Diversity, equality and inclusion needs to become a focus of companies for it to make a real difference to colleagues, clients and society, a senior HR director has said.
Speaking on the latest FTAdviser Fireside Chat, the group HR director for Phoenix, Sara Thompson, said it mattered that companies should be proactive when it comes to DE&I.
She said: "For us, it's about our purpose - helping people to secure a life of possibilities: all people, all possibilities.
"DE&I does not just happen by wishing and hoping. Most people are well-intentioned but unless you really focus on it, it does not just happen."
According to Thompson, only by putting it to the top of the agenda and focusing on it can a company really embed DE&I.
She agreed that it can present challenges to companies large and small. A large company may find it harder to understand where each staff member is coming from, and often staff members might feel embarrassed or uncomfortable coming forward.
For example, it was not easy to understand who the colleagues are. This is why Phoenix launched Who We Are, which was an anonymised app-based questionnaire to help the group get data.
Approximately 80 per cent of colleagues talked about various DE&I issues, such as their mental health requirements, social mobility issues, gender and identity and caring responsibilities.
"This meant we had data on it and so we could look at how we could help, and how to focus our policies and practices in the best way possible."
Thompson said by having this data and understanding the sort of issues facing people meant the company could take several steps to embed DE&I and create policies that help staff.
"Focusing on colleague networks is really helpful", she says, adding this is something any firm - large or small - can do, and feed back into senior management to build policies and work with outside companies such as Enable to put plans into practice.
And it's important that senior executives get on board. "It's fundamental", she said. "People can see the values of the organisation align with that."
It is also great to work with other companies and share best practice with each other, she said, to help everyone frame and deliver on their potential.
"It has a wider societal benefit", she added.
The Phoenix Group won Employer of the Year at the 2022 FTAdviser Diversity in Finance Awards 2022, while colleague Imran Khan won Consumer Champion of the Year (Large Company) at the awards.