Business & finance

Diversity is good for business

In October, David Hynam, chief executive of Bupa UK, was listed as one of OUTstanding’s top ten Leading LGBT+ Executives. We spoke to Hynam about the changing role of the CEO, and what business leaders can do to promote diversity.  

For David Hynam, chief executive of Bupa UK, diversity in the workplace is a critical issue.

“It’s really about the tone from the top,” he says. “All our senior team members here are committed to having as open and diverse a workforce as we can, and we strive to get Bupa to be a place where people feel supported. We want to help colleagues reach their true potential without too many barriers – taking blockages out the way.”

Hynam is speaking to CEO just days after his appearance in OUTstanding’s Leading LGBT+ Executives list. Now in its fifth year, the list recognises LGBT+ professionals in senior roles, who are working to create an environment “where LGBT+ people can bring their authentic selves to work”. It is curated by the professional membership organisation OUTstanding, in conjunction with the Financial Times.

All the 2017 ‘role models’ were nominated by peers and colleagues, before being scored by OUTstanding’s judging panel. There were two main criteria for inclusion: first, that they were visibly out or a vocal ally; second, that they were pursuing the cause over and above the demands of their day job.

Hynam is ranked tenth on the list, just behind the likes of Alan Joyce (CEO of Qantas), Stacey Friedman (general counsel of JP Morgan Chase) and Inga Beale (CEO of Lloyd’s London).

While the scoring is subjective to some degree, it factors in their business achievements and seniority, alongside their impact on LGBT+ inclusion.

“On a personal level, I’m absolutely honoured to be named among the top ten on a global list – there are some brilliant people on that list, so I’m thrilled,” he says. “What’s nice is if you look beyond the top 10 to the top 100, there’s people from all different industries, all different sectors, lots of locations. It’s a truly global list.”

Change from the top

Although relatively new to his current role, having come to the helm in 2016, Hynam has occupied a wide range of leadership positions. He joined Bupa UK in 2014 as transformation director and leader of health and dental clinics, before heading up the Care Services business in 2015. Before that, he was CEO of Friends Life, and held senior roles at AXA Life and Barclays.

It’s an impressive resume, which has endowed him with valuable insights into the changing role of the CEO. As he sees it, today’s business leaders need to be far more responsive to different perspectives.

“In my first job 25 years ago, it was a very hierarchical, top-down organisation, where the communication top-to-bottom was all one way,” he recalls. “I think what’s changed is CEOs today are expected to be open to hearing what people think, open to different ways of doing things, and I think that’s a brilliant thing.”

This shift, he says, has gathered steam over the last decade or so, with leadership teams becoming increasingly pluralistic in their outlook.

“If I look back at my own leadership job today compared to even ten years ago, the range of inputs I get from my senior colleagues is much broader and much more representative than it would have been then,” he says. “I have a brilliant group of people who work directly for me, and they all bring different contributions. I think that range of styles and the inclusion of a broader group of people is probably the biggest change for CEOs.”

Bupa’s own track record in diversity speaks for itself. The company employs 86,000 people across its global businesses, and has 16.5 million health insurance customers, along with 10.6 million provision customers and 33,100 customers in Bupa care homes. As an international healthcare group, which relies on its customers feeling heard and understood, it believes the demographic makeup of its workforce ought to reflect its customer base.

“Bupa’s purpose is very clear – to help people live ‘Longer Healthier Happier Lives’ – and we can help people in so many different ways across all our businesses. Our job is to take the most inclusive group of people we can get and ensure they want to keep doing that every day,” says Hynam.

Promoting diversity

The company has a number of initiatives in place to promote diversity. For instance, Bupa UK runs an award-winning colleague group called DiverCity, which was founded by Angela Kay from the Coventry office and focuses on issues ranging from LGBT+ to disability. The group has participated in various LGBT+ pride events and seeks to promote inclusion for all.

At a boardroom level, the company’s policy is to keep increasing diversity without compromising the calibre of directors. For instance, it aims to hire an appropriate proportion of directors with different ethnic backgrounds, who have direct experience of some of Bupa’s key markets. Gender equality is important too: 40% of its board members are female, as are 45% of the Bupa Executive Team, 41% of its senior management team and 69% of its total workforce.

Beyond that, its definition of diversity is fairly sweeping. As the website explains, it doesn’t just pertain to “race, disability, gender, sexual orientation, religion, belief and age” – it also includes “a diversity of perspectives on what motivates and interests Bupa’s existing and potential customers.”

While board diversity policies can be a loaded subject, not least when it comes to the thorny questions of quotas and tokenism, Hynam feels that companies in general have made good progress.

“I would say compared to when I started out in big corporations 25 years ago, we’re now in a very different environment,” he says. “It’s about judging people on capability and making sure we’re conscious of prejudice – sometimes there can be prejudice built in and although it can be overt, it can also be very subtle and nuanced. So it’s about being alert to that and making sure that people are open minded.”

He adds that boardroom diversity is not just about bringing different viewpoints to bear on an issue; it’s also about creating a template for the organisation as a whole.

“One of the things that lists like OUTstanding’s are really important for is that it shows you can have senior people in big jobs, who have lots of influence and what people might perceive as power in a boardroom, and they can be open and transparent about their life and they bring their whole self to work,” he says. “I think if people see role models doing that they’ll be more inclined to do it themselves.”

Allied against prejudice

This applies above all to LGBT+ people, who may not always feel comfortable being out at work. According to OUTstanding, 25% of LGBT+ people are not open to colleagues about their sexual orientation, while 62% of generation Y LGBT+ university graduates go back in the closet when they start their first job, and 43% of gay men have experienced homophobia at work.

While these figures might sound shocking, it goes to show that many workplaces are not as inclusive as might be hoped. This makes openly gay business leaders all the more important.

Commenting on the list, Suki Sandhu, OUTstanding founder and CEO, said: “There is no doubt 2017 has been a difficult year for the LGBT+ cause. The backward rhetoric of Trump and an increase in hate crimes recorded in the UK highlights the ongoing struggle of our community on the world stage. By continuing to be visible and by standing up together we can drive change, increase diversity and prove that being your authentic self at work is no barrier to business success.”

This is not just an issue for those who personally identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. As well as its main list of role models, OUTstanding creates a list of the ‘Top 50 Ally Executives’, highlighting the contributions of other business leaders who are invested in the same cause.

Hynam agrees that allies can play a vital role. When asked about his personal role models, he cites previous bosses who viewed him purely through the lens of his abilities.

“I think if I were creating my own list of allies, a few of my former bosses would be on there,” he says. “They gave me opportunities when I wanted them, they judged me only on my capability, and they put their faith in me by giving me big leadership jobs. I think that’s what we’d all want our bosses to do.”

In his current position as CEO, Hynam is well placed to have a positive impact on the organisation’s culture. Already, he feels proud of what the company has achieved. With a wide mix of employees across several businesses (care homes, health centres, dental centres, a health insurance wing and a London hospital), Bupa UK looks to employ people on the basis of talent and commitment.

“I spend a lot of time out and about in our businesses – wherever I go I meet some fantastic people and it’s an absolute honour and privilege to be responsible for looking after them day to day,” he says. “The OUTstanding award is a lovely opportunity to be able to celebrate the diversity of UK business we’ve got, and what we do to support them.”

This article appears in the 2017 vol 2 edition of CEO magazine

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