This week, Women in Banking and Finance caught up with Berta Owono Ruiz, Country Manager at Assurant in Spain, who talked to us about her role at Assurant, the evolution of the business, as well as the importance of equity.
Berta, you’ve been at Assurant for 13 years now. Tell us a bit about what you do in the business?
I am the country manager for Assurant in Spain, and I have the privilege of overseeing and managing the operations for the whole business there, as well as contributing to the global effort of providing innovative products that meet customer needs in the connected world. This includes providing excellence in customer services and management, developing new business opportunities, recruiting new staff, and ensuring the wellbeing and development of our existing workforce while driving profitable growth.
When I joined the business back in 2007, there was a real opportunity to help shape the direction of the business in Spain, both in terms of its impact in the insurance sector, but also alongside the emergence of what we were seeing around technology-enabled solutions that were shaping our industry.
Having previously worked in large financial and technology-driven institutions, including American Express, CIGNA and Mapfre, I was really excited by the prospects of joining a large international business, like Assurant, and being a part of delivering and articulating its local offer for businesses in Spain.
How have things changed at Assurant over the last 13 years?
Assurant has continually evolved over the years, and in every aspect of our business. We focus on anticipating trends in the mobile device and connected technology industries to ensure we are developing the right products and services for our clients and their customers. We also now have a greater focus on supporting the ever-evolving connected lifestyle of consumers.
As a business, we have also evolved in how we see and interact with the wider world around us. I am extremely proud of the great female representation across all of our major markets and at all levels of the business, including in senior leadership positions. At Assurant, we genuinely live out the fact that regardless of your gender, race, age, ethnicity, you can aspire to have a senior leadership role and know you will be supported every step of the way.
And this is an important culture that we have constantly nurtured and maintained over many years. Assurant’s culture allows you to feel like you are inside a community; and this community is aware of the importance of behaviours – of trust, transparency, and collaboration, as well as striving for equity for our people.
You mention behaviours as well as equity, what does equity mean for you?
Equity is the guarantee of fair treatment, access, opportunity, and advancement for everyone. For me it means taking care of and fostering the diversity that’s in your team. It is about giving people the opportunity and assurance that, independent of their gender, race, ethnicity or any other characteristic, they will receive the same treatment, salary consideration, and opportunity as any other person. And that’s why at Assurant, we have been placing greater emphasis and value on equity.
It’s also about directly addressing some of the structural inequalities that we know exist within the world, and which underrepresented groups particularly face, as we identify and eliminate barriers that have prevented the full participation of these groups. Therefore, it is essential that job requirements and workplace policies align, so that we can ensure an equal playing field for all employees.
What is Assurant doing to ensure greater equity in the business?
To make sure we’re thinking comprehensively about our approach, we decided that it was crucial to include ‘equity’ in how we talk about diversity and inclusion at Assurant. A focus on equity has ensured that we will work in ways that provide further access to opportunities and advancement to everyone at Assurant.
When it comes to our workforce, we are increasing the diversity of our pipeline with a number of recruitment programmes that are making this possible as we attract new talent to our company. At the same time, we want to retain diverse talent by embedding diversity, equity and inclusion throughout our talent management processes. We are also investing in training, learning and development as we deepen our understanding of the behaviours needed to uphold our diversity, equity and inclusion commitments. In addition, we have created a new Executive Inclusion Council, chaired by our president and CEO, to ensure that our leadership are engaged and accountable, as well as additional strategic partnerships, community engagement opportunities and supplier diversity policies to support our diversity, equity and inclusion commitments.
Assurant is also very serious about employee development. We celebrate that people have different paths and trajectories, and we want all of our people to feel encouraged and to enable them to flourish. Assurant really believes in and values its people and their development and has created a number of fantastic high potential programmes for our workforce. For example, I recently completed a leadership course in business administration and management through Harvard University, and there are many other programmes like this in place.
What tangible goals does Assurant have around DEI?
Our values of Common Sense, Common Decency, Uncommon Thinking, and Uncommon Results guide the way we support our customers and work with one another. We believe that Assurant should reflect our community and customers we serve. We do that by focusing on how we hire, develop, promote, and retain talent. We encourage the understanding of people’s experiences from different cultures to help ensure we have greater insight and use that insight in ways that improve and enrich others. One way we do that is by providing a safe space to hold regular Courageous Conversations during which our leaders and employees actively listen as colleagues share personal experiences. We use these sessions to collectively talk and think about how experiences and misconceptions related to, for example, race, gender, or sexual orientation can be discussed, better understood and addressed. In 2021, we are introducing company-wide diversity, equity, and inclusion training for leaders to ensure they are equipped to lead inclusively. To increase awareness for all of our employees, we celebrate a variety of heritage months and observances like International Women’s Day to educate and create awareness of the contributions of historically underrepresented groups.
Everyone’s experiences are different and nuanced and that’s really important to understand. I am of mixed heritage and I know what it feels like to have an African surname whilst living in Spain. Therefore, understanding people’s backgrounds and experiences are of paramount importance to us; diversity enriches our business and makes us more innovative, which is hugely important in the industry, so we’ve made this one of our priorities.
What excites you about the future of DEI at Assurant?
I am genuinely excited about the evolution of the business and where it’s heading. What really is important is that each local market also has the flexibility to cater to the local needs of the business, whether those are cultural or business differences, as we uphold the values of Assurant.
Despite the impact of COVID-19, we are still able to maintain our commitment to each other and to our clients. This has strengthened our ability to deliver innovative products and services and to serve our internal and external communities.
Multiple smart and safe working initiatives have been developed around the global business so that we can stay connected and check in on each other. Our culture and our people are integral, and we want to make sure we can maintain that environment remotely. Our sense of being part of a team makes each one of us more aware of the importance of our individual cultures and harnessing an inclusive culture continues to celebrate those differences.
We are enriched from those around us and I continue to look forward to the leading role that Assurant is playing in our industry and the connected world.