Inclusion Champions

When talking to Shirley Hammond about diversity, equity and inclusion in the workplace, it quickly becomes clear why she believes it ought to be a priority for all companies.

“There is such a variety of cultures and socio-economic differences that exist in a melting pot like London. Being passionate about diversity, equity and inclusion is very easy for me. My question is, with such diversity at your doorstep, why would you not want to reflect this diversity within your company? After all, it is a proven fact that the more diverse your workforce, the more diverse ideas about products and innovations there will be, so it's a win-win situation for all involved.”

Shirley joined Chaucer in 2020 as Legal Counsel for the credit and political risk team, and within her first year at the company, the world was rocked by the murder of George Floyd and the pandemic, with its isolating lockdowns. These major events highlighted the importance of diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives; the need for all to feel safe and welcome in their environment regardless of their cultural or socio-economic background. Shirley became particularly keen to increase awareness of the range of issues that minorities or underrepresented groups face in the workplace, considering the traditional nature of the insurance market. Building on the initiatives Chaucer had already put in place to create a more inclusive environment at Chaucer, Shirley wanted to encourage more action to review internal policies and celebrate diversity within the company. The Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Advisory Group (DEIAG) was created and approved by the Board, with Shirley voted in as its first Chair.

During the years that followed, in conjunction with the Human Resources department, the demographic at Chaucer was examined to understand how the concept of equity is applied at the company, and how best to ensure that there is a level playing field for all. The DEIAG now consists of ten individuals from across the business working within six specialist frameworks: Gender, Multicultural, Multi-generational, Socio-economic, LGBTQ+, and Disability/Neurodiversity. The DEIAG and its subgroups work to create events, activities and monthly newsletters to keep staff informed about news and events across the globe

Diving further into Shirley’s background, her story illuminates why diversity, equity and inclusion mean a lot to her. Born in Hackney and raised by her maternal grandmother in Jamaica, she emigrated to the USA to be with her mother and attend university, where she majored in chemistry. She often found herself the only female of colour in several of her classes.

“Diversity and inclusion have always been a part of my life. My upbringing was quite interesting, having moved from London to Jamaica at a very young age. Even though I might have looked like some of the people on the island, I was already different because I had an accent. But like so many other British born Caribbean I was raised by my grandmother on the island, and not by my parents. Living in different countries, there's always some reason why you are different, and either you work very hard at feeling included or somebody has to give you a break so that you can feel included.”

After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in chemistry, Shirley went on to teach chemistry and biology to students from all backgrounds and socio-economic groups, at an all-boys’ high school in Newark, New Jersey. Later, she would switch careers to become a research scientist in the chemical and petrochemical industry - and once again found herself the only female of colour in her field.

Finding herself in this position many times, Shirley quickly came to embrace and love her differences. As an outsider, she had to learn how to feel included and became a champion for making others feel included.

Some years later, once her children were both at school and having moved to Houston, Texas, Shirley made the decision to retrain in Law. She passed the bar whilst raising two teenage sons and went on to join a private law firm specialising in insolvency, commercial and immigration law. When she moved to the UK in 2006, she requalified as a solicitor and since then, has primarily worked within financial services. This extensive experience has evidently solidified Shirley’s understanding of human rights and the application of law, and influenced her passion to fight for inclusion, equity and justice.

In October 2022 Shirley was seconded to be Inclusion Champion at Chaucer, a role created with the aim of providing a dedicated resource to enhance the company’s diversity, equity and inclusion agenda.

“I have experienced so much; I would love to impart some of this knowledge that I have gained from my lived experiences. I am accustomed to being in that space of being unique, so I know what it takes to make someone feel comfortable and included.”

Her Inclusion Champion work involves working closely with HR to look at Chaucer’s practices around hiring, inclusion and retention. For Chaucer, Shirley says, it is vitally important that the company takes real action to create an environment where all staff across the group feel included and able to be their authentic self.

Shirley is also closely involved with the company’s youth intake programmes, which bring bright young school and university leavers from diverse backgrounds into the business who may not otherwise have had knowledge or access to a company such as Chaucer.

“It is very important that young people have someone they can go to, to speak about anything with. When you are young, or if you are from an underrepresented group or underprivileged background, a place like an insurance company can be quite daunting. I work with Chaucer scholars, interns and apprentices, to make them feel more at home.”

A key part of Chaucer’s approach to DE&I is about action rather than policies and pledges. In 2021 they launched the Chaucer scholarship scheme, which pays the university tuition fees and living expenses of a student who might otherwise not have the means to earn a degree. In addition, the company has a long running apprenticeship scheme which trains five or six students across several departments for 18 months, before seeking to employ those that wish to stay full time. It attracts up to 200 school and college leavers from backgrounds across the spectrum, including those on free school meals, or from minority ethnic groups, who might not have previously considered the insurance sector for a profession. Finally, the internship scheme provides 10-12 week summer placements for university students, creating a pipeline for the Graduate Scheme, as many who had not considered working within insurance obtain a taste of City life. The company works with third-party outreach charities who help ensure the candidates which come to Chaucer are diverse and that the programme encourages social mobility. Once here, Shirley is pivotal in ensuring these young people have a fulfilling and inclusive experience.

Has the landscape at Chaucer changed since she has been there? “Yes, but there is still work to be done across the industry to ensure the market becomes a more diverse place. This is not just about people of colour but also people from underrepresented or marginalised groups; people from the LGBTQ+ community, and people with disabilities, or neurodiversity. I feel blessed to be in a role which enables me to play such an active role in effecting change across the market. “

In her personal life, Shirley is an artist, an avid gardener and she loves to travel, always feeding her thirst for new ideas and creativity. Every spare weekend is spent either traveling or planning a trip.

As we close the conversation, Shirley is keen to impart this powerful message about Black History Month which is a key event in Chaucer DE&I calendar,

“It is a time to celebrate the diversity and beauty of people from the African diaspora, our numerous contributions, and accomplishments. We are passionate, loving and God fearing. During this month, let us celebrate all that makes us unique, black and proud.”