Digital

A conversation with Allianz: how diversity and inclusion is solving business needs and helping build better customer-facing products

Jun 24, 2022 | Digital

When COVID-19 lockdowns shut down one of Allianz’ major off-shore claims processing centres, they needed to increase their on-shore capacity at short notice. Allianz contracted a team from Jigsaw, a social enterprise which trains and transitions people with disability into mainstream employment, to help clear the backlog.

Not only did the partnership solve an immediate business need, but it was a clear example of how inclusion for people with disability can be linked to business success. The partnership has expanded from the initial four-person Jigsaw team to 37 Jigsaw trainees across Sydney, Brisbane, Melbourne and Adelaide who now work on Allianz claims on an ongoing basis.

We sat down with Glenn Slater, Allianz Senior HR Business Partner and disability advocate with lived experience as a parent, and Edyta Torpy, Allianz Head of Diversity and Inclusion, to discuss how diversity and inclusion are integral to the way Allianz does business.

A conversation with Allianz

Tell us a bit about the Diversity and Inclusion strategy at Allianz. What are your focus areas? Has disability been included from the outset? We know that although 90% of companies claim to prioritise diversity, only 4% consider disability in those initiatives (Harvard Business Review, Do Your D&I Efforts Include People with Disabilities? May 2020).

 

Edyta: We developed our current three-year strategic plan in late 2019. It has six pillars: gender equity; reconciliation; accessibility and disability; LGBTI inclusion; cultural diversity and embedding flexible working arrangements. Within disability, we focus our energy on three areas: acquired disability, which aligns really nicely with the work Allianz does in personal injury; neurodiversity, where our relationship with Jigsaw shines, and thirdly we’ve been working closely with the Paralympic movement to look at opportunities for Paralympians when they finish their career as athletes.

To develop the plan, we brought together stakeholders from across the organisation to identify areas where we wanted to be impactful. Each pillar of the strategic plan has an executive sponsor to break down barriers and help me advocate. This has been key to laying the foundations properly. We could have gone out and just hired a group of people that had a disability, but we wanted to make sure the opportunities we created were sustainable and meaningful. I’ve worked in other organisations where we hired people in non-business related areas, and it felt a bit jarring.

Glenn: Yes, I’ve seen instances before where it was just a tick-box. Individuals weren’t given opportunities to further develop their potential. It felt tokenistic. Working with Jigsaw is one of those opportunities where you can see a great future for people, where people are trained and developed to play a role in the organisation, and build their skills.

 

How well have D&I initiatives been integrated throughout Allianz’ business? Have leaders, teams and employees been receptive?

Glenn: At the grassroots level? Yes, absolutely. When I was setting up the partnership with Jigsaw, I first had to get the business across the line. I leant heavily on the Learning and Development team to do a lot of technical training to onboard people. They have a lot of experience in training people who have no insurance industry experience whatsoever to get them ready as quickly as they can. They were absolutely excellent – I didn’t have to sell my pitch, they immediately understood the importance of creating opportunities for people who typically face enormous barriers in accessing mainstream employment. We put together a video to communicate the partnership with Jigsaw across the organisation and the feedback I got from a lot of people – especially in customer operations – is that it made people proud to be associated. A positive thing that came out of this for me was that so many people came forward to say, “my cousin has autism” or “I have just been diagnosed with autism.” It touched a spot because many people are impacted by the challenges that the people at Jigsaw face.

Edyta: That’s why it’s so important for me to work with people like Glenn because (usually) I’m working at a level that’s not constantly inside the business’ operations. The fact that our core business teams understand and recognise opportunities to integrate our D&I strategy within the business, and achieve D&I goals, like Glenn did, means we’re much more impactful.

To add to that, most people have really great intentions. They want to be able to make a difference in other people’s lives. The challenge comes in knowing what they can (practically) do, how to actually help. If you give people the direction, the resources and the skills to be able to make a difference, most people will jump at the opportunity. People love it. We are all under the pump – we, as with many other organisations, have been asked to do more with less. And yet I have probably about 6 or 7 committees from across the organisation of people helping me with different pillars of the D&I function, bringing it to life for the business and I’m never short of volunteers.

I mean, there are challenges. Sometimes things slip through the cracks or aren’t delivered in a way that I would like them to be, or things take a little bit longer. That’s my greatest bugbear – it takes a while for progress to happen. But overall, I’m overwhelmed by the level of engagement that people have in the kind of work that we’re trying to do.

 

What benefits have you seen from embedding accessibility and other D&I pillars in the way Allianz does business?

 

Edyta: For me, this isn’t a nice-to-have or about being good corporate citizens. Sometimes there is a narrative around balancing the bottom dollar with a contribution to society, but I don’t see them as being two separate things. If we get this right and there is enough diversity within an inclusive work environment, we will actually boost the bottom line. Because, if we have people in the organisation who have different lived experiences, and various challenges that they’ve had to overcome and build their resilience from, it’s actually helping us understand our customers better. It helps us build better products for our customers. So if we get the right mix of people within the organisation to give us a broader understanding of different lived experiences of our customers, that will help our business. And in the meantime, what we are doing is providing great opportunities for all sorts of people to add value to the organisation.

Glenn: It’s about being representative of reality. Customers come in all shapes and sizes, and have different challenges. That’s one of the reasons the program with Jigsaw is so successful. It isn’t charity – it was thinking naturally when the opportunity came up to pilot a business-focused solution which would help our customers but also provide a real-life job experience for neurodiverse people.

Edyta: We’ve also just had our yearly staff culture and engagement survey engagement levels are well over 95% across the board – this is because of the work we are doing in diversity and inclusion and belonging, the flexibility we provide, the impact of sustainable things we are doing in the community.

 

What advice would you give to other organisations seeking to employ or engage people with disability through social procurement, as you did with Jigsaw?

Glenn: I pushed the pilot with Jigsaw forward, and it is a success, but what if it didn’t land, and/or didn’t deliver the customer experiences or the business positive impact that we were hoping for? It is taking a risk, to a degree, because we are here to make money. I’m saying you’ve got to invest, and give yourself the best opportunity to get it right. It doesn’t always happen the first time.

Edyta: One of the key pillars of our culture at Allianz is entrepreneurship. The idea to look at things differently, question the status quo, and give things a go to see if they work. So, by giving it a go and seeing how it lands, we can always tweak it and make it better. We can always expand it. But now that we’ve seen the positive outcome of that, then we’re able to say – great, let’s try it again.

 

What is your vision from where you are now, into the next 12 months, and beyond?

Edyta: Our three-year strategic plan is up at the end of 2022. From there, my aim is to get key stakeholders and representatives across the organisation together to look at where we can focus our efforts to make an impact. The pillars won’t change. However, there are certain areas that are more mature than others. Our gender equity strategy, as well as our LBGTI inclusion, are both mature and progressed – and people understand why they’re important. I think that reconciliation, accessibility and culture are the three areas that we will really focus on over the next three years and put our efforts into resourcing properly, for opportunities to make a difference.

For example, I reached out to Westpac because they’re so far advanced in terms of what they’ve done in the accessibility space. I spoke with their senior manager in accessibility and disability, and something she said that resonated with me was learning to walk before you run. It’s taken Westpac 20 years to get to where they are, and we’ve been on this journey for three. I think it’s important to have a kind of community of practice between organisations to share with one another what has worked. Because, Glenn’s got a day job – this isn’t his day job – and I’ve got six pillars to deliver on which keep me up at night. So if I can learn something from another organisation, that breaks down barriers for me.

Glenn: I’ve been working with our talent acquisition team over the last four months to look at expanding our hiring practices across all our pillars of diversity. I’d like to bring a specialist resource in to construct an accessible assessment process. With our standard assessment process, a lot of neurodiverse people will get ruled out in the first round. There was a young woman called Brittany who was one of the first Jigsaw team members we worked with. She’s moved on to a permanent role in the NSW Government Department of Premier and Cabinet, as a project assistant. This made me think — how could we create the environment, create the support structures where people in the digital claims team could potentially progress to a permanent claims role with us, or another opportunity within the organisation?

In terms of a more philosophical perspective: in insurance at the moment, and a lot of organisations, especially banking and financial services, it’s all about automation. The go-to is to outsource back-office functions like data entry and ship it to a low-cost model. We’ve been caught out by it, and all the banks have been caught out by it because of the pandemic, and now the trend is to bring everything back on shore. I would love to see it ingrained so that there is more of a strategy to add value to society in Australia – a debt or a moral obligation. We’ve got to get value for our shareholders and our customers, but is there a smart way we can structure the workforce where people with additional challenges get an opportunity to work?

About Jigsaw Digital

Jigsaw is a social enterprise offering a range of market-leading digitisation and information management services to organisations across Australia. We provide a range of competitive on-site and off-site end-to-end document services including large volume scanning, small volume scanning, day forward scanning, back scanning, book scanning, Optical Character Recognition (OCR), and document destruction. Additionally we offer remote admin support, workflow process administrative assistance, data entry, database clean up, document verification and document upload. Jigsaw’s services are available Australia wide.