That the Square Mile, London’s financial centre, is run by an old boy’s network recruiting in its own image from the white male middle classes might be a misconception we can soon consign to history. Somewhat surprising research from the recruitment firm Astbury Marsden suggests that the City is far more ethnically and religiously diverse than the UK population as a whole with 31% of the workforce non-white and 54% non-Christian. Also having three times the number of gays and lesbian employees than the national average, the City is now looking markedly heterogeneous, at least in relation to the rest of the country.
For some time now the larger City firms have adopted equality and diversity policies designed to foster more inclusive internal cultures and in launching its own good practice guide last week, the Chartered Insurance Institute (CII) provides smaller businesses common sense guidance to help them do the right thing. At grassroots level charities like Brokerage Citylink are accessing a new source of local talent by giving young people a pathway from the neighbouring communities into City employment. Nevertheless calls continue for greater diversity in the leadership of the financial sector, most recently by Vince Cable for more women on PLC boards, suggesting that the richer mix in the ranks has yet to percolate to the top.
It is instructive that Astbury Marsden singles out the banks as very meritocratic employers, proactive in taking on the highest calibre candidates irrespective of their backgrounds. In appointing Mark Carney as its new Governor even the Bank of England looked beyond our shores for the first time to fill that role. In contrast the extent to which the London insurance market is as broad-minded in its recruitment practices may be open to question. Launching Vision 2025 this year, Lloyd’s felt the need to aspire to a more internationalised underwriting community where its people mirror the geographic origin of the market’s business and capital; the implication that the current crop might be just a bit too in-bred; figuratively of course.
Whether true or not, there is no doubt that the calibre and skills of the underwriters and brokers of the future will need to adapt and improve. There have been few areas to look enviously at in recent times but the way that banks are proactively searching out the highest achieving maths, economics and engineering students, irrespective of their backgrounds, is a policy that insurers could usefully follow with more vigour. In order to keep pace with our clients, their needs, emerging risks and the alternative ways of transferring risk and allocating capital, a broader financial awareness and analytical acumen will become prerequisites. Added to that a better grasp of foreign cultures and stronger language capabilities, then it is obvious that the London insurance market should be diversifying its gene pool, drawing on a wider range of talents from a variety of disciplines, backgrounds and circumstances.