The root level is the highest permission level of access to a computer system, and most cybersecurity professionals work hard to ensure criminals don’t gain root access to a system.
However, the word “root” has another meaning for Raíces Cyber, a Philadelphia-headquartered nonprofit organization that works to support the Latino cybersecurity and technology community. In fact, the organization’s name, Raíces, means root in Spanish.
“Family is important. Community is important,” said Founder and Executive Director Eric Bolardo on this episode of The Insuring Cyber Podcast. “This is the importance of one of our pillars in Raíces, which is the community — the founding of strong roots within the community and being able to support each other.”
For the majority of his 33-year career in cybersecurity, Bolardo — who is originally from Puerto Rico — said he noticed a lack of diversity in the field. He is a U.S. Army military intelligence veteran with NATO and has worked in security operations, incident response, business continuity and disaster recovery, and digital forensics, among other areas of cybersecurity.
“For good or bad, for the first 20 years of my career, I was the only one who looked like me,” he said.
This led to the eventual launch of Raíces — a fairly new organization founded in 2021 — to achieve greater representation among the Latino, Latina, Latinx and Hispanic community and its allies through the organization’s four main pillars: community, education, constructive networking and strong bonds or roots.
This comes at a time when Hispanic professionals make up just 4 percent of the cybersecurity workforce in the U.S., according to the Aspen Digital Tech Policy Hub. With this in mind, Bolardo said it’s time for businesses to begin thinking beyond metrics when working to achieve diversity.
“We need to see people represented. That’s, I think, the biggest part,” he said. “Having people of diverse backgrounds on boards, in leadership, in different organizational levels, I think that’s more important than the programs you put in place. You can put in employee resource groups and all of these things, but if the person can’t see themselves represented in that company, having somebody of that diverse background in their board or in their leadership, in their C-suite…then there’s a level of comfort that is not there.”
Jose Aponte, vice president for Alliant Americas East and the Latin American Association of Insurance Agencies’ Atlanta chapter treasurer, agreed. He joined the podcast to talk about the work LAAIA is doing to support Latino professionals in the insurance industry, in particular.
“In the DE&I space, from my observation and my professional opinion, [we’re] doing a great job in having the conversation,” he said. “But we have to create awareness of what’s the next step. How are we going to become a disrupter and provide a change for the better? To be the best of the best, overall, the industry needs to change the mindset and think outside the box. Set a record for how many Latinos you want to be in the industry and break that record. Go beyond every metric that we have out there.”
In a Marsh report from October 2020, “Building a Future for Hispanic Professionals in the Insurance Industry,” Marsh surveyed nearly 250 members of the LAAIA, several focus groups with insurance industry executives, and conducted in-depth interviews with a number of external experts.
The survey found that only 14 percent of respondents thought insurance companies employed the right number of Hispanic professionals, and 84 percent of respondents thought that Hispanic professionals were underrepresented within senior-level management roles.
“We feel that an organization itself needs to understand and show an appreciation of Latinos and show that it is acceptable to be who you are—that you can be comfortable being Latino,” Aponte said. “Maybe you wear a more brightly colored outfit, or you could talk about your culture, or talk about the great dishes and foods that we have, or where you come from.”
He said that in finding different ways to show that Latinos are appreciated within a company, businesses can improve attraction and retention levels of this growing pool of talent.
“Don’t just wait for Hispanic Heritage Month to talk about Latinos. Celebrate it throughout the year,” he said. “And you know what? It’s going to pay dividends without a doubt. Latinos are a growing community in the U.S. There is a high level of intelligence within our Latino community, and the retention levels will improve within the organization when you implement and appreciate the culture.”
This is evidenced by Latino professionals like Bolardo and Aponte who already are working hard to close gaps and reinvent how cybersecurity and insurance are brought to consumers. Another executive doing this work is Nestor Solari, co-founder and CEO of InsurTech Sigo Seguros. He joined the podcast to talk about how Sigo Seguros is serving immigrant and Latino communities in auto insurance by offering transparent pricing without fees and removing rate factors that can affect minorities. The company’s underwriting process does not factor in immigration status, credit score, level of education or type of employment. It also delivers a fully bilingual mobile platform and provides coverage for customers with foreign IDs or licenses.
“I think I felt a certain indignation when I started learning about how people that need minimum limits auto insurance often get treated, and specifically when you talk about Spanish speakers in the U.S.,” he said. “Up until Sigo launched, every Spanish speaker that needed to buy auto insurance on their own was forced to an agent. I just saw rampant disinformation, opaque pricing, business practices that I question, but more so, a lot of things that didn’t seem to make sense with a lot of the tools that we have available.”
He saw an opportunity to launch Sigo in 2019 alongside his co-founder, Júlio Erdos, and the InsurTech became the only insurance company in the U.S. that can digitally onboard Hispanic customers in their native language, according to the company website.
“That’s how I convinced my co-founder to join me,” he said. “I challenged him to get a quote in Spanish online five years ago. Now since then, a lot of carriers and a lot of agents have set up quoting in Spanish, but it’s still the case that you are unable to purchase and leave with proof of insurance if you need to do it in Spanish outside of the Sigo website.”
The company has a particular focus on working-class Hispanic drivers who can struggle with getting the right coverage or enough of it.
“Imagine having all of these issues because you’re working class, you’re not getting comp collision coverage, maybe you don’t have credit. Imagine that getting compounded by then not speaking English,” he said. “People that speak English already don’t understand their car insurance. I know I didn’t before I started a car insurance company. And then imagine having to do that in Spanish, so that’s where we focus.”
Solari said the language barrier in auto insurance is partially due to underrepresentation in the industry overall.
“If you are effectively going to serve our community, I think it comes down to speaking to the customers and hiring Latinx employees and building diverse teams. I think that is how you solve for it,” he said. “If you’re looking to serve the Spanish-speaking market, you’re going to need some Spanish-speaking team members.”
He said while he’s observed entrepreneurs and executive-level leaders in the insurance industry doing great work to increase diversity, he believes there is more that can be done to not only bring more Latinos into the industry but to serve Latino insureds as well.
“It really comes down to the senior management and the managers and the hiring managers doing that work because it’s easy to say you want to manage a diverse team or you want to build a diverse team, but when it comes down to it, it’s much easier to just manage people that speak and look exactly like you,” he said. “Hopefully people start seeing our success and start considering what the right ways to serve the community effectively are. Because for however much I’d like to do it all ourselves, I know we wouldn’t be able to.”
Bolardo said that as more Latinos join the cybersecurity and insurance industries, it creates the opportunity for further career development as Latino mentors will be available for those entering the field. Ultimately, it all comes back to the idea that serves as one of the pillars of Raíces’ operations: community.
“I always say you can be a mentor if you’ve been one year in the field because there’s always somebody behind you that’s just entering,” he said. “So, each one, reach back, pull one up. And as a community, we can support each other and our allies.”
To find out what else Eric, Jose and Nestor had to say, check out the rest of the episode and be sure to check back for new episodes of The Insuring Cyber Podcast publishing every other Wednesday along with the Insuring Cyber newsletter. Thanks for listening.