Head of Diversity & Inclusion at Aon, Katherine Conway played host to a best practice sharing event in London that posed the questions: Is there a class ceiling? and Does institutional classism exist? In her introduction she made the point that social mobility is not one of the protected characteristics that guards against discrimination at work, making it doubly important to approach it pro-actively.
Authenticity around how people speak, their background and education should not be allowed to hold them back when it comes to accessing equal opportunities at work. On the flip side, employers should welcome the different perspectives and diversity of experience that recruiting more inclusively can bring into the business.
Katherine challenged the audience, many of who work in HR to approach recruitment more strategically, viewing process as only ever half the answer. ‘This industry is really good at collaborating effectively on D&I and we should be proud of that,’ she remarked.
Aon has been running an 8 week long programme with people not in employment, education or training (NEETs) called Step-Up. Adrian Johnson, Senior Consultant and UK Apprentice Lead, gave an outline of how it worked with 4 weeks in the classroom and 4 weeks on the job work experience. Seven people were selected to participate from pathways not normally used by Aon.
‘There is significant government money out there around the skills shortage agenda’ said Adrian as encouragement to others to tap into different ways of identifying young talent adding, ‘These people were previously invisible to us at Aon’. That fact cut both ways with Matilda Allen and Martin Syrett, two of the people who had been through the programme and who were subsequently hired by Aon remarking that had it not been for the programme, they never would have imagined themselves working in insurance.
“These guys saw 3 of our CEOs in 8 weeks. There is huge buy-in from our leadership,’ said Adrian. Other aspects of the training included a visit to Manchester where CEO of the Manchester United Foundation, John Shiels took time to meet with them and a session with the charity Suited & Booted which helps the unemployed and those on a low income by providing interview clothing and advice.
‘We have just found out that we are going to be given the chance to speak to the next group of people coming through the Step-Up programme,’ said Matilda. ‘That will be a brilliant full circle moment being able to tell them what it’s been like for us,’ said Martin.’
The Leonard Cheshire Change 100 initiative was also highlighted as a recommended route to introduce people with long term health conditions or disabilities into companies for work experience. Katherine Conway shared the story of a young blind man with a great aptitude for coding who was set a task by one the CEOs at Aon and who responded with a piece of work that saved the delighted CEO 7 weeks in terms of productivity. Proof that talent and a competitive edge can come from the most unexpected places if you have an inclusive environment where everyone is encouraged to contribute.