Data, measurable results vital to improve diversity in insurance

CHICAGO — Tracking progress is essential in improving diversity in the insurance industry, according to several executives who spoke during a panel discussion last month that kicked off the Business Insurance Diversity Equity and Inclusion Institute’s DEI Leadership Conference.

“It starts with looking at our data,” said Aaisha Hamid, Washington-based assistant vice president and DE&I manager at Alliant Insurance Services Inc.

“We’re looking at our demographic data information monthly to figure out what the overall population is at various levels, if that’s changing over time,” she said. “That’s one measure of progress right there — that we’re not just bringing in underrepresented talent, we’re actually retaining and advancing them.” 

Measuring progress on initiatives is also paramount, she said.

“That’s the biggest thing — to change culture,” she said. “The behaviors have to change. … At the end of every single program, we give tactical prompts or actions that leaders can take with their teams to move forward. And, then, as a form of accountability, we survey (workers) to figure out how many leaders actually took those actions.”

Mike Hessling, CEO for North America at Rolling Meadows, Illinois-based Gallagher Bassett Services Inc., a subsidiary of Arthur J. Gallagher & Co., said data goes beyond tracking hiring practices; tallying engagement is another way to ensure workers are thriving.

“We look at what’s the perception among our team members,” he said. “We look at engagement scores and, in particular, engagement around the topic of belonging. … As we looked at populations within our overall organization, certain populations didn’t quite share that same sentiment.”

For example, at the launch of the company’s DEI initiative in 2020, Black workers “didn’t have nearly the same engagement scores and, in particular, ‘belonging’ scores as the rest of our team,” said Mr. Hessling, adding that the percentage of Black workers who felt they belonged increased by more than 20% in recent surveys, which is in line with how other colleagues feel. 

Todd Campbell, Atlanta-based president and CEO of Builders Insurance Group, said companies that continue to show progress will gain leverage with younger insurance executives.

“One of the No. 1 questions we get asked by people coming off college campuses is: What are your commitments around (diversity and inclusion)?” he said. “So whether or not those in positions of leadership today are committed, I can tell you that the next generation of talent is incredibly committed to this topic. And that’s a winning area for everybody to focus on, looking to grow your business.”

Greater participation needed to fight DE&I fatigue

Fatigue with diversity, equity and inclusion programs can hinder organizations’ efforts to create more diverse workforces, a panel of DE&I experts said.

To ensure that diversity efforts continue, DE&I advocates should recognize the obstacles they face and work to draw more people into the programs, they said.

The average tenure of a chief diversity officer is just under two years, said Lauren Young, Chicago-based chief diversity and inclusion officer at Travelers Cos. Inc., who moderated the session at the Business Insurance Diversity Equity and Inclusion Institute’s DEI Leadership Conference in Chicago last month.

The short tenure is in part due to increased scrutiny of DE&I programs, the panelists said.

“DE&I is being scrutinized now more than ever and I think that is what’s leading to some of the fatigue,” said Jeanette Kilo-Smith, regional head of diversity & inclusion at Zurich North America in Schaumburg, Illinois.

In addition, the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Students for Fair Admissions Inc. v. Harvard College in June, which overturned affirmative action in college admissions, led to closer examination of the programs, she said.

“There is an expectation by some companies and organizations that there’s going to be spillover from that decision into corporations,” Ms. Kilo-Smith said.

Companies are concerned about allegations of reverse discrimination, she said, adding, “No organization wants to be that test case.” 

Zurich held an internal webinar to discuss the Supreme Court decision and to ensure that employees realized that the company would continue with its DE&I efforts, Ms. Kilo-Smith said.

“This isn’t going away, and I think that reminder was very important for people,” she said.

DE&I is already a tough field because it requires changing underlying cultures in organizations, said Sal Richardson, a Fort Lauderdale, Florida-based partner at law firm Quintairos, Prieto, Wood & Boyer PA.

“A lot of it is DEI professionals deciding ‘I’m not going to waste my time giving you the keys to the kingdom while you do nothing about it,’” he said.

“This space is really about change management and people don’t like to change, but we have to lean into that,” said Carlos Herrera, vice president of diversity, equity and inclusion at Ryan Specialty LLC in Chicago.

To address fatigue with diversity efforts, DE&I professionals should make sure they and their companies are making commitments they can honor and are able to take proactive steps to achieve their goals, Ms. Kilo-Smith said.

Organizations also need to give opportunities to employees who are not aware that they can participate in DE&I efforts, said Charles Allen-Walter, Irvine, California-based co-founder of Link USA, an LGBTQ+ insurance association.

For example, straight white men may feel that their involvement is unwanted or viewed as disingenuous, he said.

“Continuing to provide more options to help with awareness and self-reflection are key,” Mr. Allen-Walter said. Organizations that are slow to support DE&I may lose out on business opportunities, he said.

Gavin Souter

Rebekah Ratliff presented with Herndon Award

Rebekah Ratliff, an international mediator and arbitrator with the Judicial Arbitration Mediation Service and former complex insurance claims professional, is the winner of the 2023 Alonzo Herndon Award.

The award, which is presented by Business Insurance’s Diversity Equity and Inclusion Institute, recognizes an individual dedicated to supporting diversity and inclusion efforts in the insurance industry.

Board members of the DE&I Institute select the award winner from nominations received from individuals and organizations across the insurance sector.

Based in Atlanta, Ms. Ratliff spent 25 years evaluating, negotiating and settling casualty claims at various global insurers before founding Capital City Mediations LLC, a mediation, arbitration and consulting firm, in 2016. She joined JAMS in 2020 as the first non-attorney African American to join the panel.

Ms. Ratliff also founded CCM Consulting Associates LLC, an executive level DE&I consulting and training company.

Among other affiliations, she is a member of the National Board of the National African American Insurance Association, 1st vice chair of the National Bar Association’s Alternative Dispute Resolution section and an adjunct professor at Howard University School of Law. In addition, she founded HBCU IMPACT, a nonprofit created to attract, educate and employ students at historically Black colleges and universities in insurance, risk management and the law.

In 2021, she was named one of the Business Insurance Women to Watch.

The Alonzo Herndon Award is named in honor of the visionary businessman who, more than 100 years ago, founded what would become the Atlanta Life Insurance Co., one of the United States’ largest and most successful Black-owned businesses.

Mr. Herndon was born into slavery in 1858 and worked as a laborer from a young age. With almost no schooling and no money, his perseverance and entrepreneurial spirit drove him to great success, opening service businesses in Atlanta that were joined to form a landmark company. Today, the Alonzo Herndon Foundation honors his legacy and supports programs and policies in keeping with his vision.

Ms. Ratliff was presented with the award last month at the annual Business Insurance Diversity Equity and Inclusion Institute’s DEI Leadership Conference in Chicago. 

Gavin Souter 

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