As Chair of Zurich’s Accessibility & Inclusion Network for the past four years, Sally Blake is a game changer who has mastered the importance of a business understanding its employees, in order to better serve customers.
Working at Zurich for the past seven years, Sally first encountered disability and vulnerability in the insurance space through a project helping disabled customers through the claims process. The project taught Sally about the disconnect between the needs of those living with disabilities and vulnerabilities and the services provided - ranging from the barriers posed by physical post and cheques, through to the importance of paying into a pension when someone’s working life is likely to be shorter If they’re living with a disability.
Shortly after that, Zurich’s disability inclusion network was launched (later renamed to Accessibility & Inclusion Network), after being started by an executive sponsor, who wanted to incorporate some key topics from a Financial Conduct Authority report on serving vulnerable customers. These included disability, mental health and financial vulnerability.
Initially, the focus was working groups exploring recruitment processes and workplace adjustments. Six months into the creation of the Disability Inclusion Network, a network chair was recruited, and Sally’s aim was to help Zurich gain a better understanding of disability from the perspective of its employees, which would, in turn, help Zurich to better support its customers. “If we’re not representative as employers then we’re not going to understand what our customers need. I wanted to tackle it from the inside out, so that we have a better understanding of the issues our customers are telling us about.”
Already reporting on the gender pay gap as a large employer, Zurich is expanding this to other demographics, including disability. Zurich reported a mean disability pay gap of 17.6% for hourly pay as at April 2020. The organisation published its disability pay gap figures for the first time based on the 65% of employees that voluntarily disclosed this information. There is no legal obligation to publish these figures, however, Zurich has decided to benchmark this data in order to measure its progress.
Employees are already encouraged to share information about their demographics, but like many organisations, the amount of people sharing information about their disability was quite low, making it hard to measure how close, or far, the Zurich is from being truly representative. Sally hopes that reporting its disability pay gap, will encourage more people to be open about their experience.
Zurich has also launching a survey as part of its ‘Disability Confident’ status, to learn more about equal opportunities and people’s experiences, including mental health. This included open ended questions, so that those who may not consider themselves as disabled, but may have a health condition, are still being considered, so that any necessary support can be put in place? The results of the survey, and the disability pay gap report, were launched on 3rd December for #PurpleLightUp.
This commonality of people who may have health conditions but may not consider themselves as disabled has been one of the biggest challenges during Sally’s tenure. Though addressing this has been made surprisingly easier through the pandemic. “There’s a stigma, but we’ve been doing a lot of work to overcome that. We’re finding that more people are engaging because it’s easier to talk about adjustments at home, and our mental health networkers are deployed to support people. The stigma seems to be going away, and I’m excited to see how we sustain that when we return to the office.” Though Sally realises that the similarity of the goal posts changing, or circumstances getting better, then worse, is common with many disabled employees. “How do we bring compassion to our employees? It’s important to have a conversation not focused on when things get better for good, but what can be done in the short term to make things as comfortable as possible. This might be something as simple as regular catch ups.”
As Sally departs from her role as Chair, she realises that it’s key to have the right people in place to maintain support. In a similar way to her own journey, Sally is keen to engage with graduates and apprentices, who bring new skill sets. The initial succession planning was put on hold due to Covid. Despite this, Sally is getting people involved, through meetings with herself and Executive Sponsors and putting forward ideas for future initiatives.
When it comes to others who may also be looking to undertake succession planning, Sally advises starting with your Sponsor. “Having a good conversation is really important. We had a really open conversation with all four of our Executive Sponsors about the way the network is structured, and how we want it to work going forward. They had some really great ideas and are genuinely interested in supporting and championing our work.
Having a strong relationship with Zurich’s Diversity and Inclusion team has also made a massive difference. Sally beams at how Zurich’s D&I lead, Emma Francis has got to know the network and understands its aims and the values that it brings to the business “Ultimately, networks can bring insight. We know that truly diverse businesses are more profitable with happier employees as well as being more responsive to the needs of their customers.”
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