Victor Terry has a simple tip for insurers hiring new, younger employees: They don’t have any particular desire to fit in.
“Gen X, which I am a part of, [has] learned how to figure out how to compete, and how to be selective and immediately fit in as soon as possible,” said Terry, VP of Public Affairs and chief diversity officer at State Farm Insurance. “Today, talent is not willing to do that. They want to be honored for who they are but not forget where they are. Those two things need to coexist.”
Terry spoke as part of a panel discussion on hiring in the post-pandemic “new normal” at the 2021 III Joint Industry Forum on Dec. 2 in New York City. Panelists said their hiring approaches have long focused on diversifying their talent bases. They noted, however, that this strategy has become even more important in post-pandemic hiring as companies struggle to fill jobs and compete for employees seeking more purpose and value after a tough couple of years. Mentoring and an emphasis on the wide possibilities of technology also help, they note.
Panelist Deepa Soni, executive vice president/chief information officer at The Hartford, said her company has doubled down on a commitment to “cultural awareness and inclusion.”
“In my organization, the top 120 leaders have gone through cultural training and inclusion,” she said.
This year, that has translated into “lots of mentoring with diverse candidates” along with sponsoring of employees for promotion. Another practice at The Hartford that has increasingly come into play: reverse mentoring, which the Harvard Business Review describes as pairing younger employees with executives above them to mentor them on topics that matter to strategy and culture. The practice isn’t new, coming into prominence in the 1990s when GE head Jack Welch used it to teach senior executives about the Internet and its potential, HBR noted.
Panelist Andrew Mais, commissioner for the Connecticut Insurance Department, said younger hires today are “using diversity and inclusion as part of their everyday lives,” and he’s taken logical steps to acknowledge this in his departmental operations.
One example: The department targeted industry licensing exams for internal hires, which had been given only in English.
“Why? That sends a message,” Mais noted. “Within a few months we had Spanish-language licensing exams and attracted new people. It tells people that everyone is important.”
Mais added that the department is also maintaining an advisory council that helps address diversity metrics in terms of hiring, retention and employee development, which will be used to measure advancement progress.
“That is the future for us,” Mais noted.
Technology to Recruit Young Employees
The pandemic has helped accelerate a trend toward demand for digital tools from both customers and potential employees, Soni said, echoing observations from other industry observers. That trend is important when considering younger hires who will not work with clunky tools. The Hartford takes this into account with initiatives such as a boot camp for the claims operations team to help advance a shift toward data science, Soni explained.
Mais, at the Connecticut Insurance Department, said his approach toward technology focuses on redefining how a team can work—something that can appeal to younger staff in particular.
“What I try to convey is the idea that technology enables us to re-engineer how we work,” he said. “It’s not simply us digitizing our workflow, but you have the ability to look at what you do and decide how to do it.”
For State Farm, the idea, in part, is to stress to younger employees the wide range of possibilities that technology provides.
“For me, technology stands well beyond transactional capabilities and becoming more productive,” Terry said, with a focus instead on how it enables employees to become more creative and innovative.
“They’re joining our organizations and want to show me what they have. If we can figure out how to tap more into that element of tech, it has an impact beyond just faster and more,” Terry added.
Where to Find New, Young Hires in a Tight Market
Panelists said they pursue a wide variety of approaches for their respective talent hiring and retention strategies.
Soni said The Hartford recruits at schools and academic institutions and also uses employee research groups to help bring different skillsets to the company.
Moderator Lisa Butera, head of P/C Client Markets in the U.S. for Swiss Re, said her company continues to recruit at universities and high schools.
“There are various skillsets that we need,” she said. “We just need to be professional in terms of where we go, who we look for and not the same old stuff we’ve done in the past.”
Terry that a promise of mentoring is key to State Farm’s hiring and employee retention plans.
“The ability to grow and develop [young employees] through mentoring and reverse mentoring is just a really important element,” he said. “My guess is for all of us in this room, at one point someone took a chance on us. When it comes to diversity and inclusion, we need to look to do that sooner.”