‘Turn Good Intentions Into Tangible Progress’

July 8, 2022 | 0 Comments

The Association of Bermuda International Companies [ABIC] says it “wants to help the international business community turn good intentions into tangible progress in creating a more diverse and inclusive workforce.”

A spokesperson said, “The key to advancing the transition from words to action is finding and sharing best practices that can provide fair opportunities and career progression for historically disadvantaged groups in Bermuda’s unique context.

“At the forefront of this effort is Philip Vandoninck, Chair of ABIC’s Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Committee and the Chief Executive Officer of Fidelis Insurance Bermuda Ltd.”

Mr. Vandoninck said, “When you see the corporate numbers on the representation of groups by gender and ethnicity, it’s clear there’s a massive divide. You can’t hide from it. Then, the question is: what are you going to do about it?”

The spokesperson said, “Vandonick said that in 2019, Fidelis defined its DEI goals with an overarching target of achieving a proportionate representation at all seniority levels in the business. Specifics goals to achieve this include a ten-year target for proportionate representation of BAME [Black, Asian and minority ethnic] employees at junior professional, professional, and manager/function head levels, and a 15-year target for the group executive level.”

Mr. Vandoninck said, “The company’s efforts touch on hiring processes, mentorship – both of employees in their career development and of schoolchildren from underrepresented groups — tackling unconscious bias and educating all employees on Bermuda’s social history.”

“When you speak to people in the Black community on the island, they feel that there’s been a lot of talk and willingness shown, but they want to see more action. To help encourage more business leaders to take action, it makes sense to share practices that have worked, so that others can adopt them.

“The DEI Committee hosted a roundtable with executives of some of the newer companies on the island. I explained what we’ve been through, the mistakes we’ve made and what we’re doing now. We will have more conversations like this to encourage positive change.”

The spokesperson said, “Vandoninck said some of the hiring managers in Bermuda are expatriates, who may not understand the roots of Bermuda’s racial tensions and social inequity and that education is key to addressing the issue. The company has partnered with the National Museum of Bermuda [NMB] to provide a programme for all employees called ‘Exploring history through a corporate lens,’ involving participatory workshops that explore the history of enslavement, emancipation and segregation in Bermuda.”

Mr. Vandoninck said, “Everyone who joins our company has to do these courses. I think it will help build an understanding of how historical dynamics have shaped Bermuda society. Being informed is a very important aspect to understand other people’s perspective.”

Elena Strong, Executive Director of the National Museum of Bermuda, said, “Learning history is central to understanding contemporary issues. At NMB, our priorities are to deepen understanding of Bermuda’s complex past for all and a commitment to promoting life-long learning and facilitating community engagement. This programme does just that and we are thrilled to partner with Fidelis.”

The spokesperson said, “Vandonick said the hiring process at Fidelis includes measures to improve the diversity of candidate pools. These include ‘blind resumes’ – meaning that details indicating a candidate’s ethnicity or gender are removed — and Fidelis aim to ensure that people from underrepresented groups sit on interview panels.

“He added that Fidelis works with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Bermuda, providing mentorship to children from the age of 9 to 15. Mentees visit their mentors at the office on Tuesdays or Thursdays, where they do homework and interact socially. Vandoninck said Fidelis also supports intern programmes.”

Mr. Vandoninck said, “Initially, the kids are a little shy and uncomfortable, which is understandable and to be expected as most have never set foot in a corporate environment like this. After about 10 weeks, they’re walking in the door and very politely saying ‘hi’ to everyone.

“They feel like they belong here. It’s a fantastic, low threshold scheme and we’re seeing some great results.”

Arman Shields, a Little Brother who has participated in the programme, said, “I like Fidelis. They help me with my homework, and they treat me really nice. They make me feel like I belong, and I can be myself around them. I am thankful for my experience with them. When I first went, I was a little nervous because I didn’t know what to expect or how they would treat me, but now I feel like we are family.”

Mr. Vandoninck said, “We must improve the chances of people making it into the industry and all the way to the top level — the talent is there,” he added, referring to 2016 census figures, which found that of the island’s 8,392 degree holders, 57% were Black and 59% were women.

“In my career, I received help from many people, who mentored and coached me and allowed me to take advantage of the opportunities presented. For anyone on the island who wants to work in this industry and is prepared to do the hard work and the studying, I am keen we offer them the same support and opportunities.”

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