Building a diverse workforce doesn’t happen by accident. Companies must make an intentional effort to cast a wide net when searching for potential recruits and to understand that one-size-fits-all benefits won’t help them retain top talent, said panelists at the 2020 Joint Industry Forum in January.
“I think that the word of the day, when we talk about recruiting, is ‘intentional,'” said Randa Rawlins, EVP of Shelter Insurance, during the panel titled “A 21st Century Workforce That Reflects the Communities We Serve.”
Craig Lapham, CEO of executive search firm The Lapham Group, agreed that companies must be intentional if they want to hire for diversity. The main problem, he said, is that “the world has gone the way of the specialist over the past decade.”
Clients come in and talk about diversity, he said, but when it comes to creating a position description and required background for the potential ideal candidate, most clients get far too specific. They want specific industry experience, line of business experience, functional experience. Some clients even look for specific regional experience.
“When you put all of those filters on top of the position description, you may talk about being committed to diversity, but you’ve created such a narrow, specialized focus that you’re going to be damn lucky to get a single white male that fills that, let alone a slate of diverse candidates,” Lapham said.
He noted that “diversity recruitment is an odds game,” and companies need to use a wide net if they want to capture diverse talent. “But there is a mentality within P/C insurance of let’s hire who we know. Let’s bring a team in; we’ll know all of them. It will mitigate the risk.” However, he warned, “the team you’re bringing in is going to look just like the hiring manager.”
Companies looking to hire for diversity need to broaden the scope of their search, he said. For example, rather than insisting a candidate needs to have experience in multiline P/C insurance, consider looking at people with a background in diversified financial services.
Denise Campbell, AVP of National Accounts at AIG, is a shining example of the importance of being intentional—both for a company and an individual.
Campbell wasn’t looking for a career in insurance. “I not only did not come from the insurance industry, my degree is in music, from NYU. So I really had zero background into anything that you people do all day long. But I really wanted health insurance,” she admitted. She joined AIG in 2008 as an administrative assistant, but “I didn’t even know what AIG did or what it was. I had car insurance. That’s about the extent of what I knew about insurance.”
And then Campbell found the company’s employee resource groups (ERG). She joined AIG’s Black Professionals ERG and was later introduced to the National African-American Insurance Association (NAAIA), later becoming a leader for both groups.
While emceeing a group event, Campbell made a connection that changed everything. “An executive in the audience—a woman who had never seen me before—came up to me afterward and said, ‘What do you do here? Who are you? You come see me.'”
She went to the executive’s office, unsure of what to expect. After a brief discussion about where Campbell saw her career going, the executive told her, “I think you’d be really great as a business development manager,” explaining what the job entailed. When Campbell immediately began to point out her lack of experience, she was told: “That’s okay. I can teach you those things. These are things you can learn. I can’t teach you how to be who you are. And we need someone who can go out and speak to people and engage, and so I think you should interview. And I’ll introduce you to the hiring manager.”
Campbell became a business development manager, working with sales and underwriting teams and learning all about insurance. After four years in that role, she was promoted to AVP of National Accounts. “Now I’m a client director for the team, and all of those things came about from groups of people who believed in me. So, it was the ERG that gave me a platform and a vehicle. It was NAAIA that introduced me to other people who looked like me who were doing amazing things in the company—because on a daily basis, I’m the only one who looks like me at any table that I’m in. And then it was the confidence that gave me that passion…”
Campbell credits these groups and organizations with allowing her to thrive and helping her go from admin to AVP. She stressed that “contrary to what my mother told me, I’m not that special. There are actually a thousand Denises at this organization who are not being seen, who don’t have the voice that I have, or the luck that I’ve had to have the people on my side—the coaching and the sponsorship to put me in front of the right people. There are a lot of really brilliant people of color, backgrounds, disability, LGBTQ who are waiting for the chance,” but they’re getting overlooked because they don’t know the right people or have the expected experience.
But she noted that employees also need to be intentional if they want to thrive. “Meritocracy is a wonderful idea that does not really exist in this world…You need to brand yourself and sell yourself. You don’t have to be an extrovert to do that. I test as an introvert.”
Campbell also stressed the importance of diversity in leadership when it comes to recruiting the younger generations. “Millennials and Gen Z, they want to see a world that represents the world they live in…When my little cousins and so are looking for jobs, they Google the company and look up the leadership, and nobody there looks like them,” she said. “And so they immediately assume ‘This is not for me.'”
The Power of Listening
Employee resource groups helped Campbell launch her career, but they also serve a number of other purposes. ERGs can help companies realize what benefits are truly important to employees and also point out opportunities the company may be missing.
Deborah Aldredge, chief administrative officer at Farmers Insurance, said that when she first started at the company, she was the only woman with a seat at the executive table. “I would find that we have these really talented women that felt for the most part very isolated in their roles…So we started bringing them together into a women’s network…We wanted to give women an opportunity to have a voice, and in the organization to be able to influence some of our policies and our practices,” she said.
And the effort paid off, with Farmers moving from 15 percent of people manager jobs being held by women to well over 42 percent.
At Shelter Insurance, listening to employees helped the company be more intentional about trying to hire women into IT jobs, said Rawlins. The company had apparently been recruiting at colleges that had programs that only had males, she noted. They also learned it’s too late if you wait until high school or college to start recruiting young women, so Shelter now works with a middle school and has led presentations at a local girls’ summer camp for gaming.
Listening is also important when it comes to employee retention, Rawlins said. Millennials and Gen Z aren’t interested in the same benefits as earlier generations. They aren’t thinking about 401(k)s and what’s going to happen 30-plus years down the line. They want benefits that impact their current lives.