Tackling bias in our work

Men at top of tall ladders while woman is stuck at bottom of a shorter one

Actuaries have a huge amount of influence on society (even if most of our friends still don’t understand what we do – my partner tells people I’m a fortune-telling mathematician). Our work underpins legislation, government strategy and business decisions, and ultimately impacts people’s lives. This is what drew me to the profession in the first place. I was looking for an opportunity to apply my technical skill and interest in mathematics in order to achieve a tangible, positive impact on the world around me.

However, as the saying goes, with great power comes great responsibility. It would be remiss not to acknowledge the detrimental impact that failing to address prejudice and bias within our work can have. This risk is not new. There has been a long-running debate about objectivity and data, and the influence that pre-held beliefs and biases can have on the design of technology, AI and policies.

The power involved in constructing the data-collection process and the use and management of data, especially when these influence government and business strategy and planning, is undeniable. We are all human with our own unconscious biases, hence we have a professional responsibility to ensure that our purportedly ‘objective’ work does not inadvertently reinforce, perpetuate or exacerbate structural inequalities. 

The IFoA has a key role to play in this. It not only guides the development and actions of its members, but also serves as an employer and regulator, with oversight of the actuarial content its members produce. Mitigating the impact of biases, through education and awareness, as well as diverse and inclusive teams, is necessary to addressing how structural biases can influence our work.

Over the last decade, I have seen more and more individuals, companies and governments begin to recognise the importance of addressing diversity, equity and inclusion authentically and this seems to be gaining pace. I am pleased to see the IFoA embracing this more actively than ever and believe it is pivotal for the future of the profession and to ensure we are meeting our professional duties.

For me, the IFoA’s new DEI strategy addresses this twofold.

  • Firstly, it aims to increase diverse representation within the profession and reduce barriers to entry. By achieving a diverse and inclusive workforce, we can foster an environment of learning with creative solutions that are dynamic, forward looking and capable of challenging the status quo. Teams with a range of perspectives, lived experiences and skills should be able to better identify and mitigate biases, and champion and represent the diverse challenges and needs of society.
  • Secondly, it seeks to advocate for the importance of DEI considerations and to use our influence to collaborate with others. I am very hopeful that in our role as influential stakeholders, this external commitment will have a positive impact more widely. When combined with more training, knowledge and open discussion about these topics, we have the opportunity to contribute to change that reaches much further than the corners of our own (home) offices.

As a profession, we have made many positive strides and I welcome this strategy as a strong continuation of the good work that has already gone on behind the scenes. I am proud that my workplace has truly embedded DEI into our culture; this has given me the confidence to add my own experiences and identity to my work and to stand up as a role model for others.

I hope that the IFoA’s new strategy will successfully encourage more open discussion and visibility around these topics and will allow members to find strength and meaning in their differences and support from their profession in the same way that I have. If this strategy can successfully encourage more open discussion and visibility, I am confident that it can pave the way for influential role models of all backgrounds and identities. This will be a powerful step towards achieving a more representative and robust profession, which can better serve the public good.