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Lloyd's of London: bringing an old name up to date

As CHRO of a unique 334-year-old organisation at the heart of the UK’s financial establishment, Julia Tyson has much to do to reshape the insurance marketplace’s outlook for the 21st century, finds Jo Gallacher.

In the heart of London’s financial district sits a unique building housing a fittingly unique organisation. Film buffs may recognise the Lloyd’s of London building from its cameo in Guardians of the Galaxy, but for the thousands who pass through its doors every day, it serves as an exchange for the worldwide insurance market.

Brokers from around the globe come to Lloyd’s with their clients’ risks and negotiate face-to-face with the underwriters who analyse the risk and provide the insurance policy. Over 40,000 people have access to this marketplace, within which sits the core business of 1,200 employees.

From humble beginnings in a coffee shop over 300 years ago, Lloyd’s has been responsible for insuring a huge diversity of entities and organisations, from battleships and businesses struck by natural disasters to Whitney Houston’s vocal chords and Michael Flatley’s legs.

Overseeing HR for this one-of-a-kind corporation is Julia Tyson, who became chief human resources officer in January 2020.

As for all of us, no amount of planning and risk management could have foreseen what the year ahead had in store. Tyson’s responsibilities cover HR in the core business, yet given the organisation sets the standards for the rest of the marketplace, her influence is wider.

Getting to grips with a new role is no easy feat, especially during a global pandemic. “When we went into lockdown, you ask yourself ‘how am I going to do this?’” Tyson says. “But very quickly, as soon as you voice the question, you know there’s only one answer and you’ve just got to get on with it. You know you will work it out and it will be fine.”

Fortunately, Tyson had gained plenty of experience from her senior roles at organisations such as Barclays, Centrica and LV= to handle whatever the global pandemic threw at her and her team. One thing she had never experienced however was leading employees throughout a crisis while never having met many of them in person.

She says: “As a senior leader, you’ve got to build confidence that all will be fine, whilst working out how to cope with it yourself, so I’ve had to show that vulnerability throughout.”

Tyson says the experience of video calling rather than face-to-face interaction has in some instances made it easier to get to know her colleagues and the culture of the organisation.

“For some people, it’s easier to open up to someone they don’t know well,” she says.

“People clearly have a shared experience as it was something totally unknown for us all, so they were happy to share. As HR leaders, you have to take an interest because if you don’t ask, some people don’t open up.

“One of the big things about the Zoom experience is that in many ways, we’ve brought our whole selves to work. I have seen people’s homes, families and pets; met partners, parents and children, and people have met mine. People get a better sense of who you are as an individual.”

Accidental meetings

Though video calls open up colleagues’ lives and can build better connections, one of the main challenges facing the organisation throughout the first lockdown and beyond has been lack of serendipitous conversations, often paramount for new ideas to flourish.

The underwriting room remained open for those who wanted to use it throughout the spring lockdown as Tyson decided that bringing teams together, when possible, would be important for people’s wellbeing.

She says: “In a marketplace like Lloyd’s people really miss those corridor conversations.

Information flow is what really works and when everything is scheduled and task-focused, you don’t get those serendipitous moments. So, our challenge is figuring out how can we replicate that across the whole organisation?”

But it’s not just COVID procedures Tyson has had to lead on over the past year. The organisation is also undergoing two major transformations, both digitally and culturally.

She says: “We have lots of participants [companies] in our marketplace, so the big task is how we have a high performing culture which is respectful, ethical, and driven off respectful diversity and inclusion.”

Tyson and the team have now launched a ‘culture dashboard’ to the market which helps firms to understand the definition of culture, develop a model to aspire to and provides the tools to assess where organisations within Lloyd’s marketplace of financial backers currently are and how progress can be made.

It also looks at what types of metrics businesses can use to measure culture to hold them accountable, vital if companies are going to progress past their target setting.

Tyson says: “It’s basically the culture bible. We have taken a voluntary route at the moment [for firms within the marketplace], but we’re asking people to engage with and set a target for the market as a whole. If a new entrant is a new entity, then we expect them to comply with our targets.

“If however they are within an existing agency [a syndicate] then we would ask them what’s your route to achieving this target?”

Culture dashboard

The ambition is for the culture dashboard to become the standard for inclusivity and positive corporate culture within the sector. It is based on Lloyd’s first Annual Culture survey of 6,000 market participants in 2019 and its in-house market HR policies and practices data.

The dashboard has set targets across race, gender and sexual orientation to make Lloyd’s inclusive and diverse. Given there are still several firms with an all-male leadership team, it has set a short-term target for 35% of women in leadership positions. A positive start, given the Annual Culture survey made for uncomfortable reading when it was published.

A shocking 100% of women’s answers reflected a more negative experience than men’s in every area – a sure sign of a gender divide within the marketplace. This, plus the 46% of women who did not believe there were equal opportunities between men and women and 8% of people who had witnessed sexual harassment in the Lloyd’s market over the past 12 months, meant Lloyd’s had some serious work to do.

Lloyd’s has for years attempted to shake up its reputation as ‘old school’ finance and distance itself from the boozy long lunches and toxic workplace politics of yester-year. Its ultimate hangover came in the shape of an exposé published by Bloomberg in June 2019, before Tyson took up the role.

The world of finance is never far away from scandal, yet the piece was a particularly brutal condemnation of an alleged atmosphere of “near persistent harassment” which existed within the marketplace.

It featured 18 women who spoke anonymously of their experience of working within the Lloyd’s marketplace, including accounts of a woman being convinced not to report instances of sexual harassment as it would damage her career and multiple harassment claims, fuelled by a large drinking culture.

There was also trouble at the top, following the dismissal of two executives, one who had allegedly groped colleagues at a party and the other for stalking a junior employee.

Tyson, understandably, is uncomfortable with this particular area of the discussion. She says: “Behaviours reported in the Bloomberg article were inappropriate and very much fuelled by drinking culture. The market is a very sociable place to be, but that doesn’t mean social norms should be breached.

“Women had clearly experienced and witnessed events. We have a duty of care and so undertook a serious investigation and committed to a serious plan – initially publishing this with clear expectations in our Standards of Business Conduct.”

As Tyson knows, culture change can take time, but given women were only allowed onto the Lloyd’s floor in 1973, the organisation has a lot to prove when it comes to transformation.

She says: “We have 40,000 people who are members of the Lloyd’s market. I don’t know specifically which firms the women in the article work for, so from my perspective, we have to focus on creating the culture we want – not how we have been portrayed. We know we’re not perfect, but we are taking the steps to change our culture for the better, for all.”

Anatomy of a scandal

Lloyd’s has changed a lot since the exposé was published just 18 months ago. It now trains its teams and ambassadors across gender balance, family-friendly policies, diversity and inclusion and set up a campaign to encourage ‘speaking up’ within the marketplace.

The culture dashboard is a sure sign of an organisation which has acknowledged and dealing with its demons. Evidence of this can also be found within its decision to be open and transparent about its historical links to the slave trade: insuring ships transporting slaves across the Atlantic.

Tyson says: “Employees expected us to face up to our history, and we needed to learn how to live with that history. We cannot change the past, so we need to focus on how we change the future.

“We have a very active ERG of black and minority ethnic employees and ran a series of focus groups with them in the early days to look at how to address this. That informed and shaped our five initial actions to improve the experience and level the playing field for our black and minority ethnic colleagues – but we have so much more to do, and so we continue to ask them to help us shape that future and take action that will make a real difference.

“I don’t think we’re doing anything society isn’t trying to do at the moment. This is a societal issue – black history exists and we should be embracing it and educating ourselves. We need to understand it so we can create a better future and that’s ultimately how Lloyd’s has always been: let’s understand the past but look to the future.”

Tyson is keen not to use the Black Lives Matter movement as shorthand for any of Lloyds’ internal diversity work. “We do not subscribe to any political organisation or movement, but watching the footage of George Floyd was shocking and is one of those moments that does change the world.”

Lloyd’s is now running focus groups with employees to explore diversity issues within the organisation, with a paper out later this year which will reveal the results of an ethnicity survey across the market.

“We will also be doing some additional focus work that will feed the development of a plan to support colleagues as best we can,” Tyson adds. And this arches back to one of Tyson’s most important values when it comes to HR: to be seen as human. She says: “You’ve got to put the human back into it and make it a very personal and caring function.

“People are now beginning to recognise that HR are not the thought police. Instead, it’s a function which adds value to a business and champions it, making sure it does the best on the basis that if we do our best for our people, they’ll do enough for their customers.”

She believes the pandemic will have changed the way HR will be viewed forever. “I look at the work I’ve been involved in where we have reinvented the workplace. We are constantly looking at how we’re connecting and developing leadership capability based on this. These are things HR wasn’t seen to be in the lead of before.”

It has also been a personally fascinating time for her as a HR leader. “[The pandemic] has been one of the most interesting and formative experiences for our profession, for the things we can do and that can make a difference. It’s never been harder, but in many ways it has never been better.”

HRD of Lloyd’s will be Tyson’s last full-time role, which is why she’s decided to take on such a huge challenge. “I am comfortable with the ambiguity of changes as I can see where it’s heading and am comfortable I can make a difference.

“I made a decision that my last executive role would be where I felt I was giving something back, so it needed to have a strong responsible business component and the opportunity to make a difference.”

In such a short amount of time of working at Lloyd’s, the organisation, and the world of work, has changed irreversibly.

Tyson is open and honest about the issues that still to be need tackled and admits that as an organisation, Lloyd’s is far from perfect. However, it is this type of HR leader – bold, driven, committed – who will show that real long-term change can happen, even for the once infamous world of finance.

Other recent profiles from HR magazine:

A clear mind in turbulent times: profile James Glover, HRD Mind

A critical mission in a time of crisis at London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine

A toast to the most convivial at Pernod Ricard

Protecting people's futures at the PPF

This piece first appeared in the November/December 2020 print issue. Subscribe today to have all our latest articles delivered right to your desk.