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Tannock calls for action on diversity

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Call for urgency: Patrick Tannock, chairman of Abic, wants an end to the "unconscious bias pass"

A business leader has called for international companies to confront the issue of a lack of diversity in their senior ranks and to combat the unconscious bias that allows it to continue.

Patrick Tannock, chairman of the Association of Bermuda International Companies, spoke out in a trade magazine interview in a which he said Bermuda’s powerhouse industry did not come close to reflecting the island’s demographics in its workforce.

“As an industry and in Bermuda in particular, we’ve got to tackle the elephant in the room which is the lack of diversity in terms of people of colour in middle management and the executive suite,” Mr Tannock said.

“We can’t just start with women and pat ourselves on the back and say we have arrived. We need to hold each other to a higher standard of accountability and stop giving people the unconscious bias ‘pass’. There is so much discussion on the topic there really should be no such thing!”

Diversity and inclusion is especially important in Bermuda, Mr Tannock told Bermuda Re and ILS, given that international business accounts for about three-quarters of gross domestic product.

“It is also because the industry’s demographics, particularly in middle management and the executive suite, do not even remotely reflect the demographics of Bermuda’s population, from neither gender nor racial perspectives,” Mr Tannock said. “Clearly there is room for improvement.”

Mr Tannock, who works as managing director and XL Bermuda Ltd chief executive officer, insurance, said that Abic had made the promotion of D&I a priority, in particular with a CEO pledge to promote it for those at the helm of member companies.

“We must work to ensure that on the basis of merit, qualified highly educated Bermudians — be they men, women, black, white, mixed, straight or members of the LBGTQ community — have equal opportunity to participate and thrive in an industry that is the economic engine of Bermuda,” Mr Tannock said. “We can and must do better.”

The business case had been made for diversity, he argued, adding that action from the C-suites was needed to change things.

“International business has been such a driver of our economy for the last three decades and when one looks at the numbers, there is an overt lack of racial and gender diversity in the executive suite and middle management.

“A lot of work needs to be done; it is a fool’s errand to perpetuate a situation where certain demographic groups of our population don’t believe they will get a fair shot to enter and thrive in the economic engine of the country.

“I unconditionally agree with leading D&I experts who have constantly advocated that executive leadership must lead the charge to change attitudes and behaviour of organisations as to why diversity matters, and champion the prioritisation, creation and promotion of a culture of equity within their companies.”

Also quoted in the interview was Kirsten Beasley, Abic D&I committee chairwoman and head of healthcare broking, North America, Willis Towers Watson.

“Upon entering the business world, it was evident that corporate demographics in Bermuda were not reflective of our community; having grown up here it was a startling realisation for me,” Ms Beasley said.

“I took diversity for granted as it was always inherent in my environments, but clearly that doesn’t always play out in the corporate world.

“This disparity is particularly evident when the industry lauds our leaders; whether it’s our overall insurance leaders or prominent women being recognised, I find that there is usually a clear and visual lack of racial diversity.”

Mr Tannock said the continuing failure to realise diversity in the workforce had social ramifications for the island.

“Unlike other international business jurisdictions, here people who are making materially different incomes live right next door to each other,” Mr Tannock said.

“No one cares how well they’re doing relative to their parents. They care about how well they’re doing relative to their neighbours.

“Prolonging a scenario where people don’t believe they have equal access on the basis of merit to opportunities in the engine that drives our economy is just not sensible and could have profound negative consequences to the social fabric of Bermuda if not addressed.”

He called for urgency from Abic companies.

“We can’t lose sight of the fact that we have to change mindsets as to why this matters and what it can do for the companies and for the community as a whole to help us remain relevant and competitive as a jurisdiction,” he says.

“I support positive initiatives such as international business-funded scholarships. I was the recipient of one 30 years ago and without that I would not have been able to pursue and attain a university degree. Providing scholarships will eventually pay dividends by increasing the pool of talent. However, we must go further.

“As an industry we can’t just hire people with diverse backgrounds and expect there to be a pay-off. As leaders we must acknowledge and understand that supporting diverse talent within a company is just as critical, if not more, than the initial efforts to attract that talent. Conscious mentorship and sponsorship will be vital to increasing diversity and inclusion at all levels.”

Diversity issue: Kirsten Beasley, chairwoman of Abic's D&I Committee, says the lack of progress on diversity is very evident in the corporate world