Collaboration is key for D&I


Collaboration is key for D&I

Talented people want to work for strong and purposeful organisations and Colette Comerford, DLA Piper’s head of culture and inclusion, says that collaboration is crucial for diversity and inclusion.

For Colette Comerford, head of culture and inclusion at DLA Piper, collaborating with clients in terms of driving an inclusive culture and better diversity outcomes is vital.

DLA Piper is a global law firm that serves over 40 countries across the Americas, Europe, the Middle East, and Asia-Pacific. In addition to the other sectors it serves, its insurance practice is one of the largest in the world. This is the fourth year that DLA Piper has participated as one of the key sponsors of the Dive In Festival.

Dive In is a global event focused on supporting the development of an inclusive workplace culture within the insurance industry. The eighth edition of the Dive In Festival took place in September 2022 with more than 150 events taking place in 40 countries.

This year DLA Piper participated in 12 events across the UK, Europe, and Asia by partnering up with several insurance firms to present several events on social diversity and inclusion (D&I).

“We view our clients as partners in this process because both our sectors are working together to achieve better social diversity outcomes down the line,” said Comerford, speaking to Intelligent Insurer during an interview on D&I in the re/insurance industry.

“We were given an exceptional opportunity to partner up with industry leaders at those firms and discuss key topics that fundamentally underpinned the 2022 Dive In Festival theme of ‘Building Braver Cultures’,” she said.

“The Dive In Festival has done a tremendous job over the years in terms of talking about diversity and why it matters. Since the festival began, we have seen every aspect of diversity discussed, including gender, LGBTQ+, disability, race and ethnicity, and neurodiversity.

“It was fantastic to see this year’s theme come to life through a number of firms having conversations about psychological safety at work, potential barriers in the workplace, creating a space where people feel that they belong and what the industry can do to make things better and focus on the retention of diverse talent,” said Comerford.

“Those small incremental steps in the right direction are having a huge impact.” Colette Comerford, DLA Piper

Leading diversity for industry development

Comerford joined DLA Piper in 2021 and has been responsible for driving the D&I strategy across the firm internationally but her focus on the D&I agenda began earlier in her career as a resourcing manager.

“While I was leading the resourcing function, I recognised that this was an important opportunity for growth and for us to rethink our resourcing strategy and to diversify the talent pool. I started thinking about what the barriers may be to attracting more diverse talent and soon realised that perhaps the industry had to do more in promoting what we do to appeal to potential future talent.

“Talented people want to work for strong and purposeful organisations and given that the insurance industry is all about positive social impact, perhaps more could be done to improve the industry’s reputation and talk about the social impact this sector has on society. Then we had conversations about how we could achieve more in terms of gender diversity as well as race and ethnicity.

“I was provided with the opportunity to connect with other LGBTQ+ colleagues and stakeholders within M&G Investments when one of my directors asked me directly what the firm could do to focus more on LGBTQ+ representation.

“For me, it was about being able to connect to who I was as a gay woman and a leader in the firm and say: ‘how can we do this better?’,” she recalled.


Attraction and retention

Comerford believes that the insurance industry has taken constructive strides in attracting a more diverse talent pool by creating several broader opportunities for connection with young talent. This takes place through initiatives across entry-level careers and diversity partners who provide insight into career options, different types of firms, roles, and specialisms.

“Diversity partners, particularly around entry-level careers, are essential and the return of in-person events is important but I believe that the hybrid world will enable us to connect even better with a broader swathe of individuals,” she said.

She added: “I know that a number of firms are moving from competency-based interviews to strengths-based assessments where various aspects such as creative thinking and being digitally savvy become more important. Competency-based recruitment could typically have been a barrier but now we are seeing more opportunity for individuals who have more diverse perspectives and ways of thinking and solving challenges.”

Comerford noted that while it is encouraging to see a change in talent attraction taking place, it is also essential to focus on the retention of that talent.

“This was always going to be a challenge. While we see a proportion of people who are leading the way for attracting diversity, we need to protect those individuals within the organisation as well.

“The culture of a diverse firm comes down to leaders who are committed to change and creating a diverse and inclusive culture. It comes down to everyday behaviours. People like to feel that their perspectives matter and their opinions are heard. It’s about simple things and recognising different types of personalities and making sure that everyone feels part of it, and that they can build trust in their leaders.

“It is very promising to see that firms are sharing their diversity statistics publicly and that remuneration is now also linked to the D&I representation of industry leaders because we know what is being done,” she said.

Comerford noted that allyship and collaboration with peers and other leaders can play an important role in D&I. “When we have leaders who role-model the right kind of behaviours, others will learn from them and showcase brilliant actions,” she said.

“The diversity landscape has changed so much and, with positive collaboration, it has become so much broader, so I certainly want to see collaboration continue because it is central to driving change.

“While the diversity agenda may feel like a big fish to tackle, the insurance industry has many brilliant leaders who are driving the change and those small incremental steps in the right direction are having a huge impact and will mean so much to future generations,” Comerford concluded.

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