The deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor by white police officers last year sparked protests and investigations of racial injustice and inequality across the country. Individuals and companies responded by pledging to better support communities of color.
Diversity experts in the insurance industry say that not enough has been done to attract or retain talent from the black community, as insurance is still a predominantly white workforce and discussed in an Insurance Journal webinar this summer how the Close the gap, "How the insurance industry can be an active ally of the black community."
In a broad and candid discussion came panelists Mernice Oliver from Mernice Oliver International and founder of the National Association for Advancement of Women in Insurance (NAAWI); Nina Boone, North American Diversity and Inclusion Leader at Korn Ferry and former US Chairman of Aons Diversity & Inclusion Board; and Tyler Whipple of American Family, the company's former director of Diversity & Inclusion and now chief of staff, said the insurance industry has done itself a disservice by not bringing in more people of color or elevating those already in its ranks.
They hope that the current attention on this issue will be a tipping point for the industry.
“This won't blow over this time, nor should it blow over. This is a war on talent… there's so much talent out there,” Boone said. “The number of people retiring in the next four years, the industry won't be able to last if they don't look at all the talent available to them. "
Boone left Aon in 2019 after eight years to lead business development for Korn Ferry & # 39; s diversity and inclusion and governance practices, particularly by working with under-represented talent. She said clients recognize that they have work to do in this area.
“We are having more conversations than ever and that's why the world has changed as they are now accountable to their workforce, their customer base and their investor base,” she said.
But getting to this point was not easy for those of color in the industry, panelists said, and there is still a long way to go based on 2016 data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics insurance personnel that showed that Afro Americans made up only 11.9. % of industry. Standard & Poor's reported that this number increased slightly to 12.4% in 2019.
A 2018 study by the Independent Insurance Agents found that only 2% of established agencies have at least one African American client. About 4% of independent agencies have an African American director or senior manager, compared to 88% of those with a white desk.
In a 2018 report by Marsh, in which members of the National African American Insurance Association participated, 70% of respondents said they agree or strongly agree that there are greater obstacles for African Americans in the insurance industry compared to other minorities . Respondents said the main barriers to entry into the insurance industry were lack of exposure, lack of networking, lack of experience, racial bias, lack of education and gender bias. They said race was also a factor in hiring, promotions, new assignments, and whether black insurance professionals were included in events, important meetings, or opportunities with clients.
Thinking back to her own experiences as a black insurance professional, former agent Oliver, who now runs an insurance agency consulting firm, and NAAWI, both of which are focused on developing women of color in the industry, said she had to "early in her career." embrace feeling comfortable when you feel uncomfortable. "
“There were often times, quite frankly, when I did feel isolated and perhaps excluded from career advancement and decision-making scenarios,” said Oliver. "Honestly, as a black leader in the insurance industry, I really believe it was harder for me to move forward unlike my white counterparts."
"Friends and family & # 39;
Boone said one of the biggest reasons the industry struggles with diversity comes down to "friends and family".
"If you just bring in the people you know, if you don't open it up, if you don't actively look for those candidates, you're never going to help anyone," she said. "As long as you continue with the friends and family network, insurance will never look different."
While at Aon, Boone worked with a team to diversify the company's internship program and remembered that the biggest hurdle was employees and customers expecting their children to be a part of it. She said she was "surprised" when she went to give a presentation to the interns and walked into a room with 42 young white men, making her wonder if employees had daughters.
“How is it that an industry, and the insurance industry that we are talking about today, wants to interview only a small segment of the population and look at a small corner of the population when it comes to talent that must be brought in for innovation in a industry that is incredibly outdated and needs to be revamped, ”she said.
Aon created an inclusive process that actively sought out diverse candidates and formed a diverse interview team.
“We all agreed on how to approach that process and chose the best talent,” she said.
Whipple has been with American Family Insurance Co. for 17 years, during which time he grew from an underwriting manager to Director of Diversity & Inclusion to Vice President of Inclusive Excellence and now serves as Chief of Staff. Whipple said he recognized several years ago that while the company was focused on diversity and inclusion, he “didn't see many people like me in senior roles” or in the product development space.
Whipple says there is a link between diversity, equality and inclusion not only for social well-being, but also for "great business results".
Over the years, Whipple has partnered with the company's leadership to accelerate diversity and inclusion efforts. Now American Family is recognized as a leader in this space, with the opening of the American Family Insurance Institute for Corporate and Social Impact in 2018 and the signing of the CEO Action for Diversity and Inclusion Pledge as part of its commitment to social and corporate change. , among other initiatives.
Both Whipple and Jack Salzwedel, CEO of American Family, have spoken out on the need for large companies to address systemic racism, support minority communities and hire diverse talent. The company has made increasing the diversity of its workforce part of its strategic goals and is constantly working to promote an inclusive culture.
"Now we are focused on … not just the internal workings of the organization, but how we ennoble what is happening externally in society with what is happening in our organization and how we do it well on both sides," said Whipple.
American Family's leadership also recognizes that fostering talent in an organization and involving product development and the leadership team helps the company expand and grow its customer base, Whipple added. He said other companies are beginning to understand how a lack of diversity affects the top / bottom line.
"I truly believe that as an industry we are starting to see this in the same way that consumer products organizations see this, where you need to relate to your current and future customer, and current customers are likely to decline," he said. "I think there is recognition there. My question is how quickly we as an industry will accelerate the pace of change to stay ahead?"
Barriers to the industry
There are companies in the insurance industry that spend money and time developing people of color, Boone said, especially women, but they don't follow up on them to move them forward in the organization or put them in leadership roles.
“It's an abusive relationship where we are developed and things are promised and it never comes true because what happens is someone who is less qualified, has never evolved or something is coming straight ahead,” she said.
Boone said these undervalued workers then move to other organizations or, in the case of black women, become entrepreneurs and start their own businesses.
“Black women are the largest entrepreneurial group in the country. This is no coincidence. This is because they can't get anywhere in their current organization and these are women who take three times as long to raise capital and yet they do it; they probably never succeed, and yet they do. Isn't that someone you want on your leadership team? she said. "That development and progress has to happen, and we really have to be about that."
In Oliver's case, she left the insurance company's workforce in 2011 due to the limited opportunities available to her. She realized she would have to make her own roadmap because she didn't believe – and it was & # 39; pretty much told & # 39; – that she wouldn't have the same opportunities as her white peers. Her experience led her to found NAAWI because there were no insurance organizations helping minority women to reach leadership positions.
While many companies talk about the need for diversity and inclusion and say they want to do more, Oliver said it won't happen in the end.
“I really believe it's because it's uncomfortable and awkward. It takes time and attention to be really serious about helping women of color, LGBTQ, (the) marginalized smaller groups of people, to get them forward. It just requires resources and time, and I honestly think companies just don't want to do it, & # 39; & # 39; she said.
The industry has also struggled, Whipple said, to promote itself and attract young people of color who he believes are trendsetters in many ways. And it's not great at reaching communities of color, he said, noting that there's a huge gap between them and white communities.
"I think as an industry we do a really good job of issuing checks to communities and letting communities decide where those checks should go," Whipple said. “But when I look at the areas where we can have an impact in the community, which also translates into how we're growing our industry, I'm not sure we closed that delta properly as an industry. I don't think we have that much do when we can, although frankly we're doing more than we did ten years ago. "
American Family has taken an equality approach not only through how it hires and attracts talent, Whipple said, but also how it develops, prices and sells its products. That includes understanding how larger systemic social issues, such as credit ratings or past criminal history, can affect communities of color and what they pay for insurance.
"We try to look at this holistically in terms of how we find talent, how we endorse clients, how we praise clients, from an equity lens," he said.
Oliver said agents like her have worked to educate communities of color about insurance, but there has been an overall failure at the corporate level to appear before these marginalized groups, except with financial donations.
Having more people of color as part of the agency's sales force would definitely make a difference in closing the education gap in black communities, which are now "severely under-represented," she said.
The insurance industry's support for communities of color must go beyond providing financial contributions, Boone said.
“That's great and I don't want to diminish that at all, but let me tell you – open your door to move us forward so that all of a sudden we can live in communities where our children are safe. We can live in communities where schools are great. We can live in communities where we don't pay that much for our insurance, ”she said. "As long as you don't live within your organization those values that you claim to believe so strongly with your finances outside the organization, we will never see the progress we really want to see."
She challenged companies to take a closer look at their perceived values and commitment to diversity and inclusion, then find out if the people of color in the organization are measuring.
“And if you're not, then promise to measure yourself, because I think everyone who made those statements, everyone has great values and missions,” she said. "If you're not really living that … then make those changes and that commitment."
Whipple acknowledged that it can be difficult for white business leaders to ask people of color in their organization what they need, but stressed that every day people of color walk into rooms full of whites and say, "What do you need?" He said people need some courage to get the conversation started and "keep this conversation from ending."
"When you get into things like systemic racism and white privilege, that's a level of risk, but I think people have to accept that risk to really make change … start somewhere," he said. “Everyone thinks you have to be perfect to start – just start. It is a purposeful environment. You can find a number of places to join, but you should be just getting started. "
Change can only happen when industry leaders start the dialogue, Oliver said, gaining fundamental knowledge of systems of oppression and recognizing the inequalities within our organizational structures.
Yes, it's uncomfortable, she said, but “we just need to start somewhere and have those difficult conversations, allow ourselves to be a nuisance, but also those of us who have been through it every day. If you are really serious about change then I think we need to do it now instead of later, '' she said.
The time has come for the industry to take it a step further, Boone said, and the good news is that many are apparently determined to put in the hard work.
& # 39; This is really about execution. There are no more excuses. No one will look away and your talent and your organization will suffer if you don't really start creating opportunities, educate and train and develop and then continue that post-development career path and empower people, & # 39; & # 39; Boone said. "I hope that in 10 years' time the industry – even at the top – will look very different from now."
Watch the webinar: How the insurance industry can be an active ally of the black community