Re-Insurance

Fidelis CEO: time for action on diversity

  • Diversity goals: Richard Brindle, chairman and group CEO of Fidelis

When it comes to building a diverse workforce, Richard Brindle believes that actions count for much more than words.

The outspoken chairman and group chief executive officer of five-year-old Bermudian reinsurer Fidelis is the first to concede that the insurance industry is too “male and pale” and that companies can act to change that.

“I’m a doer and not a talker and I get a bit impatient about well-meaning people talking and not really doing anything,” Mr Brindle said in an interview.

“We want to be good corporate citizens of Bermuda. Most people here are people of colour and there’s a bad legacy going back to the days of slavery and its scars are still here.

“I’ve not lived here, but if you’ve got eyes in your head you can see the unfairness.”

The death of George Floyd, a black man who died during an arrest by American police in Minneapolis in May, and the Black Lives Matter campaign that has resonated around the world since, brought the need for action to the fore, Mr Brindle said. Fidelis’s website says the company stands with BLM and adds: “We take the knee.”

Mr Brindle said: “Enough waffle, let’s do something. In the context of Bermuda, it’s about jobs. And once people have jobs, it’s about creating sufficient fluidity that people can rise according to their merits. I think, as an industry we’re very male and pale, shockingly so.”

Mr Brindle wants Fidelis to take a different, more diverse route.

He said: “In the early days of Fidelis, I came into the office one day and saw the interns and let’s be honest, they were white relatives or family friends of people who worked for us.

“I said, ‘no, no, no, we’re not doing this’. That demographic is very privileged already, they do not need a helping hand from us.”

In July 2019, Fidelis set diversity and inclusion goals for one, three, seven, ten and 15 years, in recognition that only a long-term commitment can bring about the desired results.

Hinal Patel, CEO of Fidelis’s Bermuda operation and group chief financial officer, said: “Specific to Bermuda is a ten-year goal for proportionate representation of BAME [black, Asian and minority ethnic] employees at junior professional, professional, and manager/function head level.

“Our goal for proportionate representation at the group executive level is a 15-year goal. The goals factor in our starting position, projected turnover, average time for career progression, and promotion versus external recruitment ratios.”

To help make it happen, Fidelis is working with Big Brothers Big Sisters in Bermuda to target black children from the age of 12 or 13.

Mr Brindle said: “The idea of the partnership is that we identify several people and then it’s full-on mentoring from then until the end of school.

“That’s a significant time commitment for many of the staff at evenings or weekends. We’ve all made commitments to spend time, myself included, to put in two hours a week as a target to spend with these mentees.

“The idea is that the end of the day, they get jobs. However, this is not a free ride. Anybody who wants to get into this programme will have to show enthusiasm, a good attitude and will have to work hard. We’re very keen to level up the playing field, but people will have to work with us on this.”

Fidelis is adopting a similar approach in its London office, working with Brokerage, an organisation that helps people in the poor communities of Tower Hamlets and Walthamstow. Those efforts are already bearing fruit.

Mr Brindle said: “You’ve got this terrible juxtaposition of great wealth and privilege, mainly white and male, in the City of London, and two or three kilometres down the road, some of the poorest postcodes in Europe.

“We now have three full-time members of staff who have come to us as a result of that programme and they’re all doing very well.”

Fidelis, which employs 43 people in Bermuda, tries to create a welcoming work environment.

Mr Brindle said: “We are very keen that people can bring their whole selves to work. There’s no judgment here and however you self-identify, you’re welcome.

“In our industry, I think traditionally many people probably felt they couldn’t be their true selves at work and that’s bad for everybody, bad for mental health and also bad for productivity.”

A truly fair recruitment process is an essential part of building a diverse workforce. Unconscious bias is a hurdle to overcome.

Mr Brindle pointed to a British study, which distributed the same resume under two different names, John and Mohammed. The take-up rate for John’s resume was about five times greater, he said.

Mr Brindle added: “There are out-and-out racists in this world and we want nothing to do with them, but I firmly believe they’re a minority. Then there’s unconscious bias, which is more widespread.

“We have blind CVs and interview panels always have at least one person of colour or one female on them, just to stop that very white male approach to hiring people.” In addition to fighting the legacy of historical slavery, Fidelis is also taking steps to combat the modern-day variety.

Working with charity Anti Slavery International, Fidelis has developed an initiative with global brokers Marsh and Aon that will involve asking the question of cargo insurance customers as to whether any child or forced labour was used in the production of the goods to be insured.

The idea has been strongly supported by other underwriters and brokers and the Lloyd’s of London market and is in the process of being rolled out across the industry.

Read the second part of the interview with Mr Brindle tomorrow, when he discusses Fidelis’s $1 billion capital raise this year, the sustainability of the hard market and the company’s philanthropic response to Covid-19