An interview with Jonathan Briggs, Head of Talent Acquisition and Global Lead for Diversity and inclusion at Aviva

Inclusion and diversity in the workplace are vital to employee satisfaction and performance, and overall business success. But how are companies creating truly inclusive cultures?

We spoke with Jonathan Briggs, Head of Talent Acquisition and Global Lead for Diversity and Inclusion at Aviva, to find out how recruitment is a tool for change, the steps a company can take to promote inclusive values, and why it’s important to do things differently if you want to see real change.

Do you think your background in TA helped with your work in inclusion?

Absolutely. Talent acquisition has provided a solid foundation – after all, recruitment is one of the biggest levers to bring about change. And, coming from management, I had access. I was able to break down a lot of doors and get us in front of the people who could help us make a real difference.

What was your aim?

Aviva has incredible policies. There’s the equal six-month parental leave policy, paid leave (both planned and emergency) for carers, the amazing flexible working programme, and so on. But policies can change, even from one line manager to another. We wanted inclusion not just to be something we do, but who we are. We want inclusion to be part of our DNA.

How did you set about doing that?

We built on Aviva’s strong foundations and established a five-year programme with targets and new ways of working, both company-wide and from the top down.

We already had six key inclusion “communities” at Aviva:

  1. Pride (sexuality)
  2. Balance (gender)
  3. Origins (social mobility, ethnicity, religion)
  4. Carers (caring responsibilities)
  5. Generations (age)
  6. Ability (physical and psychological challenges)

Our executive team now actively sponsors these communities. This was a major change we made early on, and it was smoothly done. The team knew we all needed to do more, and they were open to the conversations and the changes that needed to happen.

We also hired an external advisory board to challenge us and help us, to tell us what we were missing.

At the company level, meanwhile, we realised we needed to grow our six communities. Currently, just 6,000 of our 30,00 Aviva employees are community members.

The goal is for everyone at the company to belong to at least one. You might be directly impacted by an issue, or you might be an ally. But for inclusion to ultimately become part of our DNA, we need to begin our journey with company-wide engagement and intersectionality.

What other goals have you set yourself as part of the five-year programme?

Establishing a truly inclusive culture takes a lot of work in a lot of areas. But there are two that we’re currently focused on:

  1. Increase in female leadership: We want women to represent 40% of our global leaders. We’re on track to meet this target, with 34% currently (up from 27% four years ago).
  2. Increase in ethnic minority representation in the UK: We’ve just launched a pilot programme with a recruitment drive and the response has been really encouraging. It’s early days yet, and we don’t have all the data we need, so we’ll set targets for this once we’ve seen the big picture, following our big data push.

So you’re focusing on “ethnic minorities” rather than specifically BAME?

We thought a lot about the language we used for this new programme, but ultimately made the conscious decision to focus on ethnic minorities because we’re a global company. The group considered ethnic minority depends on the lens you start from, leading with Black and Asian will not be right for all markets.

How are you going to try and get people involved?

We’re trying to do things differently. We want to reach and engage more people. So we’re mixing things up. We’re not doing “speaking head” panels anymore, for example, as we feel it’s time to trial new concepts and approaches, so we’re not speaking to the same communities and groups. We need to create spaces and events that are interesting, educational but not preachy.

We can’t force people to engage, but we can encourage them. Our #ThisisMe videos have been great. Last year, English rugby union player Maro Itoje came to speak during Black History Month. Will all those people who watched or attended return? We don’t know. But we’re going to keep trying.

What has the response been so far?

There has been some push back. People wondering, “what about me”? But we want an even platform for everyone. We want real change. It’s as simple as that.

There is anger when it comes to inclusion issues, and often rightly so. But it won’t solve the problem. We’re going to need to take a different route to get to the real conversation we need to be having. And we need to be patient with each other. People need to work harder and a lot of learning needs to be done, but we need to let people know it’s okay to ask questions. That it’s okay to be corrected. That we can forgive each other when we get things wrong.

How will you measure success?

I’ll know that inclusion is really in our DNA as a company when inclusion is a natural part of the conversation – not a scripted part. We’ve seen encouraging things so far.

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