Steve Collinson: I really dislike the expression ‘part-time’ and the assumptions that come with that

Since 2019, Zurich Insurance has quadrupled (28% vs 104%) the number of employees hired on a part-time basis after altering their wording on job adverts to celebrate part-time, job shares, and flexible working across all departments.

Related topics:  Zurich Insurance,  Part-Time Employment
Tabitha Lambie | Editor, Protection Reporter
12th April 2024
Steve C
"I feel incredibly lucky to have an employer who fully supports both my work and my ordination journey."
- Neil Fisher, Market Strategy Consultant at Zurich UK

Protection Reporter spoke with Steve Collinson, Chief People Officer at Zurich UK, to learn about its recruitment strategy, why it's important to discuss the gender pension gap, and whether the rest of the industry has taken on board the ethos behind the Employment Relations Flexible Working Act.

Five years ago, Zurich Insurance partnered with the Behavioural Insights Team (BIT) – which used to be a part of the Government’s Cabinet Office - to understand the gender pay gap. “It was already pretty clear to us that a lack of opportunities for women in senior technical or leadership roles (and a lack of representation in that calibre of role) was one of the driving factors of this gap,” he explained.

“We jumped at the chance to work with BIT; they helped us reach conclusions on how limited access to flexible or part-time working was holding women back in their careers on a two-fold basis.”

Steve said, “It holds women back from applying for roles in organisations such as Zurich Insurance, and it holds women back from applying for promotions because there often isn’t the visible flexibility that’s needed.” He believes it’s an “inescapable societal fact that the burden of childcare falls on women most of the time.” This is evidenced in recent research conducted by Fruitful Insights (produced in association with Yurtle) which found men are more likely to show up to work while sick than become a primary caregiver.

READ MORE: Men are more likely to show up to work while sick than become a primary caregiver

“So, one of the things that BIT helped us with was re-wording our job applications to incorporate new wording which encourages part-time, job shares, or full-time with flexibility […] we wanted to flip the default; the default has always been, for as long as any of us can remember, jobs are available full-time and you have to push for part-time,” said Steve.

Fast forward to 2023, 87.5% of part-time hires were women – four times higher than in 2019 – and the number of women hired for part-time senior positions had doubled. Likewise, the number of men hired on a part-time basis dramatically increased by over 50% in five years.

“The number of women applying for roles at Zurich Insurance has gone through the roof because every role here is available on a part-time, job share, or full-time with flexibility basis.”

When asked how this initiative was first received, Steve expressed that it was a remarkable success; “it wasn’t something that grew over time […] people found our job adverts, saw the difference in wording, and that part-time would be firmly celebrated at Zurich Insurance, and that change happened overnight.”

Steve described it as a “cultural shift inside the company.”

So far, nobody has applied for multiple part-time roles at Zurich Insurance, but Steve said they’re open to it – so long as there wasn’t a conflict of interest. “What we tend to see is, in our early careers cohort in particular, employees still want to establish a foundation in one field (e.g. finance, marketing, underwriting) so we focus quite heavily on giving people experiences beyond the job to satisfy curiosity,” he explained.

“There’s so much talk about the gender pay gap but far too little discussion on the gender pension gap which majorly affects women. We want to create sustainable careers.”

Zurich Insurance is determined to create a sustainable workforce by retaining and developing existing talent via internal promotions. Roughly 70% of the company’s vacancies are filled internally, with successful applicants often opting for job-share or part-time schedules. Last year, part-time internal promotions rose by 167%.

“If you can secure senior roles with better compensation, then you can start to negate some of that pension gap,” said Steve. But, it’s also about reducing the stigma surrounding part-time employees.

“I really dislike the expression ‘part-time’ and the assumptions that come with that.”

Last year, Jacqueline Durbin, Global Head of Product (Life, Pensions & Mortgages) at Iress, spoke to Protection Reporter about the stigma she’d battled as a part-time employee in Financial Services. “It’s taken me years to stop feeling guilty about rescheduling meetings so I can take my children to school,” she said.

READ MORE: Yes, I’m still banging my drum for ‘part-time’ employees

People work flexibly at Zurich Insurance for various reasons.

“I feel incredibly lucky to have an employer who fully supports both my work and my ordination journey,” said Neil Fisher, Market Strategy Consultant at Zurich UK who’s currently working flexibly. He’s due to be ordained as a deacon within the Church of England at the end of June 2024.

Meanwhile, Alan Roxborough was set to retire last year but felt he wasn’t quite ready after working in Zurich’s underwriting team for twelve years. Therefore, after a four-month sabbatical, he returned to work on a part-time basis (six days a month) so he could continue contributing to the team and pursue new hobbies outside of work.

“It’s so easy to think of the world as being about automation and robotics, but it’s still about human connections. There’s no downside to employers celebrating flexibility, especially when it attracts a wide range of people and gives them more incentive to stay,” Steve concluded.

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