Carmel O’Brien, HR Director at AXA Insurance Ireland

7th July 2020

This week Carmel O’Brien, HR Director of AXA Ireland and WMB Diversity Ambassador talks about the importance of role models and how hybrid working can drive greater D&I.

As a WMB Magazine Diversity Ambassador, how important is it to have role models?

I think it’s essential to have role models particularly in the work place. No matter how often a message is communicated, people will really only believe it when they can see it in role models throughout the organisation.

“Our most successful D&I initiatives in AXA have been through the use of role models.”

Do you think the positive ground gained in diversity & inclusion might be eroded during this crisis?

No absolutely not.  I think the focus on people has increased during this crisis and the home working model has proven to be successful during this crisis. Hybrid working (a combination of home and office working) is going to become part of our new work patterns going forward.  I believe that this will drive more D&I in the workforce in the future.

How has AXA evolved to accommodate the changing needs of its customers and employees during this pandemic?

We had all of our employees working from home in a very short time at the beginning of the crisis and we needed to support with tools for the job such as desks, chairs, monitors etc as well as a host of Mental Health and Wellbeing Initiatives. In relation to our customers, we closed our branch network so all of our customer interactions were either online or by phone.  Its been a stressful time for all and I think our employees worked really hard to empathise with customers and deal with issues as promptly and pragmatically as possible.

Has upskilling played a part in transitioning your employees to remote working?

Yes. We developed a lot of upskilling for all of our employees with a big focus on Mental Health and Wellbeing.   We also developed a host of Digital and Virtual training solutions on topics ranging from ‘Remote Working Toolkits’ to ‘Management of Dispersed Teams’.  We have held regular employee surveys throughout this period so we could react quickly to the key issues affecting our employees.  I think HR has been agile and responsive during this time.

Who are your current role models during these challenging times (political, business or other) and why?

Jacinda Ardern has been amazing in her leadership during this time.  She has shown a resolute, strong leadership combined with empathy and compassion.  Her messaging has been clear and consistent and comforting.  She is a leader that inspires trust.

How have you had to adjust your way of working in recent months?

I have been working from home like so many others and I have had to get used to those dreaded video calls. Its been strange to get a glimpse of your colleagues home environment whilst on these video calls.  Personally, I miss the impromptu catch ups and the collaboration sessions in the office most but I have compensated by ensuring that I set up regular team sessions and coffee break conversations.

Has it all been challenging or are there ‘silver linings’?

I think this challenging period is one that we will never forget but I know that for many, the silver lining is the time that they have had back over the last few months.  Without the daily commute, many of our employees are spending more time with their families.

“Working from home provides greater flexibility which is why so many employees will be keen to continue some form of Hybrid working going forward.”

What role does technology play in your current working day and in communicating with your teams?

Technology has been essential during this time.  We are all familiar with Zoom, Skype, Teams etc and certainly, we could not have managed this crisis without the tools of technology.

Can you share one important lesson/observation you have made in recent months?

For me, it is the importance of staying connected to the humans in your life. Talking with friends and family through the Covid wobbles has been a great support and its definitely helped me through the last few months.