Not fitting in on purpose

A single red tulip in a field of yellow tulips
September 9, 2021

"We are taught to fit in from a young age. That has transcended into the core of working in organisations. While it is true that  a certain amount of fitting in has to happen - we have to interact with others, to be understood in a way that others can interpret and connect with. Yet, fitting in doesn’t build trust. It simply makes you easy to overlook."

Seth Godin
Entrepreneur, Social Influencer, Leadership Guru and Author of global best-seller This Is Marketing

The chance to shine comes from not fitting in on purpose. Yet organisations that avoid the temptation to the norm and truly invite employees to bring their whole selves to work, are few. All too often the adage, ‘bring your whole self to work,’ is pure rhetoric – a tick box exercise matching skillsets to job specs by gatekeepers who lack the courage to seek the authenticity that is key to blight the conformity trap.

As a candidate returning to the corporate world after a 17 year corporate career break, the barriers seemed insurmountable. Growing up in South Africa in the heyday of apartheid and my subsequent practice as an Advocate of the Supreme Court (barrister), embedded a deep sense of social justice in me. Post Nelson Mandela’s release, I set my sights on new challenges. I earned an MBA and transitioned into Investment Banking in London. During a planned career break, I set up a business and volunteered for a few NGO’s, writing policies, business planning and advising on strategy – not a typical career journey.

2020 was a year of catastrophe and profound reflection. The murder of George Floyd during the COVID19 crisis accelerated the Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) movement, a growing investment methodology for progressive and corporately responsible companies. ESG moved beyond the realms of a Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) function into an urgent application of the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals to address pressing issues of climate change (sustainability) and not leaving anyone behind. An advocate at heart, I consulted with senior management at my sons’ school to put BLM on the map and worked with XLP a youth charity in inner city London. I became doubly resolved to help companies close the gap between ESG strategy and the practical implementation of ESG activities.

As luck would have it, I connected with Juliet Turnbull on that journey and through 2to3 days I was introduced to Inclusivity Partners. The messages from both 2to3 days and Inclusivity resonated wholly - through their own experiences, they saw value in my story. I felt appreciated because of it. I was encouraged to tell it audaciously, which is what I did when I interviewed for a broadly described ESG role at AXIS Capital.  There was no job spec (which was as scary as it was exciting!) In my initial meeting with Mark Gregory, the CEO of AXIS Insurance International Division, I shared my story openly, connecting the dots between individual and corporate purpose. The rest is history. In July, I was appointed ESG London Market Lead at Axis Capital to align ESG strategy with corporate strategy. 

Mark very kindly had the following to say about my appointment (blushes spared):

The Insurance Industry is now presented with many opportunities for change for good posed by ESG. We needed to find an individual with the right skills, background and crucially the enthusiasm for the subject to help us assess how and where we might drive change, in tandem with our peers the London Insurance Marketplace. In Nerina we have found someone with a background in Financial services and an indomitable advocate and who has the passion for this field and who will undoubtedly be an agent for change in our organisation.

It is early days. I am enjoying my role enormously and keen to rise to the challenge to be an agent for change in this exciting space for AXIS.

A huge thank you to the support and encouragement from 2to3 days and Inclusivity in celebrating authenticity and for the courageous conversations you have to break the mould to open doors for others who do not tick boxes.

Key Takeaway

It's often said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again but expecting to achieve different results. This applies equally to senior management as it does to prospective candidates. It takes courage and fortitude to break the mould. As human beings we are creatures of routine and going against the grain can be hard. How much stronger are we all when we put that courage behind our convictions to tell our stories and celebrate what is unique in each of us to drive the changes we want to see?


About Nerina Wright

Nerina trained and practiced as a Barrister in South Africa and transitioned into project and change management in London, working at leading investment banks and NGOs. She is a powerful voice for social justice and putting corporate purpose into impactful practice.

Nerina is inspired by the spirit of Ubuntu* in sparking positive disruption, whether in organisations, individuals, or myself.

*UBUNTU ‘the profound sense that we are human only through the humanity of others; that if we are to accomplish anything in this world, it will, in equal measure, be due to the work and achievement of others’ Nelson Mandela.

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