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Mergers and acquisitions (M&As) put a strain on any organization—with employees often reporting feelings ranging from ambivalence to outright fear. In the middle of such complex changes, it is all too easy for diversity and inclusion (D&I) to slip down the priority list.

A common reaction among business leaders is that post-merger D&I activity needs to wait for things to “calm down.” Yet the reality is that it is a golden opportunity to ensure the new culture that a merger brings with it a thread of inclusion. Otherwise, although things may seem calm on the surface, the toxicity of hidden biases and assumptions will be sowing the seeds of problems in the years to come.

So, how can insurance industry leaders best harness the challenges and opportunities of creating a post-merger inclusive culture to get the best of both worlds?

Various studies have reported that effective onboarding, along with clear guidance on attitudes, values and behaviors, are key components of a successful M&A. It is not just about price and due diligence. So, investing in D&I activity from Day 1 of the new combined organization will lead to valuable benefits in terms of culture and talent integration.

The post-merger period is an opportunity to re-evaluate and reset your own organization as well as those you are merging with. Reassessing your inclusion programs alongside those of any new partner can help smooth the path to future integration. Understanding the culture, processes and training in place when it comes to D&I will give you a clearer picture of the road ahead and help identify conflicts and similarities of culture and language as you move forward.

“You cannot control the demographics and values of companies you acquire, but you can ensure that your senior teams, hiring managers and those involved in any reduction strategies have the tools they need to mitigate and reduce bias in these decisions.”
Cultural integration begins at onboarding. This initial touchpoint is an important place to lay out explicit expectations about the behaviors and values of your organization. Taking the time to make implicit aspects of your workplace explicit can save issues down the line. This provides the perfect opportunity to look at where these implicit rules might not be inclusive and change them. Think about organizational philosophies, communication styles, valued traits and so on.

One of the most pressing issues during M&As is the need to retain key talent in uncertain times. The replacement and reduction strategies that often come with M&As must keep one eye on diversity. You cannot control the demographics and values of companies you acquire, but you can ensure that your senior teams, hiring managers and those involved in any reduction strategies have the tools they need to mitigate and reduce bias in these decisions. In many senior teams, one wrong step can reduce pay equity and gender balance, for example. Never have these skills and evaluations been more vital, with eyes on every decision after a merger. Evidencing a fair and inclusive process builds trust in the organization to make equitable decisions and retain high performers.

When it comes to mergers and acquisitions, many organizations will be adding in a whole new culture, region or language to their work. D&I plays a vital role in ensuring that colleagues have the skills to thrive with people from other countries. You may need to think more globally about what tools are needed to support employees and leaders alike. Psychological safety training may be required to ensure risks are avoided—or greater support on managing biases when new regions come into play. The post-merger arena is a vital space to grow your tools and resources.

When organizations come together, it is inevitable that they will judge each other’s competence at both an organizational and individual level based on the “brand” of the legacy companies. One party might assume that everyone in the legacy organization is excellent at analytics but not so good at customer service; the other might see their new peers as salespeople with the gift of the gab. It is often easy to overlook real talent and be distracted by the myths that come with the legacy organization—how their people dress, walk and talk, for example.

In these situations, it is important to respect and celebrate the past. After all, the businesses have been brought together to deliver excellence from both parties. You need to ensure you do not allow employees to be hijacked by assumptions and bias during these processes. One practical way of addressing this is to encourage everyone to stop and think before automatically reacting with “this is how we used to do it” or “I’m legacy X…”

The effect of a merger on clients should also not be overlooked. They may have concerns about whether the new organization will continue to provide the prices and services in the same manner they have enjoyed—or whether things will deteriorate as employees leave or are distracted by the merger itself.

In spite of the benefits merging organizations seek to initiate, client loss is still a possibility that needs to be addressed. The bias that your clients may carry about an acquiring or merging partner can affect how they see the next deal. If there has been no attempt at creating an inclusive environment for your teams, they may still be presenting their own legacy—perhaps making oblique references that suggest they are not in full support of the merger. This can then play to the client’s assumptions and ultimately cost you the business.

Deciding what parts of the culture make the most people happy and declaring it via mission statements and culture relaunches has to this point been the order of the day post-merger for many organizations. This approach may have been, at best, ineffectual in the past. Today it is strategic suicide.

In the 21st century—with the emphasis on flexibility, a global approach and technological capability—an organization’s culture must be the driver of its post-merger strategy. And it is hard to imagine a scenario where inclusion would not be a critical element. Waiting for things to “bed down” post-merger may be missing strategic advantage. Done correctly, post-merger inclusion can give you the best of both worlds.