Insurance executive backed on call for diversity
A top Bermudian insurance executive was backed by hundreds of people after he delivered a speech that highlighted white privilege in business, a conference heard yesterday.
Jonathan Reiss said no one that contacted him after his admission that skin colour and family connections had boosted his career had disagreed with his views.
The Hamilton Insurance Group chief financial officer was speaking as part of a panel discussion on diversity at the Chartered Professional Accountants of Bermuda Women’s Leadership Conference yesterday.
Mr Reiss was asked why he thought his speech in June had generated so much interest.
He said it was because it was endorsed by Malcolm Butterfield, the chief executive officer of the Bermuda Insurance Institute, who said the speech was “one of the most courageous” he had ever heard.
Mr Reiss said: “I think that’s really what catapulted it to much greater visibility.
“The message here is we need to talk together. It’s having a senior white finance guy and a very well-known, respected black man saying this together, talking together, and I think that’s the message, if we talk together we’re going to be a lot more powerful and a lot more people will listen to what we’re saying.”
Delegates were earlier reminded of his speech to the Bermuda Captive Conference in the summer, where he called for the private sector to make a bigger effort to tackle the lack of diversity at all levels in companies.
He said white men continued to dominate in executive teams and workforces often failed to mirror the diversity in their communities.
The speech won praise from anti-racism charity Citizens Uprooting Racism in Bermuda.
He told yesterday’s audience he was “overwhelmed” by the “hundreds” of people who contacted him about the speech, including Bermudians living in the US, Canada and Europe.
Mr Reiss said there had been no real opposition to his views, although there were “a couple of strange responses”.
He explained: “I spoke about a subject that’s clearly subjective and I made a lot of statements.
“Normally, when you talk about something that people feel passionate about and it’s subjective, you get at least some people that dispute what you’re saying.
“Not one, of the hundreds of pieces of feedback, there wasn’t one tiny iteration of anybody disputing the facts of what I said, which is really interesting.”
Patrick Tannock, the managing director of Axa XL, was also on the panel.
He said: “I think the reason it got so much attention was because that was the first time that I can recall in my 30 years of business that a white person had ever got up and acknowledged white privilege in such a public way.”
He added: “What Jonathan has said, has been said many, many times by people of colour on a consistent basis but people have turned a blind eye to it.
“So I think Jonathan actually, with the credibility that he has, getting up there and acknowledging that, it really opened up the dialogue in terms of having a real conversation about diversity and why it matters.”
The discussion, at the Hamilton Princess Hotel and Beach Club, was moderated by Rochelle Simons, the chairwoman of the Institute of Directors Bermuda.
The panel also included Leila Stansfield, the vice-president of strategy at Bacardi, and Ben Adamson, a human rights commissioner.
The conference heard diversity and inclusion were “critical” for business growth.
Mr Reiss said: “The link between diversity, inclusiveness and financial success has been proven.
“Perhaps there has not been an appreciation of that in the past but there’s no excuse for not knowing that now.
“Companies are in business to make money, so that should be incentive enough.”
Mr Tannock added diversity and inclusion were “magnets for talent”.
Ms Stansfield said: “A business can’t ignore it.”