Diversity@Sea: Sailing towards diversity

From May to October, 38 Allianz employees from various countries will participate in "Diversity @ Sea", an Allianz Global Diversity Initiative. The program will team them up for a week with disabled participants to sail tall ships off the coasts of Britain and France. Each week, they will share living quarters and learn how to sail and navigate under the guidance of ten permanent crew members. Their trips will follow in the wake of voyages by their UK Allianz Insurance colleagues, who were the first to partner with the UK-based Jubilee Sailing Trust (JST).

The JST is a charitable organization that promotes the social integration of physically disabled and able-bodied people. The organization brings them together to face the challenges of sailing a tall ship. JST owns two tall ships – the "Lord Nelson" and the "Tenacious".

"The experience is called 'Voyage to Development' because that’s what it's designed to do – challenge people physically, and emotionally by pushing them beyond their comfort zones,” says Paul Maidment, Trading Director at Allianz Commercial Insurance UK. "Able-bodied and disabled people alike have limitations to face and overcome. The JST voyages offer a unique environment for tackling them," said Maidment, who is also in charge of the JST program at Allianz Insurance.

The JST-tall ship "Tenacious" at anchor in Southhampton

Clement Booth on board the "Tenacious"

"We all have weaknesses or inherent disabilities that may not be obvious to others," adds Hannah Jaynes, development manager at Allianz Insurance UK. Jaynes spent a week sailing with the JST in January 2008: "It’s a challenge for anyone to try and discover abilities they perhaps didn't realize they had."

Clem Booth, Diversity Council sponsor and Allianz SE board member, acknowledges the personal and business relevance of the program: "Any of us can all be affected by a disability at any time," he says. "Because Allianz’s core business is risk, which we cover through different types of insurance, we have the opportunity to meet and interact with customers with disabilities. Our experience has taught us that they, too, need our understanding."

As part of the program, Booth visited the assembled team of the "Tenacious", anchored in Southampton, on May 19. Six Allianz employees from four countries will be on board for the subsequent voyage.

Sailing with the JST is hard work, but very rewarding. As an Allianz crew member, you are involved in every aspect of sailing, says Joe Roberts, senior development underwriter, Allianz Insurance, UK. Roberts spent a week sailing with the JST in February 2008: "It’s tiring because of the lack of sleep, shift work and hard manual labor. We learned how to raise and lower sails, climb masts, scrub decks, cook, clean and assist team mates."

Now back on dry land, Roberts feels he gained a different perspective on life during his Voyage to Development. "Being on night watch in the middle of a dark ocean gives you time to think and weigh what is really valuable in your life."

Nikki Allen, a financial analyst with Allianz Insurance Commercial division, spent a week on board the "Lord Nelson" in January 2007. She also experienced a shift in her personal attitudes: "I am more positive these days. I realize that I’m capable of achieving a lot more than I thought I could."

To get a feel for what life and work on board was like for her wheelchair confined buddy, Allen volunteered to spend a day in a wheelchair. The experience was humbling. “I often felt I was in the way on deck,” she said, "especially when the ropes were being hauled in. And everything took a lot longer than I had anticipated." She also saw that people didn’t know how to react to her; when to stand back and just let her get on with it, or when to offer help.

As Graeme Bunn from the Manchester office so aptly sums up: "With a little help, anyone can achieve almost anything – no matter if he's disabled or not."

This article first appeared in the employee magazine "Allianz Journal".

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JST-participant Nikki Allen