In the wake of massive protests last year focused on racial equity and social justice, insurers are among the many industries confronting the need to incorporate more diversity into their hiring and business practices. There are many different ideas in play, however, about how to get the job done.
In other words, one size does not fit all.
That became clear at a number of panel discussions on June 29 and 30 during the 2021 Global Insurance Symposium in Des Moines, where not everyone was on the same page about the issue.
CEOs, regulators and experts addressed the topic in their respective panels with differing ideas about how to bring diversity, equity and inclusion to their respective office environments and interactions with the public. For them, diversity appeared to translate into many different ideas in terms of execution and approach.
Regulators: Slow and Steady, Carving Their Own Path
David Altmaier, the Florida insurance commissioner and current NAIC president, said the National Association of Insurance Commissioners’ efforts to pursue its ongoing race and insurance initiative are in an early stage of development.
“We’ve got a lot of work ahead of us,” Altmaier said. We’re viewing this as a very long-term effort.”
Altmaier, speaking during a panel looking at various insurance regulatory issues, said the group is still finalizing what individuals and committees will work on related issues and processes. After that: “transparent and open dialogue” as the process unfolds.
Panelist and Oklahoma Insurance Commissioner Glen Mulready said that his state addresses the issue on its own terms.
“I have always focused on ensuring our department is representative of our state,” Mulready said, adding that the effort includes an annual review. “That is about all I would [say]. We have been focused on how we represent our state, rather than trying to hit some arbitrary number.”
Jon Godfread, a panelist and North Dakota’s insurance commissioner, said his approach is similar to Mulready’s. At the same time, he emphasized that they all collectively are pursuing the same goals.
“It is important for stakeholders to remain engaged,” Godfread said. “The NAIC took time to wrap its arms around this to see how this will look. We’re all pushing for the same direction, [but] it is how we get there that is going to be critically important.”
Dana Popish Severinghaus, a panelist and acting director of the Illinois Department of Insurance, said her department has a diversity and equity/inclusion committee that is looking at issues such as job recruitment and how letters are framed to address consumer complaints.
“We’re going through and sorting things to see how we can make an impact,” Popish Severinghaus said. “We have an industry liaison on our committee [and] are looking forward to having discussions and seeing what people can bring to the table and … how we can all move forward together.”
CEOs: A Broad Approach
During a separate CEO panel, executives stressed they are pursuing multiple approaches toward diversity in the workplace.
Panelist Jack Kudale, founder and CEO of the InsurTech Cowbell Cyber, said that the “lack of diversity and inclusion in general … is so big.”
He noted that the racial and social protests and upheaval of 2020 amplified awareness but also actions taken.
At Cowbell, a two-year-old startup, the company only hires from an employee network, and its diversity and inclusion framework is posted around the company. Kudale said this early focus on diversity and inclusion has greatly helped the company, an MGA that provides cyber insurance and related services to small and medium-sized businesses.
“it was diversity and inclusion that has helped us out in the market today,” Kudale said. “We believe this will become a snowball effect and it will grow.”
Panelist Jessica Snyder, president and CEO of specialty insurer GuideOne Insurance, said that her company has created similar employee diversity groups. The insurer, whose core clients are churches, also reaches out to universities and has expanded its products into different locations outside of its traditional Des Moines base.
Additionally, GuideOne has a women’s group with heavy participation from men acting as allies, and half of its board is female, Snyder noted.
“Diversity is in our DNA,” Snyder said. “I encourage every person, security guard, cafeteria worker, CFO … everybody has a voice. We want different people from different backgrounds.”
Diversity Experts: Securing Collective Support
During a panel discussion focused specifically on diversity and inclusion in the industry, an expert from Nationwide said that the insurer has diversity goals in multiple levels of the company.
“It is shared accountability, not just the top or the C-suiters,” said Angela Bretz, a Nationwide senior vice president and Chief Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Officer. “They all have diversity objectives.”
Part of the focus on reaching these goals, she said, is looking at demonstrated behaviors rather than just metrics.
“Metrics are nice, but we really want to make sure leaders truly understand the value of diversity and inclusion,” she said.
Panelist Miriam Harris Lewis, Chief Inclusion Officer at Principal Financial Group, said her company, by contrast, has a diversity index with 17 metrics that drives progress in hires, turnover, supplier diversity and even corporate bonuses.
“If you can’t sustain the work, you probably shouldn’t take on the work,” she said.
Additionally, the companies have incorporated unconscious bias training into their diversity work.
“Last year we’ve become even more intentional by having all of our associates take unconscious bias training to unleash greater potential,” Bretz said, noting that the insurer works to acknowledge in the first place that everyone has unconscious bias.
“Having unconscious bias is the point of being human,” Bretz explained. “But [we] also equip employers to have tools to talk about it [because] at the end of the day, we can do better.”
Harris Lewis agreed.
“It is extremely important to raise awareness but also to … refresh our policies so we can mitigate those biases in real time, she said, adding that unconscious bias training at Principal “empowers our employees to call out biases in real time.”
Expert: The Danger of Leaving People Out
George Nichols III, president and CEO of The American College of Financial Services, addressed ways that insurers could bridge the diversity gap.
Among the keynote speaker’s bigger recommendations: making sure white males are actively engaged in the discussion.
“You must engage and incorporate white males in the solution,” Nichols said. “If you don’t get white males engaged and committed … you will fail.”
The reason why: Nichols observed that white male employees “sit in the seats” where executives are making hiring decisions. With that in mind, he criticized the notion of diversity programs focused on while male employees as “the devil” or “the problem.” If that happens, he said, a company-wide effort to improve diversity can easily fail without everyone on board.
Additionally, Nichols said that tokenism – hiring a token employee just to fill a diversity slot – is also not the way to go.
“Don’t be focused on color when you know you need competency. Don’t just hire anybody,” Nichols said. “If you do that, you’re setting yourself up for failure, them up for failure and setting up your whole effort for diversity for failure.”
The reason why: Employees hired to diversify a company must also be a cultural fit, he noted, so they can succeed in their own work while helping a company improve and grow.
As well, Nichols cautioned companies that announce diversity plans to consider whether they are going to create new jobs to make that happen.
“If you don’t grow and you’re not creating new jobs, for you to create a new, diverse [team], that means there are people that are going out the door,” Nichols said. He explained that this sends a message that people will be fired to achieve diversity, which in turn “creates another mode of conflict” at the company and makes the process harder to achieve.
“I ask that when you make these bold statements, I [have to] know where your organization is and where you want to go.” Nichols said.
More coverage from the 2021 Global Insurance Symposium:
GIS 2021: The Next Big Cyber Target Is Insurers Themselves
High-Fives, Hugs and Face-to-Face Networking at GIS 2021
Coronavirus Positive: Pandemic Led to Greater Societal Understanding of Systemic Risks