At this point, the importance of diversity and inclusion within the insurance industry is nothing new. However, many organizations have yet to achieve a lasting culture shift.
For years, insurers have worked to increase diversity within their companies, focusing on its compelling business case. However, the most effective inclusion strategies employ a deep-rooted commitment that extends organization-wide. To truly move the needle, companies must focus on equity rather than profit alone, while also understanding the underlying reasons why diversity positively impacts business.
A number of studies have highlighted the business benefits of a diverse workforce: more effective decision-making, enhanced problem-solving and increased ability to relate to customers, to name a few. According to research from Boston Consulting Group, companies with above-average diversity on their leadership teams charted innovation revenue—revenue from new products or services—that was 19% higher than those with below-average leadership diversity.
A separate study by Deloitte found that organizations with inclusive cultures are six times more likely to be innovative and agile, and eight times more likely to achieve better business outcomes. However, these results are not accomplished by simply appointing a chief diversity officer or achieving a “quota” for diverse hires.
Cultivating an inclusive culture is an ongoing process that requires a substantial investment of time and effort in order to sustain change. By now, most of us realize diversity is a broad term, including differences that we can see and many we cannot. As such, today’s professionals pursue work environments that embrace our interdependence and intersectionality, going beyond surface-level differences to encourage equity and opportunity for all.
A PwC survey found 86% of millennials working in insurance consider an employer’s policy on diversity, equality and inclusion a significant factor in their job search. Additionally, the majority of Generation Z employees across all industries would be reluctant to accept a job offer if there were no employees from underrepresented groups involved in their interview process, according to a study by Yello.
At the same time, many new hires will be quick to leave if they realize an organization lacks the tools and support mechanisms to help them develop and grow. Without a commitment to inclusion and long-term success, diversity efforts will not have the desired impact.
Here are a few ways to cultivate an inclusive culture that attracts and retains top talent, while being sustainable for the long-term:
Start with Leadership. No matter how well-developed your inclusion strategy may be, it will not take hold without senior leadership’s support and advocacy. All too often, organizations create a strategy, assemble a diversity council or committee, and then make this group solely responsible for the initiative’s ultimate success. While this may have a short-term impact, it’s likely there won’t be long-term results without a fully invested leadership team holding themselves accountable. Leadership must visibly and vocally push these initiatives forward, modeling behaviors for middle-management and front-line workers alike.
Assemble a leadership team that represents your workforce. Homogenous executive teams, where members share similar backgrounds and perspectives, can often send the wrong message. Ideally, your executive management team should aim to reflect a diverse workforce and customer base. All individuals within the organization should be able to see themselves represented in some way within the upper ranks.
If diversity is lacking among your current leadership team, consider how you might bring fresh perspectives to the executive table. Who can you tap to help ensure you’re approaching challenges and opportunities from all angles? When recruiting externally for open leadership roles, focus on expanding your pool of qualified candidates. This may mean networking with a variety of business organizations and asking individuals within your company to reach out to their own networks.
Fill your internal talent pipeline. Solidify inclusion as a long-term priority by creating internal succession plans and programs that focus on providing all individuals, including underrepresented groups, with the tools and support they need for advancement.
Many organizations have a diverse workforce. However, there’s often a disconnect between representation within entry- and mid-level positions and senior leadership roles. For instance, more than 60% of the insurance workforce is comprised of women, yet women hold only 11% of named executive officer positions, according to a 2018 study by Million Women Mentors, a national and global movement to spark the interest and confidence in women and girls to pursue STEM careers and leadership opportunities through the power of mentoring.
Unless you are intentionally being inclusive, you are most likely unintentionally being exclusive. Proactively create programs that aim to develop promising talent from throughout your organization. Mentorship and sponsorship programs are fantastic ways to build relationships within the company and connect leaders with rising talent.
Invite all individuals to contribute. All members of your team should be empowered to contribute authentically. Some individuals are naturally more inclined to share, while others may be more reluctant to speak up. Try to provide equal airtime for everyone, creating value by hearing from a variety of voices. This enables you to understand problems from multiple perspectives and create comprehensive and well-thought-out solutions. It also provides the opportunity to engage in healthy discourse and explore contrary points of view.
Be aware of unconscious bias. It’s nearly impossible to completely remove unconscious bias. However, by recognizing it exists and working to understand when it might be influencing your decisions, you can mitigate its effect. Consider unconscious bias training, ideally with an intersectional focus to help managers throughout your company be more aware of when bias might be affecting their opinions and attitudes. Encourage individuals to seek advice from trusted colleagues from various backgrounds and consider their viewpoints when approaching problems and developing solutions.
Seek out employee feedback. Actively solicit feedback from your employees around how you can help them be successful. Are there any policies or processes that should be reconsidered, such as wellness rooms or flexible work schedules? How can you best support them? In what ways can you best serve the communities they represent? What programs would they like to see in place? In which areas is your company lacking?
Your employees can offer great insights and suggestions to help create a more inclusive workforce. However, don’t just ask what you can be doing better. Listen to their responses and take action.
Leverage employee or business resource groups. Employee resource groups, often referred to as business resource groups, can still serve as effective tools within your inclusion strategy. These voluntary, employee-led groups have evolved over the years. Yet, at their essence, they provide a platform to connect and build community among employees with shared experiences or concerns, even across different offices and work locations.
The most successful resource groups are those that endeavor to improve the work experience for everyone, aligning their purpose with the mission, vision, values and business objectives of the organization. In addition, they can help increase employee engagement, provide opportunities for personal and career development, and improve the bench-strength of the organization by giving visibility to future leaders. Senior leaders and executive teams that consult with these groups can gain a better understanding of their employees and customers to help guide business strategy.
Reconsider your recruiting efforts. Take a look at your recruiting efforts, and attempt to pinpoint any areas that may hinder qualified applicants. Be intentional about the qualities you seek in candidates and streamline your job postings to appeal to a more diverse candidate base. List only core requirements, and focus on the skills desired for a certain position, rather than the experience.
At the same time, review position descriptions for language that is gender biased. For instance, the words “ninja,” “dominant” or “guru,” tend to resonate more with men. A recent Zip Recruiter study found 91% of finance and insurance job listings used wording that is considered gendered. You may also consider blind resume screenings and software tools that can detect potentially biased words to further ensure you’re adhering to inclusive hiring practices.
Recognize a culture shift takes time. A true culture shift is a process and takes time, effort and dedication. However, by increasing awareness, taking a proactive approach and making small adjustments, you’ll be positioned to achieve a lasting impact. Expect adversity; this friction will lead to healthy discourse and long-term gains. Additionally, understand that if certain initiatives or ideas don’t have the desired results, it’s OK to try something different and work to identify what best impacts changes within your organization.
An organization’s commitment to creating an inclusive culture must be more than surface level. To experience the benefits of a diverse workforce and best support all employees, it must be driven by the executive team and embraced throughout the entire company.
Intentions matter. By committing to equity, fairness and access to opportunities, organizations can not only sustain inclusive cultures but also create the leaders of tomorrow.
Brett Carter is an engagement director for the executive search practice of The Jacobson Group, the leading global provider of talent to the insurance industry