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Members challenged on their approach to disruption, diversity and innovation

Attracting and retaining millennial talent will become key to driving change

Businesses are on the brink of unprecedented disruption driven by technological and societal changes, and must ratchet up the speed with which they are responding, members heard at a joint thought leadership event with Willis Towers Watson's Gender Equity Network.

Despite the fact that in ten years' time, 85% of jobs will not exist like they do now, many businesses still underestimate the pace and scale of change. Indeed, according to Chris Langdon, co-author of Think the Unthinkable, many businesses routinely ignore some of their most pressing risks. "It's extremely difficult to make an organisation change," he said.

Large organisations are struggling to be flexible and agile, agreed Julia Graham, Airmic's deputy CEO and technical director. "We need to speed up our innovative thinking," she said. "Bury your head in the sand and you'll get swallowed. Once the change starts it speeds up."

Different is better than best

What is the WTW Gender Equity Network:

The Gender Equity Inclusion Network is a community within Willis Towers Watson who are committed to engaging colleagues in accelerating gender balance. With networks across the globe, activities are focused on supporting work / life balance for all; helping the career development and advancement of women; and creating awareness and supporting WTW achieve its Paradigm for Parity commitment.

Achieving innovative thinking is closely linked to issues around diversity, according to Tamara Box, managing partner at law firm Reed Smith, speaking in a panel debate. "We do our best thinking when we feel a little challenged [by different points of view]. Diversity makes us smarter. Research shows that diverse groups get to better answers."

A company's hiring process is key for implementing change, agreed Tim Murray, Airmic chairman. Don't just look for the right technical skills, he advised, but look for diversity of thought and aim to get a good and widely diverse gender, generational, cultural and personality mix. "When hiring, I look not only at people's technical skills but also how they think - what they read, what their outside interests are. I look for fit in a team and for future potential. Whether they are good at listening and communicating is also key."

No one does a job in a vacuum, Ms Box added. "It's not about the best person for the job. It's the best person for the team. Different is better than best."

Five millennial demands

The millennial generation will be central to driving change, and companies that don't adapt to the demands and preferences of the younger generations will not only struggle to attract talent, but will fail to be nimble in the face of disruption, delegates heard.

According to Amanda Scott, talent & rewards leader Great Britain and global client relationship director at Willis Towers Watson, there are five key things millennials want in the workplace: less hierarchy; a voice that is heard; to be able to think the unthinkable; to learn and grow, even if it means making sideways career moves; and authenticity.

Ms Scott said the notion of a work-life balance was "old news" for millennials. "It's work-life integration for this generation."

A new risk environment

The disruption maybe daunting, but the opportunities for all professionals are enormous, delegates heard. While many reports focus on the potential loss of jobs from new technology such as artificial intelligence, Ms Scott noted that for every one job lost from the internet, 2.6 were created. People and businesses must be forward thinking: "Technology is only a disruptor if you didn't think of it first."

For the risk profession, the opportunities are enormous, said Airmic's Ms Graham, but only if individuals are "willing to stand up and take the challenge". For example, when businesses "reinvent purpose" in the face of disruption, they put themselves into a new risk environment. It's up to the risk professional to ensure the risk appetite reflects these changes and does not inhibit the process of change, she argued.

"If you help with this, you're stepping up to have strategic influence," she added. "You are helping to synchronise your organisation's operational, strategic and tactical repositioning. Risk managers are well-placed to do this."