QBEs Lavinia Johnson discusses inclusive workplaces

QBE's Lavinia Johnson discusses inclusive workplaces

 October 24, 2022

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QBE European Operations knows that diversity of thought, background and experience enables better decision-making, improves the quality of its delivery and helps the company to meet the needs of its customers.

QBE European Operations has a vision to empower its people to be their best by creating an environment where everyone's contribution and voice is valued, where there is a collective sense of purpose, and a community of empowered individuals working collaboratively.

Director of International Casualty for QBE Europe, Lavinia Johnson, is featured in Insurance Business Magazine, where she shares her thoughts on creating a space for everyone in the workplace.

A passion for inclusion and diversity

When do the seeds of championing diversity and inclusion (D&I) really start to take root? The answer it seems differs from person to person, with some beginning their D&I journeys around the time they start work and others coming to the table at a later point in their careers, often after an experience or conversation has opened their eyes to the inequalities that exist in their chosen marketplace.

For others still, a passion for fairness is instilled in them very early in their lives and such is the case for Lavinia. In a conversation with Insurance Business Magazine ahead of the Insurance Business Women in Insurance Conference, where Lavinia will be joining a panel discussion on Creating a space for everyone, she highlights that she came to the conversation at a young age.

“My passion for inclusion and diversity has stemmed from my childhood years in Ireland growing up with a father who was a big advocate for diversity and inclusion,” says Lavinia.

“He was chairman of the Community Games in our local town which is a voluntary organisation that provides opportunities for young children and develops them through a range of sporting activities," comments Lavinia.

“He strongly believed that everyone should have the same opportunities and be treated equally regardless of status or background. Sadly, for me and many others, this was not always the case. These values are deeply rooted within me and are what drives my passion for a fully inclusive team at QBE.”

Driving a more inclusive work environment

As a parent, Lavinia explains that she wants her children to grow up in an environment where there is no bias and where they are truly respected for who they are. Fortunately, her role is one that allows her to actively contribute to and drive a more inclusive work environment.

QBE has a D&I culture which has given me the support and confidence to put myself forward for my current role as a Director of Underwriting, International Casualty,” comments Lavinia.

“During my time at the company, I have been fortunate to have many opportunities to give back to the community through volunteering work which gives me a huge sense of achievement,” she adds.

Employer offering flexible work patterns

For Lavinia, being part of a company that acknowledges the challenges its people face and which offers a flexible and hybrid working pattern has a real range of advantages. It helps employees to benefit from an improved work/life balance, but it also empowers them with the support required to continue with a full-time career in insurance.

The insurance market is making a lot of progress in D&I, but there is still more work to be done. She notes that the ambition to create a wholly inclusive workforce is very much at the heart of QBE’s hiring policy, which is one she is very proud to be part of.

An environment where employees feel safe to be themselves

Lavinia's panel discussion will see her engage with a range of considerations, including what it takes to build a supportive environment, and how to create the best communication strategies to foster openness and empowerment. Exploring how changes to company culture come about, she highlights that such shifts tend to start at the top of a team, and centre around the creation of a space where colleagues feel like they can speak out, have their ideas heard and be themselves.

“At QBE, I think our flexible working plays a big part in the culture because it creates a place that is more inclusive and allows people to be themselves – and it removes barriers, for example, for working parents,” explains Lavinia.

“In my current role as a Director, I feel that role modelling is key, you have to walk the walk in order to set an example for your teams. But we all have a part to play in creating that sort of environment where colleagues can feel safe to be themselves and one which values all views,” Lavinia says.

Supporting a diverse workforce

Lavinia explains that there are lots of ways that insurance leaders can set about creating more inclusive cultures within their teams, and at the top of the list is encouraging others to bring their whole selves to work. This can be achieved by creating an open environment in which all voices are heard, and people are given different forums to express them.

“I also would recommend considering mentoring those who are starting out in their careers or those who may need additional support in reaching their career goals,” comments Lavinia.

“We can also make sure that we are embracing flexible working to ensure that we attract, retain and support a diverse workforce. And lastly, by encouraging an environment where people feel comfortable talking about mental health and being clear in how we can support them,” adds Lavinia.

Enabling colleagues to bring their best selves to work

Avoiding some common pitfalls experienced by leaders looking to do things differently is a surefire way to speed up the process. Looking across the sector, Lavinia notes that quite a common mistake is focusing on diversity and forgetting about inclusion. She explains that there is no point in having a diverse mix of people in a workplace if those people are not truly integrated, and as equally at the heart of decisions and activity as anybody else.

A second issue is leaders being inflexible. For Lavinia, it is important to think about all of the talent that leaders are missing out on if they can’t create a place for people to bring their best selves to work or where they feel like they are not held back by barriers.

A third issue is not challenging hiring practices to make leaders are not guilty of unconscious bias. So, leaders must make sure to look at where different voices can really strengthen their teams.

Leaders should develop an inclusive mindset

Offering up her key insights for other insurance leaders looking to get started on this journey, Lavinia advises that leaders should ensure that they get involved and be proactive, for example by joining a network that represents something they are passionate about. They should also develop an inclusive mindset. Lavinia believes the best leaders are self-aware, curious, are courageous enough to challenge the status quo and are empathetic and open-minded to the fact that everyone is different.

“Be supportive by offering advice to those starting out, and consider mentoring. And don’t stop learning. Leaders should continuously evaluate and recalibrate to ensure blind spots are diminished,” suggests Lavinia.

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