also encouraged him to engage in debates with his 17-year-old daughter.
Spillane told his daughter how difficult it was to recruit girls into STEM (Science, technology, engineering and mathematics) courses who would then be hired by Legal and General. She told him it was because the courses and subsequent career opportunities were not “particularly attractive”.
His daughter said this was because of how the vocation was presented, which he agreed was not in a gender-neutral way. Spillane then recalled how when he was doing his engineering degree, just three of the 110 students were girls. Spillane also discovered that she and her friends proactively created their own paths whenever they felt traditional employment routes were exclusionary.
He said the next generation was “far more proactive, far more in control of their destinies than we ever were”. He also said young people would be “more discerning” when choosing careers and companies that aligned with their values.
The sessions developed into other areas of underrepresentation which led to Spillane considering the National Autistic Society and Women in Tech to seek future talent.
Referencing a survey conducted by Vodaphone Out Now in 2018, Ware said the sessions were important as found 41 per cent of 18 to 25-year-olds went “back into the closet” when they started a new job. Three-fourths hid their sexuality at work and over half had not come out because they feared discrimination.
Additionally, a fifth said being open about their sexual orientation or gender identity was “one of the hardest things they ever had to do”.
Ware said sharing connected stories allowed colleagues to “share a bond”.
Following the mentorship, Legal and General has given itself a range of actions including spreading the initiatives across the wider business, considering neurodiversity when hiring and anonymising job applications.
Of the program, Crossley said: “It’s not just about recognising bigoted behaviour and calling it out. It was about the execs suddenly realising… for the first time that they needed to be allies.
“In the end, it was about inclusivity and giving people the space to come to work and be their true selves and optimise performance, because they felt fully embraced and welcomed regardless of their background, sexual orientation or anything else.”