We speak with Helen Jones, director of HR at iPipeline, to hear more about the company's new Balance for Better initiative, designed to challenge views and get people thinking differently
iPipeline has some impressive results when it comes to diversity and inclusion. Women make up over half of the leadership team and the firm has a 100% maternity returner rate. The technology provider is also actively involved with the Women in Protection Network, with nine of their employees shortlisted for the upcoming COVER Women in Protection awards.
We speak with Helen Jones, director of HR at iPipeline, to understand what steps the business has taken to make this happen, including the launch of their latest initiative, Balance for Better, and why she thinks diversity and inclusion are essential for business success.
So, Helen, please tell us a bit about yourself and your career
I've worked in HR since leaving university with a BSc in Psychology. My early career was spent at IBM in recruitment, where I worked on a large number of student programs, including gap years, year in industry and the international student program. Before the internet became the place to source students, I spent lots of time on the road with a boot full of brochures and career stands, setting up at universities around the country and running assessment centres to identify students for our schemes. Later I moved into a general HR role in IBM's European HR advice centre, where I completed my CIPD studies and got some great experience in the generalist field.
Following a house move from the south coast to Cheltenham, I joined what was then DERA (Defense Evaluation & Research Agency) in Malvern, where I was responsible primarily for recruitment. Not long after, I returned to a generalist HR role, as HR manager with, what was at the time, a small company in Cheltenham called AssureSoft. And the rest is history! With 2020 marking 20 years in the business for me, I can say it's truly been a varied and hugely enjoyable journey. I've seen a number of name changes, ownership changes, and growth of the business from a team of just 50 to 600+. Personally, over those 20 years, I've got married and had two sons, who take up the vast majority of my time outside of work.
After my first period of maternity leave, I returned to work on a part-time basis and have kept this flexibility ever since, a first-hand example of the people-focused culture we have built at iPipeline. My second son was born with Down's syndrome. It took our family on an unexpected journey and has given me a true personal insight into seeing our world through ‘different' eyes, and the importance of never making assumptions, avoiding stereotypes, and truly appreciating just how wonderful it is that we aren't all the same.
Why are diversity and inclusion important to iPipeline?
We appreciate that not everyone is the same. The differing life experiences, perspectives, race, ethnicity, gender, age, religion, sexual orientation, not only add real value to our organisation, but also to the industry as a whole, allowing us to have a true representation of society.
An inclusive culture has provided many advantages to us as an organisation. We recognise the importance of creativity and innovation to ensure we continue to move in the right direction and have worked hard to give everyone the confidence that their ideas are valid and listened to. In our most recent annual staff survey, the people in the Cheltenham office scored in the top 10% compared to others in similar technology businesses, on their agreement with the statement that ‘new ideas are encouraged at iPipeline'. We have also run many local and global innovation days over the years, encouraging our people to step away from their day-to-day and come together to work on the next big idea for our business. This encouragement of diverse thinking is important to ensure that we keep evolving and stay at the top of our game.
Tell us more about the work you're doing with the Women in Protection network
The Women in Protection network is adding real value to our industry, an industry which has traditionally been male-dominated. The work of Women in Protection compliments the diversity we believe in and we are proud to support the initiative.
Through our active involvement with the network, iPipeline is not only helping to drive improvements in diversity within our industry but is also increasing awareness of protection among the underinsured female population. We fully support initiatives which are addressing the current gender protection gap and promoting the importance of cover for women. One way to help that is by encouraging diversity within our industry and having those wider conversations, ensuring better outcomes for everyone involved.
What initiatives are you running internally around diversity and inclusion, and what have the outcomes been?
We're proud of the culture we've built at iPipeline, which centers around our people, enabling both a successful career and a fulfilling personal life. For us, work-life balance is key. Our commitment to this can be demonstrated by our maternity return rates and the proportion of female leaders we have.
Since 2006, we have celebrated a 100% maternity returner rate. So far, 16 women have been on leave to start or extend their families, totaling a fantastic 29 babies between them! We haven't achieved this by using a particular strategy or program, but by appreciating the value of our employees and enabling every single mother to return to work on a part-time basis, which suited their needs and their families. And it's not only mothers who welcome the opportunity to work more flexibly, currently almost 20% of the office are working on a part-time basis.
We currently have 11 people in our leadership team, six of whom are women that have been promoted up through the iPipeline ranks. Two thirds also happen to work part-time, to better balance their work with commitments outside of the office.
We are proud of what we've achieved so far in terms of equal opportunities, but we want to do more, so we recently launched a new program, called Balance for Better (borrowed from International Women's Day), which has diversity at its core. We kicked the initiative off in our Cheltenham office where we hosted a lunch and learn session, and were fortunate to be joined by Rose St Louis, co-founder of the Women in Protection Network, who gave an inspirational opening presentation. The Balance for Better initiative puts a spotlight on diversity and inclusion awareness and will involve a number of training sessions designed to help us challenge ourselves and think differently.
We are also reviewing all of our policies and practices through a diversity and inclusion lens to identify where improvements can be made. We're working hard on initiatives to build financial resilience in female consumers, and we've invited staff to think about engaging with STEM initiatives in local schools and colleges. Externally, we're proud to be a signatory of the Women in Finance Charter and enjoy involvement in a number of other networks and initiatives to support the importance of not just gender balance, but full inclusivity in our industry.
What more do you think we can be doing to encourage a diverse workforce and inclusive culture in insurance?
There is no denying that there are a number of unconscious biases, which we can all be guilty of adopting at times, whether it be from influences earlier in life, or potentially misinformed strong opinions. What is key, however, is that within insurance, we are all aware of these biases and what contributes to a diverse workforce and inclusive culture. We also need to ensure that we attract the right people to our industry who will make a difference and challenge perceptions.
How does it feel to have nine of the iPipeline team make the shortlist for the COVER Women in Protection Awards?
We're immensely proud that nine of our employees have been shortlisted as finalists at the awards. This represents over 10% of employees at our Cheltenham office - what an achievement!
It's the drive and passion of these individuals which are making a real difference, not only here at iPipeline, but also in the wider industry.