By Karen Peattie

CREATING a mindset for change and recognising that diversity and inclusion are good for business – and key to driving innovation – can help companies and organisations be more profitable, attract and retain talent, and more effectively engage with the communities and markets in which they operate.

But Steve Collinson, head of UK HR at insurance firm Zurich, told The Herald and GenAnalytics Diversity Scotland virtual conference yesterday that it was important to plan for all the processes that a company wants to put in place. “Last year, we introduced our family-friendly policy for UK employees – a really important step forward for us,” he said. “We planned ahead for that because there are costs – it doesn’t just happen.”

Zurich’s family-friendly policy includes equalised company enhanced elements of maternity, paternity and adoption leave, with up to 16 weeks’ full pay for all parents. It also provides paid leave to support those through the IVF process and miscarriage, along with a new bereavement and compassionate leave policy.

“We have also equalised holiday pay to 25 days for everyone,” added Mr Collinson, who spoke about his own personal experience of “subtle homophobia” as a gay man.

“We are very clear that we want to be the best place to work for the widest range of people – and we are going to try to bring about meaningful change,” he said, pointing out that in July, Zurich became the first insurance company to publish its 2020 ethnicity pay gap figures while last month it published its LGBT pay gap data for the first time.

Zurich, Mr Collinson said, had also been a driving force in the creation of an insurance industry-wide pledge, designed to change behaviours and create a more inclusive work environment across the sector.

Emma Francis, diversity and inclusion manager at Zurich UK, participating in a Q&A session afterwards, said she believes that it is “definitely a marathon, not a sprint” for those companies aiming to improve their performance and reputation in the increasing important area of diversity and inclusion.

In broader Q&A sessions, delegates heard from Loganair pilot James Bushe, Naziyah Mahmood, a gender equality expert at Scottish Engineering, Usman Tariq, founder of Scottish Ethnic Minorities Lawyers Association (SEMLA), CIPD research adviser Melanie Green, and Helen Tabeshfar, vice-president, EMEA diversity and inclusion at JP Morgan.

Andrew Napier and Pooja Marwaha, both graduate interns at Skills Development Scotland (SDS), also participated.

Mr Bushe, who made aviation history when he became Europe’s first newly-qualified pilot living with HIV, spoke about his experience of being denied his medical certificate in 2017 on the grounds of him being HIV positive. Currently continuing to challenge the discriminatory regulations and stigma that impacts pilots and people living with HIV in Europe, he praised his employer for its approach to diversity, pointing out that it employs the highest proportion of female pilots in the UK.

Asked how she had found her journey so far in engineering, Naziyah Mahmood said: “In Scotland, we have about 19 per cent of engineers who are female. In the UK, we have only recently got just over 12% so small changes are taking place. But we have been having the same conversation around gender equality for a very long time and to say people are exhausted is an understatement.”

Lee Panglea, head of CIPD Scotland and Northern Ireland, commented afterwards: “CIPD was delighted to support the conference again, and we hope that everyone who attended will benefit from the insight and practical advice that the speakers shared across the event to further equality, diversity and inclusion in Scotland.”

Over 150 delegates registered for the event chaired by broadcaster Rachel McTavish. It was sponsored by BAE Systems, CIPD, Diageo, JP Morgan and s1jobs, with Inclusion Scotland and ENABLE Scotland exhibiting alongside them.