Lisa Stevens, chief people officer at Aon, outlines how the broker is addressing ESG challenges and steps the industry can take to be more inclusive

Lisa Stevens Aon

In what ways can the industry enhance its efforts around social class and where have you seen the benefits of bringing in people from different backgrounds?

It’s long been known that an inclusive and diverse workforce improves business performance, innovation and creates a culture where employees want to be. 

Although this finding isn’t new, there’s still more we can do to bring people from all backgrounds into the industry. To build tomorrow’s inclusive workforce and drive the strongest outcomes for our clients, we believe it’s important to reexamine the hiring process. 

At Aon, we found that when it came to recruiting and attracting talent, there was an opportunity to reimagine how we approached all levels of positions.

At the entry level we launched our US apprenticeship programme, which provides our apprentices the opportunity to learn on the job at Aon while pursuing an associate’s degree. 

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Apprentices spend 40 hours in the office and in the classroom combined while Aon covers their tuition, books and fees in addition to providing a full-time salary and benefits. 

After two years, apprentices graduate from the programme, complete with an associate degree, a Department of Labor certificate and a promotion into a full-time position comparable to those available to students graduating from a bachelor’s degree programme.  

We worked with our business leaders to determine which jobs currently required a four-year degree when it wasn’t really necessary, and it opened up the possibilities of how we could leverage an apprenticeship model to fill these roles while expanding our talent pool and even improving retention in these roles. 

After seeing the success of the programme, we doubled down with an investment of $30mn over the next five years to lead the development of a nationwide network of employers to create 10,000 apprenticeships across the United States by 2030. 

Outside the US, we have different variations of our apprenticeship programme in several countries.

We are also expanding our recruitment partnerships in seeking experienced candidates. In addition to recruiting alumni from Historically Black Colleges and Universities, we have a partnership with the NFL focused on the recruitment of current and former players – giving them an opportunity to consider Aon as a career path after their football career. 

We are tapped into the organisation American Corporate Partners, which helps veterans and their spouses secure employment and careers. In order to truly see the benefits of a diverse workforce, it is key to touch on all levels of the organisation. 

How has operating in a Covid-19 environment added to challenges around inclusion and diversity (I&D)?

It really hasn’t created challenges, and in many ways, it has enhanced our I&D efforts.

Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, Aon made investments to become a more digitally enabled firm to prepare for a more mobile workforce. That investment paid off as we were able to shift 98 percent of our workforce from across 500 offices to remote work environments in five days after global shutdowns happened, enabling the safety of our colleagues while keeping them connected to each other and our clients. Thanks to the ease and speed of this shift, we have actually identified new opportunities to accelerate inclusion 

The prevalence of video calls is giving colleagues additional exposure to clients, peers and leaders. More colleagues are participating in client presentations than before. Our leaders are regularly connecting with colleagues to engage on I&D topics and sharing what actions we are taking.

I’ve been inspired by the resiliency of our colleagues this past year and by actions we have taken to make progress on our I&D priorities in this new working environment. We launched a Global Inclusive Leadership Council and they are championing I&D at all levels of the firm. 

Our Business Resource Groups have increased participation and expanded their programming thanks to technology, and they are working more collaboratively to support each other’s events along with new groups forming at a rapid pace.

What governance measures need to be in place to help foster an inclusive working environment?

It starts with strong leadership buy-in and accountability to ensure inclusion moves beyond words into action. In 2020, our board of directors created an I&D sub-committee. 

That subcommittee is directly linked to the Global Inclusive Leadership Council. The council includes 21 colleagues who bring a diverse array of backgrounds, experiences and perspectives. 

This group is responsible for providing advice, recommendations and accountability for our I&D strategy and related actions. By establishing a group of diverse, global leaders who are driven to make meaningful change, we can implement actions that will benefit colleagues at all levels of the firm.

We also believe to truly impact I&D that all leaders must be their own chief diversity officer – in their region, their solution line or function – we all own making Aon a more inclusive and diverse organisation for our colleagues and our clients.

What three steps forward would you most like to see the industry take as it enhances its ESG profile?

When it comes to the environment, we all have an important role to play. There is an opportunity to bring more visibility to the steps we are taking as an industry to protect our planet. Earlier this year, Aon made a commitment to reaching net-zero emissions by 2030 and many other organisations in our industry have made similar commitments. 

Those in our industry know first-hand the increasing impact of natural disasters around the world. Our Weather, Climate & Catastrophe Insight: 2020 Report found that significant natural disasters caused more than $268bn in economic damage. The more we can all share about our efforts to protect the planet, the better.

Another step is to share our learnings and best practices when it comes to I&D with those outside our firms so the industry can benefit. That’s why we are proud to be a partner of the global Dive In Festival, which focuses on supporting the development of inclusive workplace cultures in the insurance sector. 

Dive In is helping the insurance industry prepare for the future, highlighting the business case for inclusive and diverse workplaces while allowing those in the field to share practical ideas and inspiration for how to bring about positive change. 

We also need to be focused on the broader social impact – including mental and physical wellbeing. Finally, I would also include corporate leadership and transparency. This is our entry ticket into ESG and our industry needs to be leaders in this space.

In the last year, organisations globally have had to navigate the Covid-19 pandemic, respond and reflect on social justice issues and reckon with long-tail risks that were once on the horizon but have become more relevant, such as climate change, cyber risk and the health/wealth gap. 

We have used our expertise to assist clients in maintaining operations and mitigating risk during the pandemic – and believe we have a responsibility to play a larger role in helping the private and public sector navigate the recovery. 

How can a strong ESG focus help attract new talent into the industry?

While ESG is primarily the lens for which we are viewed by investors, it has become a key focus for how existing and potential talent view organisations. 

Our colleagues and prospects want to know what values their employer stands for, how the company contributes to society and how their potential role plays a part in the company’s impact. 

As we look to build the workforce of the future, a strong ESG focus and track record of action will be essential to recruiting and retaining top talent.

Without a focus on their environmental and social responsibilities, what are the risks facing carriers and brokers?

One of the biggest threats to firms that choose not to address their environmental and social responsibilities is that over time they will lose their relevance, and if they lose their relevance, they will find that their market position begins to suffer. 

As with many other sectors, the insurance industry has moved far beyond engaging with these areas merely as part of a ‘box-ticking exercise’; insurers have realised that it is vital that they take their environmental and social responsibilities seriously in order to create the more stable and equitable world being demanded by their colleagues, particularly the next generation. 

It is also vital that companies demonstrate that they can take the lead, rather than being pushed to enact change through regulatory or stakeholder pressure.

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Those that fail to take the necessary steps will quickly become obsolete, as the best and brightest talent will gravitate to those companies that can evidence the positive impact they are making in the world.

As a global population, we all face serious and ongoing challenges in areas such as climate change – challenges that we can overcome, but only with a collective effort. Firms that are not seen to be world team players will be left on the bench.