On International Women’s Day, Sarah Hills, Director at Rein4ce, pays homage to the efforts of one of her clients, IGI, in building a Diversity & Inclusion (D&I) company programme from scratch, and to the woman behind it all – Aaida Abu Jaber.
Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) programmes provide companies with the opportunity to tap into the strengths of their entire workforce but setting up meaningful initiatives in a corporate environment is no easy task.
In the case of IGI, an international specialist commercial insurer and reinsurer with Middle Eastern roots, it has taken two years to create a programme that has used unconventional ways to shed light on the D&I cause.
IGI’s PR and Marketing Manager Aaida Abu Jaber was the key architect of starting a Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) initiative at IGI and here she shares some of her experiences, explains why diversity matters so much and gives advice to those thinking of setting up their own initiatives and programmes.
50/50 organisation – but not yet equal at all levels.”
Aaida knew that IGI was already a relatively diverse place to be – but she felt there was always room for potential improvement.
She said: “IGI had a strong balance of 50/50 in terms of numbers across the company, but the higher up the organisation chart you went, the less of a balance there was. Now, I knew from working in the company and the industry that we had a number of fantastic people from both genders and it was only right that everyone was able to maximise their potential.
“But this wasn’t just about helping everyone make the most of their talents. Being seen to be strong on D&I would – in addition to being the right thing to be doing – help us to attract talent in the future and be a strong differentiator for people wanting to do business with us. If people saw how progressive we were, it would be a further incentive to work with us.
“With hindsight I am glad we started it, but when it comes to the crunch of the matter, it was just the right thing to do. It was also important to make sure that the diversity was not just around gender but also race, religion and age. There are many ways of being diverse – and we had to make sure we were as inclusive as possible.”
How to start a diversity and inclusion programme
But wanting to start something as ambitious as a diversity and inclusion programme and running one are two different challenges – as Aaida quickly learned, as she started with, literally, nothing.
“I went to senior management and told them what I wanted to do. At that point, we had no idea what this would become but they were supportive enough that they said I could go and do it.
“That was the easy part.
“Once I had the go-ahead, I realised that I had nothing to use as a starting point. So I managed to find some others who had been doing D&I work and experts at it, including the head of Diversity and Inclusion at Lloyds of London and a regional Organization called the World of Letters. These people were incredibly supportive and helped me find others who could also help, including firms specialising in female empowerment.
“Once I had advice and help, I realised that for a D&I initiative to gain momentum at IGI it would need to stand out. It couldn’t just be another seminar of talking heads or a group of men agreeing to something. It needed to be innovative and it needed to be something that got people talking.
“So we took it from the concept stage to being involving. We took experts to talk to women working in factories in Jordan, we had theatrical performances to shed a light on diversity, we took part in events that highlighted gender disparity by breaking Guinness World Records. And the more people supported us and took part, the more ideas and new ways of thinking came forward.”
Reaching one person to change the life of dozens
But not all highlights to date have been so high profile.
IGI has recently announced plans to invest in the career development of its own female staff. The company has teamed up with Career Excel and to provide an online training programme that addresses the challenges women face in the workplace and helps develop critical soft skills to overcome them, including self-advocacy, networking, confidence, assertive communication and more.
Following this announcement, an email from a male member of staff become one of Aaida’s proudest moments.
“One day, as we were tallying up numbers for our latest popular sessions, one of the team leads from the risk and capital modelling department reached out to me. He said that he had a team of 20 females and that he wanted to see them empowered and that he wanted to take part in the D&I initiative to be a more supportive and career-developing manager for them. And so, he came on board and now he’s a big champion of the programme.
“Moments like that are fantastic because he will champion them, help them and guide so many others, making such a difference to a lot of people. It’s incredible – and humbling – to be a part of that.”
Growth through challenge – and always building allies
With the D&I programme now into its third year, the initiative continues to grow for Aaida.
“The dedication and help of others is what has made this grow so well, but one area I really want to build relationships in is with our HR team. Bringing them on board can facilitate D&I through recruitment, training and succession planning measures.
“Beyond that, I really want to keep pushing myself and others in the company. We have a lot of young females aged under 30 in the workplace and I want to ensure that not only do they know how capable they are, but I want their colleagues to see how capable they can be – at all levels.”
How to set up your own D&I initiative
Aaida has a set of guidelines for those looking to create their own initiatives and maximise their return from them:
- Get partnerships – external and internal. Internally, work with colleagues, HR, senior managers and the board. That way you can get more done with their backing and drive more tangible results. In terms of external partners, don’t duplicate with others – instead work with others who are capable and credible that will strengthen you.
You also need to work on partnerships with the media. Media will expose your work – good or bad – and you need to be able to work with them accordingly. You also need to work with your peers, PR companies and others to ensure a broad range of views.
- Work on what gives you tangible results as it’s one of the best ways to show success.
- Get your hands dirty. Do things don’t just talk about them.
- Have courage. You shouldn’t be afraid that your bonus will be hit by the risk of failure or by being vocal. Make it work and do it because it’s the right thing to do.
- Have good action plans, meticulous implementation and rigorous follow-up.
- Longer term, work out what you want from this. Ideas turn into initiatives then programmes to ultimately result in fully-fledged departments. Have the ultimate goal always in mind.
- Finally, never get disheartened. Change takes time and every small step gets you closer to your goal.