Canadian Underwriter

How Fairfax is addressing anti-Black racism

August 28, 2020   by Greg Meckbach

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The corporate parent of Northbridge Insurance has formed its own anti-racism committee and joined a new Canadian organization that aims to create opportunities for visible minorities and indigenous people in the industry.

“We have formed a Black Initiatives Action Committee,” said Prem Watsa, CEO of Toronto-based Fairfax Financial Holdings Ltd., whose insurance subsidiaries include Northbridge and several global insurers.

Watsa added July 31 he personally has joined the Canadian Council of Business Leaders Against Anti-Black Systemic Racism, which last month formed The BlackNorth Initiative.

“The initiative is a call to action to rally the Canadian business community to eliminate anti-Black systemic racism and to create opportunities within the workplace for Black people,” Watsa said during the earnings call.

Fairfax’s own Black Initiatives Action Committee was formed at the Fairfax corporate level, Watsa said during a recent conference call discussing Fairfax’s financial results for the second quarter. The committee is “made of up individuals from our insurance and reinsurance operations to discuss these issues openly and to create more opportunities for people from the Black community and for all minorities.”

In addition to Northbridge, Fairfax owns London insurer Brit PLC, Odyssey Group, Allied World, and Crum & Forster, among others.

“Organizations need to look at how the leadership reflects their employee base and customer base,” said Michael Thompson, co-chair of the Black Employee Network at TD Insurance, in an earlier interview. “When they don’t see people who look like them within the leadership ranks, that is somewhat of a tell in terms of, ‘Am I going to be able to reach my aspirations in this organization if they are not hiring leaders that look like me or have similar backgrounds? And will I be understood within this organization?’”

Thompson was commenting in general on the P&C industry.

Other Canadian insurance executives have recently told Canadian Underwriter that the industry could be doing more to ensure some communities are better represented in the industry. Their remarks will be published in a forthcoming edition of the print magazine.

“For Black Canadians and indigenous Canadians, we have not done enough,” Saad Mered, CEO of Zurich Canada, told Canadian Underwriter earlier, commenting in general on the P&C industry. “We have not gone, I would say, aggressively in a structured way to high schools, to technical colleges, to universities that have more of an affinity of these populations – and made the sales pitch of insurance and why insurance is a great career.”

More work needs to be done within corporate Canada to improve the representation of the BIPOC (Black, indigenous, and people of colour) communities, said Mary Lou Maher, KPMG’s Toronto-based global head of inclusion and diversity, in a recent interview.

“The horrible situation down in the U.S. certainly elevated the importance of eliminating racism,” said Maher, who is also a KPMG Canadian managing partner. “I don’t think the topic is new. Gender inequality has been around for decades and I do think corporate Canada has made strides on the gender front. Do we have a ways to go? Yes, for sure, but I do think the most recent events have really shone a light on the BIPOC communities.”

Canadian firms, including those in the P&C industry, need to look at their processes and decisions, “which may not be as bias-free as we would like,” added Maher.

The BlackNorth Initiative was created by the Canadian Council of Business Leaders Against Anti-Black Systemic Racism to combat anti-Black systemic racism in corporate Canada, the organization said July 17 in a release.

“The initiative challenges senior Canadian business leaders to commit their companies to specific actions and targets designed to end anti-Black systemic racism and create opportunities for all of those in the underrepresented BIPOC community.”

South of the border, George Floyd, a Black Minnesota resident, died May 25 after a police officer pressed his knee against Floyd’s neck for nearly eight minutes as Floyd pleaded that he couldn’t breathe.  Former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin has been charged with unintentional second-degree murder, third-degree murder, and second-degree manslaughter, ABC News reports. Allegations against Chauvin have not been proven in court.

“The racial inequality in our society is a pervasive issue that recently came to a breaking point with the tragic death of George Floyd,” said Dan Glaser, CEO of Marsh & McLennan Companies Inc., the world’s largest commercial brokerage.

“Systemic racism has caused inequities, injustice in health care, education, careers, wealth creation and freedom,” Glaser said during a July 30 conference call announcing Marsh & McLennan’s financial results for the second quarter. “The recent events have been shocking to many, and all-too-familiar to others.”

In addition to owning the commercial brokerage Marsh, parent firm Marsh & McLennan also owns reinsurance brokerage Guy Carpenter, management consulting firm Oliver Wyman and Mercer, which provides consulting services in human resources, benefits, pensions and investments.

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