Bruce Stevenson's Account Executive Michael Hashim spoke with Army Staff Sergeant Jo Mundie to discuss the challenges facing inclusion and diversity in the workplace and the skills crossover between insurance and the Armed Forces. Michael is also an active reservist in the Armed Forces.
If I were somebody looking to work in a professional environment, like insurance, after serving in the army, what do you feel are the transferrable skills that the Army gives service personnel to enable career progression?
It’s well known that being in the Armed Forces encourages leadership qualities but there is so many more skills and qualities that time in service can develop. Timekeeping, presentation, attention to detail, focus, multitasking, getting the job over the line, are all deeply coveted skills in any job but there are so many more skills. At the moment you can transfer a Command leadership and Management qualification into recognised civilian grades.
Just as in business, it’s the same in the army. We all have individual jobs, but we’re also part of a large team and you don’t want to be the one who lets your team down. Self-discipline is crucial to the individual, whilst personal pride is important too. The Army promotes this self-management, being present, looking after yourself, understanding your role and ensuring the success of the wider team.
Companies like Bruce Stevenson have been working to create an inclusive ethos. What would you say to a company that doesn’t have inclusion and diversity policies in place?
There’s a diverse pool of talent out there and having a recruitment policy to engage with that will benefit any organisation. If you don’t have a diverse policy, then you run the risk of missing out on great talent. Employers on a global scale, need to tackle unfair biases. As society gets more diverse, employers need to move with the times and show they “get it”.
One thing to consider is how you project yourself and take a look at the bigger picture. Stonewall is a good example of measuring what you’re doing, what you could be doing and suggest a pathway to follow. It’s a matter of looking around you at different companies, understand what their policies are and what you can learn from them. Positive role models are essential, particularly if the decision-makers within an organisation are of the same background with the same outlook on life.
Both society and business have experienced massive cultural changes in the last 20 years, how much would you say equality and diversity has changed within the Armed Forces?
20 years ago you weren’t allowed to be gay in the army. An organisation called Rank Outsiders challenged the 3 Forces, and eventually, the European Court of Human Rights ruled the ban was unlawful. Since then the Army has been working at making itself a more inclusive organisation. During those twenty years, it’s gone on to become one of the top Stonewall employers and is now sitting within the top 50.
In 2000, serving rules were officially changed, but would you say this change was reflected within the internal culture of the Armed Forces?
It looked great on paper, but education was still needed. On the 11th January, you had to stay “in the closet”, on the 12th of January you could “come out”, but you still ran the risk of meeting resistance. So, day one after the legislation came in, it would still have been extremely difficult and those people at the time were pioneers for everyone today. Since 2000, we’ve seen people support LGBT+ and we’ve seen a big change in people’s attitudes to be more supportive of diversity.
What role does Stonewall play in promoting equality and diversity and who can sign up?
Any organisation who signs up to Stonewall complete their research through surveys, which engage with all the levels of the organisation. The survey sets out to get an understanding of diversity within organisations and give direction on how to challenge negative attitudes. Hundreds of companies come to the Stonewall events and they’re great networking opportunities to learn from other people’s experiences in improving equality and diversity.
In Scotland alone, the Army conducted a manual survey at events about equality and diversity attitudes towards LGBT within the Armed Forces in Scotland over a three-year period. This went from a disappointing 28% in 2017, to 71% in 2018 and onto 82% in 2019, which is excellent. My personal goal is to get us to 100% and stay there. We’ve got there through education, it’s really that simple and education is the key.
What type of support do you get from colleagues at public events?
We never force service personnel to take part in events, we only ask people to volunteer, and over a period the uptake on this has grown significantly. For example, at Pride this year we had 37 volunteers only 11 were LGBT and the rest were all LGBT Allies, out to support the event. I find that LGBT Allies look to engage more and more in our events, which is fantastic. It’s great to have support, not just from fellow LGBT colleagues, but a hugely diverse group within our organisation.
Some businesses have faced accusations of ‘faking’ diversity. Do you ever receive scepticism from people that the Armed Forces aren’t really as inclusive as they claim to be? If so, how do you tackle that?
You do get people concerned there’s straight service personnel trying to sell LGBT to them. When you put the uniform on, you are in uniformity. The army is a lot about being a collective force, but you are also an individual, which some people view as a contradiction. We’re always trying to get out and meet people from different walks of life and get the chance to tell people you can be an individual within a collective. Pride isn’t simply LGBT pride, pride is pride within yourself.
I remember a recent Facebook post, the writer accused the Army of having frogmarched straight service personnel to an event to boost numbers, but the irony of it was the writer of the post couldn’t tell who was LGBT and who wasn’t. If you can’t tell which is which- then that’s a good thing.
As insurance brokers, we understand how important it is to engage with communities and build lasting relationships. How important is community engagement to you?
We're very focused on our community engagement in Scotland. I was reluctant to be involved at first, but it’s been a great success and has been nothing but positive. We do events to get our message out there and engage with other companies. We do this to allow others to learn from the progress we’ve made as an equal employer and challenge stereotypes.
When the average person is asked to imagine diverse organisations, the Army doesn’t immediately jump out as one that promotes diversity. But when you consider where it was, to where it is now, the army has come on leaps and bounds. Nowadays, as long as you can do your job, be a great ambassador, nobody cares who you are and where you’re from. It’s all about your ability as a person and your attitude to life.
I heard that you recently won an individual award for your community work. Do you want to tell us about that?
Peter Ferguson, awards director of Proud Scotland called me up a few months ago. I was completely shocked to learn I’d been nominated as a finalist for the Frontline award. This covers all uniformed services in Scotland and looks at their work and takes into consideration the role someone plays within the community, schools, workplace and their social circles.
I went to the awards, just to enjoy myself and take in the evening. But when my name was announced as the winner it was completely unexpected. I never expected to ever get put forward for any award, I was totally overwhelmed, and I still am today.
We'd like to thank Jo for taking the time to speak with us. As an equal opportunities employer, Bruce Stevenson is fully committed to promoting diversity in both our recruitment and within the workplace.