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Duperreault: innate bias hindering diversity

Diversity needed: Brian Duperreault is warning of unconscious bias in insurance industry hiring decisions

Unconscious bias drives company bosses to pick employees who are most like them, insurance industry veteran Brian Duperreault was scheduled to tell a conference in London today.

Mr Duperreault said that managers had to find a way to deal with innate bias when it came to picking candidates for jobs.

He added: “Implicit or unconscious bias prompts our brains to make snap judgments without even thinking about them.

“It’s easy to see how this can affect hiring and promotion decisions.”

Mr Duperreault, head of Hamilton Insurance Group, was speaking at the launch of the Dive In Festival, an international drive to promote diversity in business, in which Bermuda will also today be taking part, with Hamilton Re CEO Kathleen Reardon leading a discussion on unconscious bias today.

Mr Duperreault said that Inga Beale, CEO of Lloyd’s of London, who launched Dive In last year, had warned that unconscious bias “makes managers hire in their own image, missing out on the perspectives and insights that come from people with different backgrounds, gender, cultures, sexuality and physical impairments”.

He added: “And there’s the rub. For all the intellectual support we give diversity and inclusion, we still haven’t found a way to confront the innate bias that each one of us has.”

And he said: “Ultimately, it’s people like me who have to commit to to making a difference because the buck stops with us.

“The most obvious way for industry leaders to tackle unconscious bias — and perhaps the easiest — is to challenge our management to build diversity metrics into recruitment, hiring and promotion policies.

“This doesn’t imply that qualifications, education and experience don’t matter or should be discounted.

“But it formalises and embeds a focus on diversity and that’s important.”

Mr Duperreault said: “We can make sure our work places are inclusive.”

He added that measures included looking at offices to see if people with a physical impairment could work there easily and asked if corporate policies on neurodiversity, for example opportunities for people with autism, were in place.

Mr Duperreault said: “There are companies who recognise that the pool from which they draw talent can include employees on the autism spectrum. They’ve created a working environment that makes these employees feel welcome and valued.”

Mr Duperreault told the audience that to those who had been on the receiving end of discrimination, the idea of unconscious bias “sounds much too convenient”.

He added: “In other words — don’t hide behind the excuse that your preconditioned brain made an unfair hiring decision.

“This is a fair comment. I’m not saying that our industry’s management is so evolved and self aware that conscious decisions to discriminate have been eliminated from the workforce. We know that’s not the case.”

And he said that, if managers accepted unconscious bias, they needed to learn how to compensate, “so that the diversity and inclusion balance tips in the right direction”.

Mr Duperreault added: “Creating a diverse and inclusive industry is the right thing to do. It’s always been the right thing to do.

“It’s never been the easy thing to do. As I said earlier, it’s much easier to stay with the same than choose the different.”

Mr Duperreault said that he had been brought up by a devoutly Catholic single parent mother, who was separated from his father, and that the Catholic Church and community had judged her “less than” due to still-in-force rules on marriage.

Mr Duperreault admitted: “These are difficult memories for me. But as difficult as they are, they gave me a compassion and an empathy for what it feels like to be excluded.”

But he said: “If we can hold on to the compassion and empathy those memories generate, I believe we can begin to overcome the unconscious bias that’s inhibiting our progress towards a diverse and inclusive industry.”