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State of Diversity, Inclusion in Insurance

Diversity and inclusion (D&I) have been priorities for the insurance industry for years. However, there have been fundamental limitations on progress that have gone under-addressed. While the state of D&I in the insurance industry is stronger than ever, we limit the potential to advance these issues without having a meaningful, clear-eyed examination of a few basic issues.

Cultural Disconnect

Organizations are only as strong as their culture or brand. Prior to joining Zurich, I owned a consulting firm. As a consultant, I learned first-hand that no matter how great the marketing efforts might be, if a company culture or brand is lackluster there will be always be a fundamental disconnect with customers.

Company culture is one of the areas where we see more prominent diversity and inclusion issues plaguing the insurance industry. As a young woman, I had experiences in being heard, or unheard, that have shaped my perspective. While I believe there are opportunities to make a mark in the industry if you put the effort in, I also see barriers in corporations that don’t allow for people to be their authentic selves. Organizations that adhere to a rigid hierarchy, with leadership teams unable or unwilling to innovate, throw up roadblocks to D&I due to preconceived notions. These are the companies that fail to seek diversity of experience, culture, education, personality, perspective and thinking. These organizations rarely embrace authenticity in employees, seeking conformity instead. This approach limits worker experience and professional growth opportunities.

Successful company cultures are lived, as are toxic and limiting company cultures. Companies that are sincere about D&I have to live it.

COVID-19 Side Effects

When the pandemic pushed the U.S. workforce to go remote, it became clear the virus was hitting the Black and Latinx communities more harshly. Access to high-speed internet, availability of space in the home for one or more remote workers and students, healthcare accessibility and urban food deserts, among other matters, were all existing obstacles. But, while not always apparent in the workplace, these issues became clear challenges for many workers and their employers after the pandemic shutdown. 

As an industry focused on managing risk, we need to consider the risk of not properly supporting the communities we represent and their well-being. Our leaders, both in the insurance industry and beyond, must remember that not everyone is experiencing the events of 2020 equally. We may be “in this together,” but we are not in it together equally. Greater empathy is essential to greater diversity and inclusion. 

It Starts at the Top

One of the clearest signs of the lack of progress on D&I issues in corporations is the lack of diverse talent at the leadership level. The standard response for most industries on this point is to note the lack of diverse talent available. This bias has been consistently used to justify a lack of executive team diversity. Another defensive argument is that companies work to ensure all employees have the same opportunities to advance their careers. This latter rationale has been used to justify maintaining the same systems and processes that have been in place at corporations for years. We may add employee resource groups, mentoring programs and programming, but the systems have not changed.

In my role focused on diversity, inclusion, equity and belonging at Zurich, I invite leaders to question these biases. What if there was ample, diverse, executive-level talent available? Would the company’s leadership look dramatically different? Would it be more diverse? Would the systems and processes currently in place to nurture and advance careers change if we proved not all employees have equal access to opportunity? If the answer is no, then we have to acknowledge our inherent biases and make changes.

These biases are overcome when leaders are open to and can rely on those around them to provide critical insight. Recruiting is one example. What efforts have their organizations made to find great talent? If the slate offered by recruiters is not diverse, do they push back and request a more diverse pool? Do they leverage their industry relationships to find that talent? Does the executive team hold leaders to account for seeking talent that mirrors the individuals and communities they serve? 

See also: Industry Still Lags on Diversity

Recruitment is just one priority. Expanding in-house talent is also essential. To complete my doctorate, I spent a lot of time researching what companies do to advance diverse people in their careers. Do diverse professionals have the same access? The same mentor opportunities? The same advocates? In my experience, the answer is often no.

This could be an affinity bias. We naturally want to help those who remind us of ourselves. We need to understand that some people advance in their careers, and some do not, precisely because of these biases. Insurance industry leaders need to face this difficult reality to create better opportunities for our diverse talent. 

What Can Change?

One solution Zurich has embraced is called the Inclusion Cohort, a program we launched last year. It’s designed to better prepare diverse talent for potential leadership roles, offering them leadership assessments, identifying strengths and areas for development and providing them with mentors. Our priority was to build the cohort so members would have a sense of camaraderie and shared success. Today, more than half of the initial participants have been tapped for new responsibilities, with another earning a leadership position. Our goal is to scale similar programs across the company.

We are also working on extensive anti-racism programming for our executive and leadership teams to help them better understand diverse experiences, which helps build empathy and motivation to change. 

These and other efforts are steps Zurich is taking to promote a more diverse industry future, and they are shareable.

Organizations like the Insurance Industry Charitable Foundation (IICF) have proved critical to highlighting the industry’s D&I efforts. Their meetings and events, like the upcoming virtual Inclusion in Insurance Forum, are instructive on the challenges commonly faced across the industry in building equity and belonging. These events allow individual organizations like ours to work together to share and adopt meaningful strategies. 

Recognizing the role that culture, global events like the pandemic and leadership and its priorities have on diversity, inclusion, equity and belonging within the industry is the first step to meaningful change. That change can sometimes be slow in coming, but it does come. Now is our chance as an industry to step up and create the diverse and inclusive future we need.

3 Keys for Building Women Leaders

As the insurance industry continues to evolve in response to disruption, it’s imperative that insurers embrace innovation to achieve growth and market leadership. The capacity to innovate drives the business models of tomorrow, as well as the investor perceptions of today. Already, ratings agency AM Best has announced plans to score and assess carriers based on their ability to innovate.

To truly drive innovation and stay relevant in today’s rapidly changing world, insurance leaders cannot afford to overlook the power of diversity and inclusiveness (D&I) in thinking, experiences, ideas, backgrounds and abilities. Studies show that diverse teams outperform homogeneous teams when led inclusively and that firms deliver better financial results when they have women on their corporate boards and in the C-suite. So, in today’s Transformative Age, why is it taking so long for women to belong equally?

To foster an environment for the industry’s future leaders to thrive, it takes effort, backed by accountability and active participation from everyone — not just women.

We’ve outlined three ways to build the next generation of women leaders in insurance:

1. Improve recruitment and hiring

Today’s college graduates are surrounded by diversity, and they expect to enter workplaces that embody those same values. For the insurance industry to attract new employees who have the creative, technology and customer skills needed to build the insurance workplace of the future, insurance companies must demonstrate their commitment to diversity, as manifested throughout the formal recruitment process, as well as leveraging personal relationships.

Insurers should consider how to recruit more women with backgrounds in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). While actuaries have always needed mathematics and statistics, just about every aspect of insurance is being transformed by digital technologies, artificial intelligence (AI) and other computing-intensive business processes. It is also important that insurers recruit liberal arts majors for areas like underwriting. These graduates possess the necessary skills for sales, relationship management and creation of business solutions. The ability to reason and philosophize will be even more critical in the digital age, as more repetitive tasks shift to AI.

See also: Survival Guide for Women in Insurtech  

At the same time, insurance companies must drive accountability for D&I initiatives by removing unconscious biases from the recruitment process, recruiting balanced teams and hiring women from diverse backgrounds, skill sets and experiences. A way to enact this is to ensure there are diverse slates of both interviewers and interviewees, as well as holding leadership teams accountable for their team’s D&I profiles.

2. Sponsor and mentor women to support career progression and improve retention

Mentors provide advice and counseling throughout one’s career, while sponsors are on-the-job allies who state the case for one’s promotion or participation on a high-profile project. Women joining the insurance field need both mentors and sponsors — and both roles need to be embraced by men and women.

Employees may be able to find mentors and sponsors through their own networking efforts, but organizations should also foster connections through team-building workshops and other methods.

Executives should be held accountable for their strong commitment to D&I by measuring results, such as the retention levels and career achievements for women and other underrepresented groups within their spheres of influence. Only through metrics-based accountability will D&I achieve a sustainable impact.

3. Clear away barriers preventing the ascent of women executives

While progress has been made, women are still severely underrepresented in insurance leadership roles. Although women represent more than half of the insurance workforce, they hold fewer than one-fifth of board seats and only about one-tenth of insider officer positions and top officer positions such as CEO, COO and CFO. Based on this evidence, we can see that the pipeline for women executive talent is being artificially blocked.

In response, insurance companies need to work for greater diversity in succession planning and to prepare women for these kinds of roles. To ensure that women can rise on their merits and in accordance with the requirements of the job, succession planning has three key areas for improvement:

  • Preference. Counteract the bias for search teams to promote people who look just like them.
  • Tradition. Break the pattern of hiring leaders with the same background and profile as previous leaders.
  • Requirements. Promote and appoint leaders based on the specific skill sets of what the leadership role requires for the success of the company.

As top executives support and prepare the right individuals for the right roles, more women will rise to the occasion to join the leadership ranks with more opportunities, as well as the knowledge that they are welcome.

See also: The Right Way to Tackle Gender Bias  

D&I is critical for driving innovation and a competitive advantage for insurers in today’s transformative age. By welcoming a wider range of skills and viewpoints, D&I represents an essential component of the evolving business model in insurance.

As part of their broader D&I initiatives, insurance companies must take steps to improve gender parity. Starting from the top, business leaders throughout the insurance organization should be held accountable for recruiting and hiring women, sponsoring and mentoring women, retaining and promoting women and clearing away obstacles to leadership roles.

Yet D&I is not just a matter for top executives. We all have to ask ourselves: “Who am I mentoring? Who am I sponsoring? Who am I pulling up?” Answers to those questions will become increasingly important for the success of individuals, teams and organizations throughout the insurance ecosystem. By thinking, challenging and engaging differently, we can build a better working world where women belong as much as men do.

What actions will you take to make sure that #SheBelongs?

The views reflected in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Ernst & Young LLP or other members of the global EY organization.

Industry Still Lags on Diversity

While our industry has made great strides in recent years, we still have a long road before balance is achieved at the leadership level. A recent study found that women represent more than half of the industry’s entry-level positions, yet hold only 18% of its C-level roles. These numbers are not uncommon; among all industries, only 79 women are promoted into manager positions for every 100 men. The disconnect starts early, and, as a result, just 1% of insurance organizations have a female CEO at the helm. The imbalance is further fueled by the industry’s gender wage gap, with women making just 62 cents for every dollar earned by men.

As the #BalanceforBetter campaign advocates, “gender balance is not a women’s issue, it is a business issue.” A balanced workforce results in more than a level playing field. It yields tangible business advantages that are key to staying ahead in today’s competitive and complex market.

See also: Why Women Are Smarter Than Men  

Women remain underrepresented at the executive level across all industries, yet research consistently demonstrates their positive impact on business. A McKinsey study found that organizations in the top quartile of gender diversity at the executive level are 21% more likely to outperform their peers. Additionally, MSCI reports that, over a five-year period, U.S. companies on the MSCI World Index with at least three female directors achieved median gains of 37% on earnings per share. For our industry to realize its full potential, insurers must develop diverse leadership teams that better mirror and relate to their customers and employees.

With the insurance unemployment rate hovering between 1% and 2%, it is more important than ever for our industry to attract and retain top talent from all backgrounds. Organizations that cultivate inclusion and intersectionality enterprise-wide are more likely to be seen as employers of choice in today’s candidate-driven market. In fact, on Fortune’s World’s Most Admired Companies list, the highest-ranked organizations had double the number of women in senior management than those that were ranked lowest.

There are several ways insurers can build trust while taking steps to realize a balanced workforce.

Embrace mentorship as a movement. Mentorship is a foundational element in helping break through the glass ceiling and building diverse and confident leaders. Through mentorships and sponsorships, women and members of other underrepresented groups gain access to senior leaders and role models that may not have otherwise been possible. These can be internal programs or ones run through industry groups like Million Women Mentors, which aims to spark confidence in women and girls to succeed in STEM careers and leadership positions. Whether long-term or for a specific situation, these relationships can help propel women into manager roles and beyond, enabling them to move up the corporate ladder at a similar pace to men.

Create a culture of inclusion. Diversity of thought results in effective problem solving and more innovative ideas. Cultivate inclusivity through formal diversity and inclusion (D&I) programs and employee resource groups. By seeking out various points of view and effectively engaging and supporting employees of all backgrounds, teams benefit from unique viewpoints and healthy discourse. A greater sense of inclusion translates to an increase in decision-making quality, collaboration and perceived team performance.

Promote networking among women. Women helping and lifting up other women is vital to success. In fact, a commonality among most high-ranking women is a strong female-dominated inner circle, according to a recent study. Women whose networks are wide with strong female relationships at their core receive jobs at seniority levels that are 2.5 times higher than those who have smaller, male-centric networks. Female leaders are also more likely to surround themselves with other women. Credit Suisse found that female CEOs are 55% more likely to have women heading business units and are 50% more likely to have women as their CFOs.

Engage men as allies. A growing number of enlightened men are publicly advocating for women’s equity, standing as allies in identifying and breaking down barriers. In many organizations, male executives are spearheading employee resource groups and championing corporate D&I programs. By inviting men into the conversation and committing to open dialogue, organizations create shared ownership. A balanced insurance workforce will not be achieved through just one voice, but through a chorus of voices for change.

Hold leadership accountable. In an EY survey, only 39% of insurance leaders said their companies are formally measuring progress toward gender diversity, and just 8% shared that they have structured development programs in place for women. Additionally, Deloitte found that while 71% of organizations aspire to have an inclusive culture, their actual maturity levels are low. Implementing D&I programs is an important first step, yet true change will come as a result of organizations holding key decision makers accountable for setting and meeting goals.

See also: Survival Guide for Women in Insurtech  

International Women’s Day is March 8; however, its spirit and mission extend throughout the year. Through mutual trust and respect, along with actionable steps and accountability, our industry can work to create a culture of inclusion and achieve balance beyond gender.


Looking to get involved? There are a number of insurance D&I organizations that join to support each other’s missions and events: STEMConnector’s Million Women Mentors Women in Insurance Initiative, Advancement of Professional Insurance Women (APIW), Business Insurance’s Diversity & Inclusion Institute, Dive In, Gamma Iota Sigma, Insurance Careers Movement, Insurance Industry Charitable Foundation (IICF) Global Women’s Conference, Insurance Supper Club (ISC) and Women’s Insurance Networking Group (WING).

How to Create a Culture of Innovation

Innovation is the key to staying relevant, differentiating your brand and gaining competitive advantage, but who is consistently driving innovation in the corporate world?

The new state of affairs can be daunting. I don’t envy the work of talent acquisition teams. Stakeholders and business partners struggle to define the skill sets required, and, even when there is a clear mandate and job description, it can be so hard to find talented innovators that create real value and impact amid all the hype, fluff and buzzwords.

The driving forces of innovation are human behavior, advancements in technology and economic viability, but for real, tangible innovation that creates and captures new value in new ways, diversity is crucial.

See also: Innovation Happens at the Edge  

Diversity is two-dimensional: inherent and acquired. Inherent diversity is associated with “who we are”, i.e. the personality type we are born with, our gender, ethnicity and sexual orientation. Acquired diversity is about “how we behave” as a result of what we’ve learned and experienced. It consists of our mental models and mindsets developed over time.

For example, I’m a Persian Hebrew, straight, woman with a commanding personality. Being a third culture child and having lived around the world, I am home everywhere and nowhere at all. My natural desire to grow, expand and explore leads me to travel, taking on eclectic responsibilities and experiences. I embrace the differences in people and connect the dots among those differences to achieve exciting outcomes, that continue to build trust and value in the digital age and expand the realm of the possible. But I am a rare breed.

Two-dimensional diversity creates a powerful dynamic at work between diverse leaders and teams who know how to unlock each other’s contributions. Inherently diverse people bring to the team an understanding of unmet needs in underleveraged markets. People with acquired diversity bring fresh perspectives, mindsets and notions that are globally relevant and connect to a wider consumer base.

It takes leaders with inherent and acquired diversity to establish a “speak-up culture,” which is essential in unleashing the innovative capacity of the team to its fullest. By giving equal airtime to diverse voices, these leaders are more likely than non-inclusive leaders to derive value creating insights. They ensure all members of the team get constructive feedback and support to extract breakthrough ideas. Listening to contrarian input and taking corrective actions that alter the course, they are more likely to arrive at effective solutions.

Creating a culture of innovation is important for great ideas to translate to market share. As with any form of change, transformation of culture requires catalysts. In my experience, that means a vertically diverse workforce with strategic leadership that creates alignment to the vision. Research shows that executives must both embrace and embody the power of differences. After all, innovation stems from the collective genius of diverse teams managed by leaders who value perspectives and approaches outside their own experience or expertise.

See also: Innovation: Not Just for the Big Firms  

I am dedicating this article to one such leader : Derek Low, executive vice president, Liberty Mutual, a humble and passionate leader whom I respect, look up to, learn from and admire professionally.

Why Are We Still Just Talking Diversity?

These remarks were delivered in London on Sept. 27, at the start of the three-day Dive In Festival, an initiative designed to enable diversity and inclusion in the insurance industry. 

Thank you, Inga.

I appreciate that you feel I might be able to add something meaningful to today’s conversation. But I have to admit that as I put together my remarks, I felt a growing frustration.

I’ve been talking about aspects of diversity and inclusion for awhile now.

When I was at Marsh, the subject was one of the main focuses of a retreat I had with my senior management. At the time, Marsh had a lot of issues, and how to build a more diverse leadership was one of them.

A couple of years ago, I gave a speech at a captive conference in Bermuda called Where Are the Women?

I quoted chapter and verse from all the studies that have been done that prove having women in senior positions and at the board table contributes to an improved bottom line.

In the last year or so, I’ve talked about how diverse the millennial generation is, and how they expect their workplaces to respect and reflect that diversity.

See also: Is the Data Talking, or Your Biases?

Those talks also quoted chapter and verse showing that diverse teams produce innovative solutions that translate to better business results.

And last year, I spoke at the annual meeting of the Insurance Industry Charitable Foundation. That speech was called Where Are the Women – One Year Later. The answer wasn’t a satisfactory one.

Over the years, not much has changed. Just more talk and more research.

I’m at the point where I want to say – enough!

We’ve talked enough. We’ve researched enough.

We have proof that diverse teams are more creative.

We have proof that when employees feel included, you get superior results.

We have proof that we need to do a much better job of attracting millennials to the industry.

I won’t bore you by citing the studies that make the business case for diversity.

And quite frankly, I don’t care about the business case.

Because this is the right thing to do. Exclusion has no place in any industry, not just insurance.

We all know this is true. And yet changes we’ve made over the years have been incremental, not fundamental.

We’ve made some progress with race and gender parity, but truly diverse bench strength just hasn’t materialized.

Why?

One reason is that it’s difficult to break up the status quo, and old habits die hard.

Look at Lloyd’s. Here’s a venerable institution, with a culture and tradition all its own, and a way of doing business that’s been forged over the centuries.

Lloyd’s is to be celebrated for its resilience and endurance, and for the iconic global brand that it’s established.

But for the most part, the market has been built by males – mainly white – who are used to working together.

This shouldn’t be taken as criticism. Lloyd’s is not the only place that’s diversity-challenged.

And the fact is – a homogenous group develops its own shorthand and leans on its shared experiences. It’s a comfortable and familiar way to do business.

Nothing particularly wrong with that – except that in today’s world, a group like that is an anachronism.

Look at the world in the 21st century. Fifty percent of the population is under the age of 30. That’s billions of people with a profoundly different perspective than the generation now running the insurance industry.

In the U.S., racial minorities will be the majority in less than 20 years.

In the U.K., there’s a similar trend although not as pronounced. If our industry is going to remain relevant, our workforces must mirror the world we live in.

If we’re going to undertake partnerships like Blue Marble, the microinsurance venture that relies on technology to address the massive protection gap in the developing world, we need digital natives in our offices, not digital immigrants like me.

Everyone here today knows this. I’m preaching to the choir.

So what’s the reason we haven’t made more progress?

Legislation that prohibits discrimination in recruitment and employment practices has been in place in our major markets for years.

Every leader I know in the industry is committed to this issue.

And yet – even though more than three quarters of insurance CEOs surveyed recently have a strategy for diversity and inclusion, the same survey warns that underrepresented groups feel this is mere lip service.

Eighty percent of the women surveyed feel that, while their leaders may SAY they’re committed to diversity, career opportunities aren’t equal and promotion is biased toward men. The same goes for people of color.

See also: How Diversity Can Stoke Innovation  

What’s really at play here?

In Bermuda, the first event in our Dive In Festival is a workshop on unconscious bias. Kathleen and her team chose the subject because they feel it’s a significant factor in how we create a diverse and inclusive industry.

Inga touched on it last year when she launched Dive In.

She warned that unconscious bias “makes managers hire in their own image, missing out on the perspectives and insights that come from people with different backgrounds, gender, cultures, sexuality and physical impairments.”

And there’s the rub.

For all the intellectual support we give diversity and inclusion, we still haven’t found a way to confront the biases each one of us has.

Unconscious bias is another area where there’s been a lot of research. Some statistics here might be helpful in understanding how this works.

Our brain processes about 11 million pieces of information a second. To manage this constant influx of data, we develop mental shortcuts to handle what we’ve learned so we’re not overloaded by what we’re learning.

These shortcuts are influenced by our environment, our upbringing and our experiences. And depending on what those influences are, we end up holding stereotypes we’re often not aware of.

That’s the gist of unconscious bias.

Implicit or unconscious bias prompts our brains to make snap judgments without even thinking about them. It’s easy to see how this can affect hiring and promotion decisions.

I’d like to pause here, because I know that some people balk at this explanation for why we’ve made so little progress with diversity and inclusion.

To anyone who’s been on the receiving end of what feels like a discriminatory decision, this sounds much too convenient.

In other words: Don’t hide behind the excuse that your preconditioned brain made an unfair hiring decision.

This is a fair comment. I’m not saying that our industry’s management is so evolved and self-aware that conscious decisions to discriminate have been eliminated from the workplace.

We know that’s not the case.

However, if we accept that unconscious bias does affect our ability to make meaningful progress, what do we do about it?

How do we recognize our biases and learn how to compensate, so that the diversity and inclusion balance tips in the right direction?

Events like Dive In help. For the next three days, thousands of people working in our industry will be thinking and talking about diversity and inclusion. That’s a great start.

I’m involved in another initiative called the Insurance Careers Movement. This is a campaign to compel millennials to choose insurance as a career. One of its key messages is there’s a place for everyone in our industry. I’m grateful to Inga for joining me in this effort.

Both Dive In and the Insurance Careers Movement keep issues of diversity and inclusion at the forefront. They raise our collective awareness.

Ultimately, it’s people like me who have to commit to making a difference, because the buck stops with us.

The most obvious way for industry leaders to tackle unconscious bias – and perhaps the easiest – is to challenge our management to build diversity metrics into recruitment, hiring and promotion policies.

This doesn’t imply that qualifications, education and experience don’t matter or should be discounted. But it formalizes and embeds a focus on diversity, and that’s important.

We can make sure our work spaces are inclusive. Can a person with a physical impairment work there comfortably? For example, are our offices wheelchair accessible?

Do our corporate policies accommodate neurodiversity? There are companies who recognize that the pool from which they draw talent can include employees on the autism spectrum. They’ve created a working environment that makes these employees feel welcome and valued.

Do we offer our management opportunities to take workshops and seminars on what a diverse and inclusive company looks like?

There are lots of concrete examples of how unconscious bias can be offset by a corporate culture that enables diversity and inclusion.

But:

With all that, I keep coming back to one essential truth:

Creating a diverse and inclusive industry is the right thing to do. It’s always been the right thing to do.

It’s never been the easy thing to do. As I said earlier, it’s much easier to stay with the same than choose the different.

To greater and lesser degrees, we all know what that feels like. Think of a time when something about you was held against you – often something completely beyond your control.

It could be your social status.

Or the color of your skin.

Or your religion.

Or who you love.

See also: Language and Mental Health (Part 3)  

At one time or another, each of us has felt that we were being judged unfairly and that opportunities for which we were qualified were withheld for all the wrong reasons.

I include myself in those comments. I was raised by a single mom who, as a separated but devout Catholic, was judged by her church and her community as “less than.”

Those are difficult memories for me.

But as difficult as they are, they gave me a compassion and an empathy for what it feels like to be excluded.

As we work to improve our corporate practices, and offer training, and host events like Dive In, I’d like to challenge all of us to remember what it feels like to be on the outside looking in. If we can hold onto the compassion and empathy those memories generate, I believe we can begin to overcome the unconscious bias that’s inhibiting our progress toward a diverse and inclusive industry.

We know it’s the right thing to do, so let’s do it.

Thank you.