As businesses push forward on hitting diversity goals, a major insurance company in the U.K. is telling its 22,000 strong workforce that senior white male new hires must be personally approved by none other than the CEO.
Aviva’s boss Amanda Blanc said the policy forms part of the company’s efforts to stamp out sexism in the financial services industry.
Speaking at the Sexism in the City inquiry, Blanc, who became the blue-chip company’s first female chief executive in 2020, told a parliamentary committee that there was “no non-diverse hire at Aviva without it being signed off by me and the chief people officer”.
“Not because I don’t trust my team but [because] I want to make sure that the process followed for that recruitment has been diverse, has been properly done and is not just a phone call to a mate saying, ‘would you like a job, pop up and we’ll fix it up for you’,” she said according to multiple outlets.
It is understood that Blanc’s comments only apply to senior hires at Aviva, who make up around 5% of the firm’s overall roles. Currently, 60% of the group are men.
“The scope of the charter is to get more women into senior management roles,” Blanc explained the reasoning for the measure. “My belief is if you have more women in senior management roles, this behavior will go away.”
“We will always hire the best person for the job, and ensure that Aviva has a diverse workforce that reflects the customers we serve,” an Aviva spokesperson told Fortune.
Sexism in the City
Blanc was speaking at a hearing into whether sexism in the City (the British equivalent of Wall Street) had improved since 2018, when the last investigation was launched in the aftermath of an influx of sexual misconduct accusations.
For example, the nearly 350-year-old insurance market, Lloyd’s of London—where women were only allowed onto its floor from 1973 onwards—was forced into making changes in early 2019, when a report revealed that many women endured a toxic culture of harassment.
But despite an increased push to kill misogyny in the workplace, the situation still appears to be dire. Blanc told MPs on the Treasury Select Committee that harassment in financial services is still worse than in any other industry.
The 56-year-old Aviva chief revealed that women had written to her ahead of the hearing and described their “absolutely appalling” experiences of harassment, including unwanted sexual advances, being followed into hotel rooms, and being told their pregnancies were “inconvenient” by their employer.
“Every individual firm has to be accountable for any allegations such as this,” Blanc told elected government officials. “And the women in the firm have to know that there is a process for speaking up; that that process will be acted on; that everything will be investigated; and that the person who did the bad leaves the organization, not the women.”
“And we have had experiences like that at Aviva, where the woman has stayed and the man has gone,” she added.
Member of parliament Dame Angela Eagle echoed that she had been shocked by the hearing’s evidence, which included examples of sexual assault, bullying and anecdotes involving a “series of well-known bad apples that nobody ever does anything about”.
MPs added that they were “alarmed” by the accounts which, overall, suggested there had been “no improvement whatsoever” over the past 20 years.
Blanc, the “Champion” of a government Women in Finance Charter initiative that pushes for equal gender representation in finance, said that the percentage of woman who faced verbal and physical abuse in finance firms surveyed last year was 10 percentage points higher than in other industries.
Just last year, Blanc herself faced sexist abuse at the FTSE 100 company’s annual general meeting, when an investor said she was “not the man for the job” and another asked whether she should be “wearing trousers”.
“Perpetrators of predatory behavior needed to leave the business,” she concluded.
But the policy has angered some men
“Quotas are outrageous, they’re discrimination,” British politician Jacob Rees-Mogg said on the broadcast channel GB News in the aftermath of Aiviva’s policy news. “We cannot manufacture equal outcomes via tokenism, but rather achieve true equality by treating people as individuals. Aviva and its chief executive Amanda Blanc ought to know this.”
Rees-Mogg then advised white male consumers to stop buying Aviva’s products: “If you’re a white male and you’ve got an insurance with Aviva, they don’t like you, they don’t want you; The chief executive doesn’t approve of you, so why buy your insurance product from a company that is hostile?”
This is extreme wokery,” one City bank chief told The Telegraph. “It is ridiculous,” another veteran investment boss agreed. “White is a broad reference – there’s social background [which should also be considered].”
While Blanc’s policy may have been interpreted by some as hostility towards white men, nearly 60% of Aviva’s senior appointments in the last year have been male.
Still, many men fear that they are facing a glass ceiling—whether or not that’s the reality. Research has shown that the mere mention of pro-diversity values is enough to instill career concerns among white male job seekers.
One study, conducted by the University of California and the University of Washington, concluded that “members of high-status groups may perceive pro-diversity messages from organizations as threatening to their group’s status” adding that “young white men interviewing for a pro-diversity company displayed a cardiovascular profile characteristic of threat”.
The findings concluded that although well-meaning, diversity policies can backfire and create a resentful and divided workforce.