The power of DE&I and Agile combined: it’s all about robust business outcomes

A conversation with Kanak Tripathi and Aidan McCormack

Moving to more Agile and technology-enabled business models requires a shift in workforce behaviour, culture and mindset. It’s essential to prepare the workforce for this “new normal” and to secure their buy-in to make the most of new opportunities and the potential to carve out fresh revenue streams. Success requires people with the right skills backed by the right technology.

We at PwC are convinced that we need diversity, equity and inclusion. Like PwC, Swiss Re is deeply committed to creating an inclusive work environment where each employee can reach their full potential. Swiss Re considers inclusion as a strategic imperative that is critical to its future business success. As a global reinsurer, it follows an integrated, future-focused strategy that brings together physical workplace, technology and people management practices.

We had the unique opportunity to interview Kanak Tripathi, the new Head of Transformation at Swiss Re Solutions, and Aidan McCormack, the new Group Head of DE&I at Swiss Re, about their experience and insights into the overlap between Agile and DE&I as well as the state of inclusivity and equity inside Agile organisations.

PwC: Kanak, how would you describe your role as Head of Transformation at Swiss Re Solutions?

Kanak Tripathi: It’s about transforming our capabilities and culture to deliver this very strategic, diversified income stream for Swiss Re. This means that we have a long list of things that we have to get ready: working out our value proposition, our starting P&L, whether we’re making money on any of our solutions as well as the solutions we want to develop and sell ‒ plus a whole lot of operational bits we need to get right as well. Transformation is a big word, and I think people think of it as this mythical creature and a magic pill. But in reality, transformation lies in the hard day-to-day work: calling things out that don’t make sense, having a lot of difficult conversations, patting people on the back and finding out how you can support them.

It sounds like you’re describing part of an agile process: having a vision, but breaking it down into manageable steps.

Kanak Tripathi: Absolutely. My role is really to make sure that we achieve our ambition and that we have the right capabilities as well as a culture that’s open, safe and experimental. When I took on my role, the first thing Russell [Russell Higginbotham, CEO of Swiss Re Solutions] and I started with was “unfiltered” conversations with all of our teams around the world, groups of 15 or so. The idea was to create a safe space where everyone was invited, regardless of who they were and where in the Swiss Re universe they sat. We initiated a small cultural shift by challenging people to try and change things that were within their sphere of influence, and had a significant impact. We asked them to form little squads and solve a problem together. Suddenly, you shift the culture. Instead of feeling like they’re a victim of circumstances, people are now in the driving seat.their sphere of influence, and had a significant impact.

Aidan McCormack: Yes, that’s very much a benefit of – and a prerequisite for ‒ diversity and inclusion. You open up the conversation and create a space where it’s safe to ask any questions. Most people agree with the value of being more diverse, equitable and inclusive. But people haven’t always known how. They’ve been unsure whether they are saying or doing the wrong thing.

I think it’s important to remember that different organisations will be at different stages of maturity in their agile journey and/or their DE&I journey. For both Agile and DE&I to have an impact, we have to meet the organisation where it is. So if the organisation is further along on the Agile journey, use the Agile principles and values to drive this feeling of safety and security, flattened hierarchies and customer centricity and collaboration – all the things we know about Agile – and that drives this sense of inclusion. If you push everything that’s already happening in the Agile space, you automatically come out with great outcomes in terms of inclusion. The level of progress differs even within firms, so if you’re in an organisation or a part of an organisation that’s further along on the diversity, equity and inclusion journey, use that progress to drive agility. If there’s already an inclusive culture in this part of the business, use that ability to give feedback quickly to focus on the task – instead of the person – in order to drive Agile.

Kanak Tripathi: It sometimes feels like two sides of the same coin.

Our PwC experts for questions
Alexandra Burns

Juliane Welz
Senior Manager, Insurance Transformation, PwC Switzerland
Tel.: +41 58 792 19 13

Alexandra Burns

Jasmin Danzeisen
Senior Manager, People and Organisation, PwC Switzerland
Tel.: +41 58 792 98 27

So you’d expect Agile organisations to also be fairly advanced on the DE&I side, either explicitly or implicitly?

Aidan McCormack: You would hope so, but I think we need to question our assumptions a little bit. We have to be careful that there aren’t elements of agility that are driving unintended consequences in terms of people feeling like they belong or have equity of opportunity or that there is adequate representation. And by the same token, we shouldn’t assume that because we have a very inclusive organisation that it’s actually working to drive business outcomes – something which is a clear characteristic of an Agile organisation. I’ve seen in many organisations – not talking specifically about Swiss Re here – that there’s a real temptation to immediately act on methodologies before understanding and adopting the principles and values. That’s a risk. I think if you can get that bit right, it powers your journey on both agility and inclusivity.

Kanak Tripathi: I think that to be diverse, equitable and inclusive, you don’t necessarily need to follow Agile processes. But I think to be Agile, you absolutely have to be inclusive.

Aidan McCormack: For sure, because everyone’s opinion has to matter and be heard.

Kanak Tripathi: And have the same weight.

“I think to be Agile, you absolutely have to be inclusive.”

Kanak Tripathi, Head Transformation at Swiss Re Solutions
Trust in Transformation

Agility and DE&I: a powerful combination

Interested to know more about the success of combinig principles of business agility and diversity, equity and inclusion in the insurance and reinsurance industry? Feel free to check out our latest whitepaper. 

Explore more

You know, it’s funny. We see lots of synergies and potential for organisations to link the two, Agile and DE&I, especially in terms of the principles, which are very similar. However, our survey found that most companies have actually not even thought about the links between the two.

Aidan McCormack: I think there’s also a risk of not being clear about your intent and the outcome you want from adopting it. If you don’t know why you’re adopting Agile and what you want your outcome to be, it’s not going to work. In fact, it’s going to get in the way. And I think that unless you understand the benefit and the value of building an inclusive culture within an organisation, what that outcome is, it can be quite easy to lose your way.

Kanak Tripathi: Yes. I think we get hung up – and I include myself – on the “intellectualness” of it. I hear a lot of intellectual dialogue around Agile and around DE&I. And I’m not sure whether we have these dialogues so we can sound like we care about this or to really make a meaningful change. Equity and diversity are also about listening to people who don’t necessarily buy into either of these topics. I had someone call me – and I feel quite grateful that they felt safe enough to do so – to say “I don’t know why Swiss Re is making such a fuss about this. With my hand on my heart I can say that I don’t see you, Kanak, as different from me. But there are other burning topics, so why are we overplaying this?” As you said before, Aidan, it’s important to meet people where they are and not make assumptions that everybody is on one or the other side of the spectrum.

Aidan McCormack: Yes, it’s about understanding where people are. And about telling this story in a way which is understandable and focusing on the benefits and outcomes…

…for the different audiences, because while you might have a leadership that’s committed to the topic, you might still fail to address people where they stand on their personal journey. It’s a very personal thing, DE&I. What we also typically see with clients – and I’m curious to hear your point of view – is that some people also feel a bit threatened by DE&I. They feel like they actually have fewer opportunities with all the focus placed on it.

Aidan McCormack: I hear this a lot. This presents an opportunity for me to be able to tell the story of the benefits of DE&I overall. And it’s not a zero-sum game. An inclusive culture values everybody. It’s not the case that if I value you more, someone else loses out. That’s not how it works. We have stats, data and evidence to prove this. But you can’t lecture people and you shouldn’t lecture people, because they feel how they feel. You have to listen intently to understand where they’re coming from and what’s going on with them and that concern.
PwC: To return to business outcomes, do you have clients also asking for your more diverse set-up?

“It’s not a zero-sum game. An inclusive culture values everybody.”

Aidan McCormack, Group Head of DE&I at Swiss Re

Coming back to business outcomes, do you have clients also asking for your more diverse set-up?

Kanak Tripathi: Yes. For example, the other day one of our client managers from Germany reached out to us and said that their client was very interested in learning about digital buying behaviours. Europe is a very mature market and we more or less hear the same thing, “we’re interested in learning something different.” Then this person said they were looking for somebody who could give them a perspective on young buyers, Gen Z. I explained that our head of innovation on the life side is a brilliant young woman who’s come from somewhere else. She’s done all this research and has actually developed products intended exactly for that purpose. The client manager said how fabulous that was, and then said our client had even asked us if they could talk to somebody from Asia because they’re doing a lot of cool things in this market and talking to a very different kind of buyer and audience. So, diversity really is relevant to business, and it’s not just about feeling good. I think that’s the story that we have to get better at telling.

Aidan McCormack: Yes, I think it’s super important that my team and myself stay connected with the business reality.

Kanak Tripathi: Absolutely. And I think we’re already doing a good job here. I told you before about the person who called me up asking why Swiss Re was suddenly all over the DE&I issue and saying that we’re not focused on business or talking about our clients anymore. It was a bit extreme, but I can understand.

Aidan McCormack: This is my challenge, because what I’m saying to people is that we need to make better numbers. If we have a different culture, believe me, we’ll make better numbers. It’s another mechanism for improving our performance.

Thank you very much for the very valuable insights and exchange. We look forward to reading more on the topic in the latest white paper “Agility and DE&I: a powerful combination for success in the increasingly dynamic insurance industry.”

Carolina Thomaz

About our interviewees

Aidan Mc Cormack, Swiss Re, Group Head Diversity, Equity & Inclusion
Previously worked as Global HR Director and in organisational development roles, with a background in psychology, HR and development.

His view on DE&I:“While a focus on diversity remains critical for the success of an organisation now more than ever, I want to ensure we have a culture of inclusion at Swiss Re. Inclusion will, I believe, unlock the power of diversity. When I feel included, I feel I belong. When I feel I belong, I feel safe offering my thoughts and opinions, even if they are different to others.”

Kanak Tripathi, Swiss Re Solutions, Head Transformation
Has led business transformations across insurance, with a background in technology, large-scale change, Agile methodologies, executive coaching and organisation development.

Her view on DE&I and agility:“Building meaningful solutions that solve real-world problems demands creativity, and creativity comes from differing opinions and feeling psychologically safe. An inclusive environment that represents all of us, with all our differences and similarities, and an agile environment where we feel safe to experiment and iterate: this is the only way our solutions will create value for society and for Swiss Re.”


Contact us

Juliane Welz

Juliane Welz

Senior Manager, Insurance Transformation, PwC Switzerland

Tel: +41 58 792 19 13

Jasmin Danzeisen

Jasmin Danzeisen

Senior Manager, People and Organisation, PwC Switzerland

Tel: +41 58 792 98 27