"If we don’t start by putting our own house in order, building inclusion strategies, and becoming more representative of our customer base, we will never have the emotional empathy or even the confidence to really connect with our consumers," says Jan Gooding, Aviva's global inclusion director.
Businesses need to treat diversity and inclusion (D&I) as a business strategy, she said: "Think differently, work differently. There needs to be a fundamental change from the inside, you cannot just be constantly observing otherness. We have to start reflecting the realities of the real world."
When it comes to embracing D&I the response from the business world has been largely overwhelming. However, the reality fails to match the rhetoric.
For instance, only five employers in Britain have complied with a new government requirement to publish details of their gender pay gap. And the gap for top-earning men and women of about 20% has barely changed since 1997, according to official govt figures.
Last year’s review into diversity on boards by Sir John Parker unveiled that the FTSE 100 is just not representative enough of its workforce, supply chains or even customers. It recommended all boards should have at least one non-white director by 2021 and the next 250 largest firms should aim to appoint one non-white board member by 2024.
Gooding admits that Aviva, one of the few businesses to fully comprehend how best to merge the diversity of employees into a profitable brand, was also found woefully lacking when it comes to the BAME representation on the board level.
We have all been hoodwinked by this idea of meritocracy. Anyone from any background – socio-economic, ethnicity, gender – has been fed the idea that if you strive hard, work hard, educate yourself then you will succeed. I’m afraid that does not happen.Jan Gooding
Businesses have known the commercial imperatives of tackling inequalities at work – managing reputational risks, attracting the best talent etc. However the systemic barriers to equality, she says, is because "of lack of better visibility of role models, or lack of effective programmes with measurable targets."
As Cindy Gallop, founder and CEO of MakeLoveNotPorn, says, it is also because "we’re all working with our unconscious biases and the status quo suits those with power and influence. We have not been strident enough to find the different voices among us."
Gooding is a champion for diversity in all its forms – gender, race, age, sexuality – and an openly gay marketing leader who fell in love with a woman after almost two decades of marriage. She maintains that her personal brand is not about her "being a lesbian" an idea she calls "reductive, like the notion of the pink pound which fails to recognise the diverse experiences and perspectives of the gay community". Gooding is chair of trustees at the Stonewall charity.
There is a business case to be made, Gooding says, that people perform better at work when they can be themselves. Coming out at work has not been easy, by her own admission. As a gay woman of a certain age, she says she faces a "tremendous amount" of hostility. Does she not want to stop and give up then? Gooding is adamant that she might be taken aback by the anger and aggression but will never stop championing for equality.
She does however appear to be mildly irritated every time she is asked, where are the lesbians? We need more lesbians. "As if I have some black book of every gay woman in our industry. Of course they exist. But they realise it’s bad enough sometimes getting on as a woman, without being a lesbian."
Her own personal anger, she adds, comes from her personal belief of "how we have all been hoodwinked by this idea of meritocracy. Anyone from any background – socio-economic, ethnicity, gender – has been fed the idea that if you strive hard, work hard, educate yourself then you will succeed. I’m afraid that does not happen.
"Also, as an industry we have been so used to saying that let’s keep our race, gender, sexuality, disability, our identities at the door – trying to create sterile common cultures. We need to turn that thinking on its head and instead say differences are relevant. Bring all your dimensions through the door."
In order to bring change at Aviva, new targets have been introduced for recruitment and retention of a diverse workforce.
Gooding has embarked on the process of measuring progress on five dimensions – sexual orientation, age, gender, disability and race and ethnicity – and compare it with the demographics of the respective countries that the business operates in.
In the UK, the top priorities include achieving gender equality and increasing the proportion of people in over 50s "dramatically" over the next three years.
"Our job as marketers is to understand people, to be curious about people, to target people with relevant communications and cause change. I think we had a blind spot and did not look at ourselves to realise we are part of the problem.
"Unless we are different from the inside, we cannot just keep observing everyone outside, to affect change. Times are shifting. We need to drive a fundamental change."