Ensuring that everybody is singing from the same songsheet is a key skill for any network leader. As a singer and keen chorister, AIG Claims Manager Iowa Morgan is the ideal network conductor.
Iowa, who has been at the company for 15 years, is chair of AIG’s UK disAbilities and Allies Employee Resource Group (ERG). It has some 85 members. ‘I have an invisible disability, Crohn’s Disease. I was diagnosed ten years ago but it was a late diagnosis and I needed emergency surgery.’ she recalls. ‘I was at AIG at the time and they reacted amazingly well. I had a phased return to work and the workplace adjustments that I needed but there was no ERG at that time. About three years ago, the firm launched a global diversity and inclusion (D&I) initiative to set up the ERGs. As soon as it went up on the intranet, I offered my services. I’d never seen anything like that and I was really keen to become involved, remembering what it had been like for me. Just recently I’ve had a returner to work reach out to me and it was bit like listening to myself ten years ago.’
Iowa, who has been chair for two years, reels off an impressive list of network achievements - and they don’t just benefit members but all staff. It’s no surprise that the network AIG won the 2017 Impact Award at the Global Equality and Diversity Awards (www.gedconference.com) demonstrating how well the ERGs are embedded within the firm’s D&I strategy. ‘We have global policies and our systems are the same across the world. I get my business plan signed-off in the US. We’ve had excellent support from the top including the CEO and our executive sponsors who are really hands-on.’
For Iowa collaboration is vital. She describes her personal style as ‘half rebel, half collaborator’.‘I’ve always been different. It’s about being honest but also listening to other people. My disability has stopped me taking things for granted. I have to plan everything. It changes your way of thinking, making you more aware of how challenging the everyday things can be.’
‘We have great cooperation with AIG’s other ERGs, both in the UK, where there are six ERGs, and internationally, where there are over 100. We’re having a global summit in Nashville. Every ERG will be represented from across the world and I will be showcasing my group. Although there are over 100 ERGs, there are only a couple of other countries with a disability group so we want to help establish more. The New York office just reached out to me to try to reestablish their network. My message to them, as it would be to any network, is to work collaboratively with other groups. The disAbilities ERG crosses over with the working families and carers ERG, with LGBT, all of them, really. Pooling resources together you can do more.
We’ve done many joint events including one on LGBT mental health; another on bullying with working families and carers and are planning one on suicide in young black males with Shine - AIG’s multi-cultural ERG.’
Iowa offers some insight into why AIG is such a disability-confident company. ‘For me, there’s an expectation today that companies act ethically, which is important, but I don’t think AIG do it just for that reason. It’s not just about staffing, it’s good for customers and clients too. The ERG make suggestions regarding building accessibility and put forward policy coverage ideas. For example, we’ve asked: could the sort of medical equipment that someone with a long-term condition might need be covered on a single travel policy? Our building suggestions resulted in the introduction of visible dots on our security barriers and new invisible condition signage on our accessible toilet facilities.’
Iowa cites many examples of good story telling, as a tool for change ‘we have had senior leaders on a panel around the table talking about their own experiences of mental health challenges. It had such an impact. Everybody in the audience then told their stories. People thought that if a senior manager could be honest about something like that then so could they. We then took this further by producing a three minute film This Is Me. It features staff, including senior leaders, talking about their own mental health. It’s now part of our induction programme so anyone who joins AIG always sees the film and what we are doing to end the stigma of mental health in the workplace.’
But you won’t strike the right chord if people are unaware of your network: Iowa recommends that you make a song and a dance about it. ‘The AIG has a pop-up choir, an idea created by the disAbilities ERG and the D&I team. I used to do musical theatre before I got Crohn’s so I sing enthusiastically. The choir started when we wanted to celebrate the launch of an app. We sang Celebration by Kool & the Gang. It went really well. Kool & the Gang even liked our Twitter post about it. So at Christmas, we sang festive songs in reception at the Fenchurch St office. There’s a large footfall. We signed part of the songs in British Sign Language (BSL) as well as singing them. We’re looking to do something in mental health awareness week in May – singing is such a great way to raise the endorphins and feel better.’
The disAbilities ERG is also members of WharfAbility, a wider network which began in Canary Wharf for finance firms. ‘We invite each other to our events,’ says Iowa. ‘Now, through PurpleSpace, I’m hoping to share ideas with networks outside the financial sector. I’m always looking for something new…’ And that’s a tune we all like to hear.
At PurpleSpace we’re impressed by the speed of the AIG disAbilities ERG success, the degree of collaboration with other networks and the advanced international working including with sponsors and the high level of integration of the employee networks at the heart of the AIG business. Getting ‘liked’ by Kool & the Gang is probably the social media PR tip of all time.
An employee network is a lot like a choir. It brings together people of different abilities. It blends lots of different voices. Sometimes you play it by ear and sometimes you need to stick to the score. And you really want to hit the high notes you’re going to have to work at it. All together now…
Iowa Morgan is a Corporate Manager at AIG Europe Limited and Chair of the UK’s disAbilities and Allies Employee Resource Group
- Founded in 1919, the American International Group (AIG) offers property insurance, life insurance, retirement products and other financial services.
- 56,400 employees in 80 countries.
- Over 100 Employee Resource Groups (ERG’s) across the globe including: Asian Leadership Network, Black Professionals, Interfaith Network, LGBT & Allies, Women, Carers and Young Professionals.
- AIG’s UK disAbilities and Allies ERG has around 85 members and services the whole of the AIG UK including the regional offices in Birmingham, Chesterfield, Dublin, Glasgow, Leeds, Manchester and Shoreham on Sea.
- Look out for #BeingYouAIG on social media for news on AIG’s diversity framework for 2018 and beyond.
Spotlight on...is our series of deep dive conversations with an exceptional group of disability change agents. These disability network leaders, champions and allies talk to journalist Jim Pollard about their unique contributions and approaches to the narrative of building personal and business disability confidence from the inside out.
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