The D&I journey: from early awareness to concrete action

In this episode of in:tech, we talk to the Inclusion Partner for insurance firm Beazley and #IamRemarkable facilitator, Chelsey Sprong.

Chelsey shares her experience moving an organisation from early awareness of D&I issues to concrete action and market leadership. This includes ideas, advice, and tips you can use to take the first step and bring others along with you from your organisation.

If you would like to learn more about how Chelsey and Beazley drive D&I, visit

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Listen to the podcast episode here or on Global Player


The transcript of this episode

Note: in:tech transcripts are generated using a combination of speech recognition software and human transcribers, and may contain errors.

Rebecca Donnelly:

You're listening to in:tech, the diversity and inclusion podcast from the Tech Talent Charter with me your host, Rebecca Donnelly. This podcast is for business leaders, people leaders, and diversity leaders who want to make their organisations more inclusive, more diverse, and more equitable, but need some help, advice, or inspiration wherever they are on that journey.

In each episode, we speak to leading names from across the technology sector who share their practical insights on how organisations can deliver on their D&I commitments.

Now, if you are listening to this podcast, that hopefully means you are already pretty well aware of the talent shortages facing the tech sector, and also well aware of the slow moving progress to tackle the lack of diversity in the industry.

But if you are trying to drive real action across your organisation, you probably also know that taking that first meaningful step can be tough, and bringing others with you on the path can be even tougher. Well, on this episode of in:tech, we'll be getting some hands on insights on what it takes to move from awareness to action with the inclusion partner for insurance firm, Beazley, Chelsea Sprong.

Chelsea, welcome to in:tech. 

Chelsea Sprong:

Thank you. Thank you so much. 

Rebecca Donnelly:

Well, firstly, let me congratulate you on being recently named as one of Insurance Business Magazine's 2022 Rising Stars.

Chelsea Sprong:

Thank you. That's very embarrassing. [Laughs]

Rebecca Donnelly:

Well, tell me a little bit, first of all, about how you found yourself working in the diversity and inclusion space. What were the experiences that led you to want to make a difference? 

Chelsea Sprong:

I'm half English and half South African, and I grew up in a country called Malawi. I went to a big international school. That was all I'd ever known. I went to a boarding school in a country called Swaziland, now called Eswatini. It was the first school to educate black and white students in the same room.

I'd only known acceptance of diversity and I'd only known celebration of diversity. I then came to the UK and I went to university in the UK. I was really amazed at the lack of understanding that all the students around me seemed to have about the way the world operated, about that diversity that I'd spoken about.

I was really surprised about the lack of it. I should never have gone to a campus university outside of a city. I think I've realised, and I moved to London.

Recruitment, were the only ones hiring. It was after the 2008 financial crash. [I] found myself in recruitment, found myself in London. I had a few roles in recruitment.

I was always amazed at the lack of diversity I found in London. To me, such a major city, and it was the first time that as a woman, I was in the minority in a lot of rooms. I remember the first time a man had put up his hand to shush me was in those industries.

Rebecca Donnelly:


Chelsea Sprong:

When I moved to Beazley, Beazley was very much at the start of it's journey to try and improve its diversity and inclusion.

That surprised me in itself because other sectors were months, years ahead of where the insurance industry had started. Beazley then, while I've been there, started off in an HR role, they then created the first sort of full-time role focused on diversity and inclusion. The role was a 12 month secondment at first. The CEO, other members perhaps of the exec weren't quite sure, did we need someone doing this full-time? Was there enough work? You know, what was this person going to do? I think after that 12 months, it became obvious just how much work there was to do and about what a big task we had ahead of us.

That was a couple of years ago and it just continues to build really.

Rebecca Donnelly:

So you talked about insurance, a sector that's not typically known for being very progressive and very forward thinking. What were the triggers at Beazley for the leadership team to know they needed to address this and needed to do something about it?

Chelsea Sprong:

I think it was, probably, having to follow suit in terms of gender at first. I don't know if we started thinking we are going to take a massive leap into improving gender diversity and we're going to be the first ones to do so. I think the topic was starting to be more and more important. It was coming up more. I remember looking at our board, looking at our execs, seeing how incredibly male the whole line-up was.

I think, originally, there was a big movement in the finance sector with the Women in Finance Charter to publicly declare what your ambitions were. It was a good move, probably publicly, for us to sign up to that and that was our first step. We didn't mean to be a market leader. It was more, probably, a little bit of having to join a bandwagon at first.

Rebecca Donnelly:

Companies feel that they need to be seen to be doing something. But I think, you know, we've heard from a lot of organisations say we work with the Tech Talent Charter, that that's not enough. So once you started on that journey, there must have been some real light bulb moments along the way.

Chelsea Sprong:

So we started, and we had an initial commitment.

I think we had around 25% women in senior leadership. We made a commitment to get to 35%. It felt bold at the time, but we knew we were starting from 50/50. We knew we had enough women in the organisation, and we reached that first milestone very quickly because it became obvious that we had the talent there.

I suppose since then we've been unpicking, right? What's the next focus of diversity and inclusion for us? What do we want to focus on? What we then saw is we'd elevate some women into senior leadership roles, but we hadn't really thought about the pipeline to backfill that. So we'd addressed one problem and identified another one behind it. It opened up a whole can of worms, really.

Rebecca Donnelly:

Can you maybe elaborate or be more specific, because I think it's really interesting that you talked about this awareness of needing to follow suit, of needing to be seen, to be doing something, of needing to  keep up with the industry.

You know, we're talking about insurance, but the same can be said in the tech sector. But you still need to engage your leadership team. You still need to engage mid-level managers, people, managers. What challenges did you find with that, or what sort of opportunities were there to break down some of those barriers and bring everyone along on the journey?

Chelsea Sprong:

I think we've only really started to do that in the last year and a half.  Whilst we started that journey five years ago, maybe six years ago, in terms of signing up to that charter and making those initial strides, I think only in the last two years have we really tried to break it down just how this is everyone's responsibility.

It's not just the CEO to determine who's around him at that table. And as I said, we identified this gap. We kind of elevated some women into more senior roles. They were great, they were incredibly talented, and we hadn't really thought about the pipeline behind them. What we've done over the last few years is work with those business leaders, those managers. I think buy-in at senior level is relatively easy for this.

It's buy-in of your middle management that's really, not hard, I think they know what they need to do, but breaking that down into actionable steps for middle management is much harder. Your exec and most senior people will agree. They agree that it's good for business, it's necessary, and you need to do it, but helping those middle managers with the things that they need to do and they need to change in order to deliver that. I think that's the sweet spot that we are really getting into the middle of now.

Rebecca Donnelly:

Would you be willing to expand on that and explain what have been some of the successes?

Chelsea Sprong:

So last year we put in objectives for each of our executive committee.

Those objectives are different depending on which exec we're talking about. The person responsible for the tech have a different objective to the person responsible for the marketing team as well as the tech team. We've got front office in insurance, which is incredibly undiverse, and we've always tried to make those objectives achievable for the individual.

I know some companies might give everybody the same objective, give everybody the same goal. That, for us, wasn't something we could do. Some people were starting from so few women. Some people were starting from having great gender representation and giving them the same goal. Well, you weren't going to get it.

You were under challenging, some way over challenging and demoralising others. So we started by breaking down the size and scope and team that we are looking at, looking at the previous few years, how has it changed? What can we put in place? So for the tech team, they had a specific objective just to improve the number of women in the department overall by 10%.

Others were looking at improving the number of women in senior leadership by 30% because they had the chance to do so. In setting those senior objectives, the leaders have had to think how does that relate to their direct reports? We then, for our tech team in particular, split out the different divisions thinking our engineering team, what is the chance they have really to contribute to this?

Our project management team, we're likely to be more successful based on the skills that they have and,  again, breaking down those individual objectives.

Rebecca Donnelly:

I suppose, making it more personal and tailored to both that individual and their department it becomes harder to ignore, right? Because you can't just feel like it's something that somebody else over there can be working on. You know, it's about you and your specific role.

Chelsea Sprong:

Making it competitive for us was really helpful. We did this on purpose for the senior leaders. We shared all of their statistics against our main KPIs as well as gender. We have them on race and ethnicity and we have it on general population as well as leadership.

Sharing how they were all doing became a major tool for us.

Rebecca Donnelly:

Something people could be proud of.

Chelsea Sprong:

That element of competition really worked, and then again, looking at the tech team and breaking that down, sharing that with the senior leadership I think was a major turning point for us to start to see movements.

What we're now seeing is [that] we've perhaps gone too target focused and we're now having to break that down into reframing the why we do this.  Not just chasing numbers, but actually that's a nicer problem to have because we're still making progress against those targets. We just need to put the story back in.

Rebecca Donnelly:

Let's talk a little bit more about the tech department. You talked about that earlier, and this is the Tech Talent Charter. What specific challenges did you find when trying to address diversity and inclusion in your tech roles?

Chelsea Sprong:

The data analysis showed some real differences. Why I always talk about data being so important is because you make so many assumptions, but looking at the data will help you really understand what your challenges are. Our tech team is split broadly between the US and the UK. When we looked at the data in the US, we had great gender diversity. The UK [data] was shocking. We were sort of 70-80% male in the UK. Specifically London was our biggest challenge, so that isolated a problem for us.

Point on objectives. The US leaders, were focusing on something different to the UK leaders. We've typically hired experienced professionals. We don't have a graduate program into really any parts of the company, but we certainly don't have into tech. Headcount for us is extremely limited and given huge growth in our tech team a few years ago, the growth has sort of stalled while we try and make sure that we're focusing on the right things. So there's limited opportunity to recruit and there is a huge amount of activity and workload in our tech team currently, as I'm sure there are for a lot of people. There is a real fear then about bringing people in that might take some training to get up to speed.

That's the main challenges that our tech team have had.

Rebecca Donnelly:

How are you going about combating some of those challenges?

Chelsea Sprong:


Rebecca Donnelly:

Yes. I think that's a really good word.

Chelsea Sprong:

We've got some really great senior leaders that are brought in and know what needs to change. From a recruitment perspective, for example, we've put in place some guidelines about the steps managers have to follow to be able to recruit. Have we checked the job description? Is the job description actually attractive? Are we talking about some of the great family friendly policies that we have? Have we made sure that we've got a diverse panel interviewing the candidate? Have we bought the recruitment agents on board?

The senior leaders that sign it off want to see all of that evidence before they agree an offer. That's been really helpful to get the managers knowing the steps that they have to do before they can make an offer.

Talk about persistence, explaining to our engineering team that we can't keep having this conversation. I've now had this conversation three times every year. If you tell me that again next year without us moving anywhere, we're going to still have that conversation in 10 years time. We have great buy-in from senior leadership. Can we start up an apprentice program to think about growing our own talent?

How can we start to attract more women internally and breaking down the fear that it's going to take a while to train people by showing them how long it's currently taking them to hire, you know, 12 months for some of our senior roles.

Rebecca Donnelly:

You could be using that time to train someone.

Chelsea Sprong:

Yeah, exactly and really showing some of the problems in the team that could be solved by greater diversity.

We are still grappling with a lot of those. I think the buy-in is there, they understand what they need to do. We are just sorting out how do we make sure we can properly grow our own talent, but they at least have the confidence that other parts of the tech team have been there and done that and they're following great examples.

Rebecca Donnelly:

Well, we're talking on this episode about moving from awareness to action, and I'd love to come back to that word you use persistence because I think it's such an important word. Even at the start of this conversation we were talking about, do you get people to take that first step but of course, once you've taken the first step, there are all the other steps you need to take and you need to keep coming back to people. Keep motivating, keep inspiring them to take action and continue to take these issues seriously. How do you do that? You've talked about a lot of individual personal conversations.

What experiences have you had and challenges have you had in just trying to keep that motivation going and keeping people focused on the goal?

Chelsea Sprong:

I used to think that when it came to diversity and inclusion, the more I was asked to be part of conversations, the more I was required, the more people brought me in, the more successful I was.

What I've realised is actually it's the opposite. I need to be needed less. Seeing the teams that have been able to take the ownership for these conversations themselves, that's where we've seen great progression. So my focus has been really working with senior leaders to make sure that when they have those conversations with their direct reports, I don't need to be there.

They're talking about the importance between them and they're coming up with those solutions. I can put in place the checks to make sure it's being done and brainstorm if we are hitting roadblocks. But the real key is them having the confidence to talk about it without HR in the room, without the diversity lead in the room to really think, why is this important to us?

I think that's been really important. The persistence. We showcase that data in many different ways. We talk about it over and over again. We try and share how different teams are doing things. We all know what the problems are. We're all incredibly aware, but what is it that we can take from different examples that might fit for different teams?

And let's give it a go. If it doesn't work, oh well, at least we've tried something. We can put that in the pile to say, well, that particular initiative didn't go anywhere, but it's that persistence. I did a session for our tech team on data gap in diversity and spoke about some of the issues that I know you'll be aware of around, you know, car seat belts mainly being designed around a male body or around the time of the pandemic when automatic soap dispensers weren't recognising black skin types and showing [them] you design these solutions. If you didn't have diversity, look at the impact that's having. This isn't just a PR stunt by the company. It actually makes them better at a job. I said, we have a diverse company. We pitch to diverse clients. If the thought process going into how we run the tech team behind that isn't diverse, look at the problems we are going to run into.

Rebecca Donnelly:

I wanted to ask just a little bit more about data. You talked about data a few times already, and the importance of it. What data has been most valuable to you and how frequently do you measure?

Chelsea Sprong:

I attend our exec committee every quarter to showcase how everyone is doing and how we're doing overall. We've got two public targets that we're trying to meet and we've got time scales in place, so I go every quarter. That's helpful to take a snapshot in time.

For some teams, and our tech team is one of them that don't recruit huge amounts - it's a low turnover team - it has one of the most helpful pieces of data that we use is our promotion data. So just because maybe the team is only increased its number of women in the team by 1%, for example, I can showcase, well actually, 60% of their promotions were women. We can see that the behaviours and the thought process and how we're approaching it is right even though the headline figure might not change. I think that promotion has been really, really important to us and it takes away that fear, I think sometimes of what we struggle with when it comes to recruitment.

Recruitment's one way of solving the problem.  All we do probably as tech teams is fight each other for great female talent, but what are we doing internally to solve the problem? And I think that has been really important.

Rebecca Donnelly:

So not just measuring it at one end of the pipeline, but all the way through. Thinking more broadly about the tech sector, that what you observe and what you kind of learn from other organisations. Why do you think progress is so slow on boosting the number of women in tech?

Chelsea Sprong:

I think we overcomplicate it and I think we continually allow ourselves to hear the fact that it's too hard.

I don't believe that solving the problem in tech is any harder than it is for our front office. So we are going to solve it in both places, so let's just crack on and start doing it. I worry sometimes all the awareness about all of the problems, all it does is make people think, well, yeah, that's really hard.

As we've seen in some parts of our company, there's a fear that what we're trying to do is get rid of men. I was asked the question once in a presentation, how would we achieve our targets and was I going to start firing men? And you laugh - this is the thing. And I thought, well, that's illegal.

First of all, I'm not just going to go around and pick on random men, but we are growing, we are a growing company. Our head count growth is by how much percent, even just on natural attrition. If we did that better, it's not women instead of men. It's women and men and breaking that down for people, that takes time.

That's not going to happen on your first conversation, even for someone on their 10th conversation, but you approach it again and they might get it on the 11th conversation.

Rebecca Donnelly:

Persistence. That is the keyword of this episode,  isn't it?  But let's get practical now. At the Tech Talent Charter, we really like to give tangible insights to our Signatories and our listeners so that they can go away and start making a change today.

In every episode of in:tech, we ask our guests to share some of that tangible advice and things that listeners can put into practice in three minutes, three weeks and three months. So that's something you can do right now within three minutes of listening to this podcast. Then a practical action that you can take in three weeks to start to affect more meaningful change. And finally, how in three months you can transform that into longer term impact.

Chelsea, where should they start? What can companies do within three minutes of listening to this podcast?

Chelsea Sprong:

With these sorts of questions, I always think I need to come up with something really exciting and sexy and something that no one said before, but my answers are actually, quiet boring.

I think in three minutes you need to practice what you preach and think does the company have my data? Data is so important, so let me just log into the HR system or check that I have given the company my data. Look around yourself and think, if I'm a leader who is in my immediate team, just start to build an awareness of the diversity around you. Who's in the committees that I might chair or I'm a part of, and just build that awareness and actually map it out. Think where am I seeing that? I think that's something everyone can do in three minutes. Think about who are the most influential voices to you and do you genuinely have diversity around you? So starting with awareness.

Rebecca Donnelly:

Absolutely. You know, we talk about awareness into action, but awareness has to be the building block to start with, doesn't it?

What about three weeks? What can they do next in three weeks to really start to put a plan into place?

Chelsea Sprong:

I think in three weeks, starting some of those initial data cuts. You will have, in the UK, gender diversity. We need to have it from a payroll perspective. So starting to understand what's the starting point for this particular team?

What does it look like over the last few years? Have we spotted trends? If you have recruitment data, great. If you have development data, great. Don't overcomplicate it straight away and start to think what are the building blocks that we are starting with? It might be better than you think. It might be worse than you think.

I think sometimes we can really get stuck in a data vortex and think, oh, let's just keep cutting it again and again and can you showcase this, but from a different angle. [Instead of] just drawing a line and saying, this is what we're going to measure. We can't keep cutting it in a different way. Deciding [in] three weeks is a great amount of time for you to do that.

Bring in other people into the team that's doing it as well. Challenge your own assumptions. Make sure you've got diversity in the team and are analysing the data. That's important.  Then in three weeks time, you've got a really good state of play.

Rebecca Donnelly:

What can you measure and how are you going to measure it?

Okay, so then what about three months? So you focus on awareness. You've looked at what data you've got, how you're going to measure it. How can you then transform that into something more meaningful within three months?

Chelsea Sprong:

I think based on your current state of play, you can start to set some goals for that three months.

What do we want to be different in three months time and what are the opportunities to do that? If we are going through a major hiring process, that's an obvious one. If actually we just want to keep analysing that data or we want to check that promotion piece. If we're coming into salary review, are we going to add that in?

What do we want to be different in three months time? Setting those goals and then reporting back on them at the end of that three months to see how successful. It's boring. [Chuckles]

Rebecca Donnelly:

No, no, not at all. You have just taken us from awareness to action within between three minutes and three months. That's exactly where we wanted to get to.

If you were feeling optimistic, not just thinking about the work that you're doing at Beazley, but across the tech sector more broadly, what progress do you think we might see in the next three years? Let's be optimistic.

Chelsea Sprong:

In three years, what I would love to see is that we have a whole cohort of fantastic women that we've invested in. So we are investing in them today and in three years time, they're starting to be our managers and leaders of the future. But, If we wait for three years time to see what naturally happens, nothing's going to happen.

Optimistically, I think that's what we can do. We didn't end up in this situation naturally and undiverse. I think lots of people think it happened naturally, but it didn't.

We had bias and there's all those things that led to where we are. So we've got to unpick those now. There are some fantastic women owned companies doing some brilliant things in this space and I would urge people to start partnering with and putting their money into those and start bringing women through into those programs.

We need to come together as a whole industry to solve this problem and look at it as something we do collectively, as opposed to it being an individual effort. We didn't get here on our own, so we're only going to solve the problem all together.

Rebecca Donnelly:

So lots of opportunity, but we need to stay persistent.

Chelsea Sprong:


Rebecca Donnelly:

Well, that brings us to the end of this episode, so it's just left for me to say a huge thank you to our guest, Chelsea Sprong, and of course to all of you for listening. If you'd like to find out more about the Tech Talent Charter, or anything we've talked about on this episode, you can find us at or on Twitter at @TechCharterUK.

If you like what you've heard today, you can subscribe to this podcast to be the first to hear about new episodes and for more great insights from our incredible guests. I'm Rebecca Donnelly. Please join me again on in:tech the diversity and inclusion podcast from the Tech Talent Charter.