As many places in the world celebrate Pride this June, focus shifts to the benefits of an inclusive work culture. A workplace where everyone has opportunities for growth and development — and people of diverse cultures, backgrounds and experiences are welcomed — ultimately improves the work created and fosters innovation.

For that reason, organizations and their employees are thinking more about allyship. But what does it mean to be an ally and why is it important to work culture? Aon brought together three leaders and members of their Global Inclusion Leadership Council for a closer look.

Q: Why do you think allyship is so critical in a company’s culture?

Jenny Rivera-Hartleben, Learning Experience Manager at Aon: It’s helpful to frame allyship as a journey and set of intentional actions, rather than as a static label. The label “ally” is earned by showing up, repeatedly and unfailingly, to support those with less privilege than us.

Allyship allows us to question and challenge biased social norms to help organizations create a thriving and united culture where all employees can prosper. This of course positively impacts retention of top talent, performance, innovation, and client value creation. Organizations with inclusive cultures are two times as likely to meet or exceed financial targets, three times as likely to be high-performing, six times more likely to be innovative and agile, and eight times more likely to achieve better business outcomes. Clearly, when we’re all able to be our best selves, we thrive individually and collectively.

Julie Page, Chief Executive Officer, Aon UK: In our culture, we talk about the importance of all colleagues feeling comfortable to be themselves and to express diverse perspectives and experiences. The same open and inclusive culture is reflected in the quality of our allyship.

Allies listen, learn and understand where systems favor majorities. Through open engagement, allies can learn where the behaviors in these systems reinforce the inevitable preferences and prejudices that underpin them; they will feel able to break the circle and provide active interventions to create greater equity and in so doing, improve inclusion and performance. Ideally, they don’t just feel able to do this, but are encouraged to do it. These allies are vital – both influencing and influenced by the culture of the firm.

Q: How has the last year changed allyship?

Julie Page: The last 15 months have created a moment of appreciation and empathy for others. The pandemic has made mental health an open discussion, breaking down taboos at warp speed. The death of George Floyd, and other racially motivated events, cast a sharp light on the atrocities that have been allowed to happen at the end of the spectrum of prejudice and privilege, forcing everyone to take notice and pay attention to the personal everyday experiences of minorities in our respective organizations, towns, cities and countries.

All of this awareness has seen more people step forward with open minds and hearts. The allies around us have created the space and the opportunity for those people with insight, experience and an opportunity to share with those wanting to listen, learn and rebalance their environment. We have to capitalize on this moment in history and ensure we emerge with a more equitable firm and, preferably, society.

Roberto Pinto, Chief Executive officer of Affinity International at Aon: What we do as a firm has an impact on colleagues, communities and clients and we have to be self-aware about our personal biases and privileges. We also understand that people with, for example, diverse backgrounds, cultures, ages and sexual orientation bring a different perspective and fresh ideas. This is how we get better individually and collectively and our diversity of people and thoughts is what help us innovate and get better as a firm.

Q: How does Aon promote allyship in its culture?

Roberto Pinto: We are intentional when it comes to promoting the power of diversity, equity and inclusion across the firm. At the same time we recognize we are not perfect. This is about individual and collective responsibility and as a firm we created the Global Inclusive Leadership Council that now reports our progress to the Board. Plus, we have our Business Resource Groups, Apprenticeship Programs, Pro Bono Legal program and other groups on local and regional levels that all prioritize inclusivity. We have been intentional on creating targets for the firm for key areas: recruitment, promotion, education and representation. We have most recently approved our first ever Human Rights statement and introduced our Aon Supplier Diversity commitment. We are also creating a culture where we hold ourselves accountable; most recently, compensation to the Executive Leadership Team has an element of achieving diversity, equity and inclusion targets.

Jenny Rivera-Hartleben: At Aon, we are promoting allyship through several avenues, including creating measurable accountability in the areas of equitable recruitment practices that equate to more diverse talent, ensuring that all colleagues are given equal access to roles and development opportunities, and ensuring that we have global learning offerings to help our colleagues show up as more effective allies in the workplace. Our Board of Directors, Global Inclusion Leadership Council, and Regional Sub-Committees are overseeing this work and helping to move it along.

Q: How are we helping our clients with the idea of allyship?

Julie Page: We all have a role in helping our clients and the broader impact of allyship by supporting the transfer of knowledge and experience, sharing best practice and working together where the opportunity presents itself. This builds on the positive impact of allyship, extends cultural alignment between us and our clients and creates another intervention to hopefully shift the spiral from being a vicious circle to a virtuous one!

For more on the impact of an inclusive work culture, and the work Aon is doing to invest in their people, read the 2020 Aon Impact Report.

Jenny Rivera-Hartleben
Learning Experience Manager at Aon
Julie Page
Chief Executive Officer, Aon UK
Roberto Pinto
Chief Executive officer of Affinity International at Aon