Diversity is like a multifaceted diamond, each unique element enhancing its depth, complexity and beauty. However, we need to be aware of each side's differences, as well as the fact that these diamonds don't come out of the ground sparkling.
Major shifts in race, ethnicity and age are taking place in many areas and regions across America. As a result, customers and clients are represented by an increasingly diverse marketplace. This means that, to remain successful, agencies must understand the needs and preferences of current and potential clients. A workplace where diversity, equity & inclusion (DE&I) are valued and present brings positive results and success for both your agency and staff.
Diversity encompasses various dimensions, including but not limited to race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, age, disability, religion, socioeconomic status and cultural background. Embracing diversity involves recognizing and valuing these differences and ensuring that individuals from all backgrounds are represented and included.
Meanwhile, equity focuses on ensuring fairness and justice by providing access to opportunities and resources to individuals. Inclusion involves creating an environment where all individuals feel valued, respected and supported, regardless of their differences.
The Beauty of a Diamond
I grew up in Arkansas. Some summers, my family and I would go to Crater of Diamonds State Park to look for diamonds in the world's only diamond-bearing site accessible to the public. I was only a kid during most of those trips. In my mind, I was searching for a beautiful sparkling diamond. My parents would tell me it's not going to look like that when you find it and encouraged me to show them all the rocks I dug up.
When I grew up, I understood what the term “diamond in the rough" really meant. When diamonds are discovered, they have so much beautiful potential, but they need to be refined and shaped into what we see in the jewelry stores.
When I think about DE&I, I envision a multifaceted diamond, each unique element enhancing its depth, complexity and beauty. However, we need to be aware of each side's differences, as well as the fact that these diamonds don't come out of the ground sparkling.
In DE&I, there is work to be done to make sure we are making space for everyone. Every facet of diversity should be included, so people can contribute to the fullest. In the end, our organizations benefit.
For example, take age and generational diversity. Our present workplaces are accommodating a spectrum of generations simultaneously. While some insurance agents may be transitioning into retirement, others may opt to extend their careers. As a result, workplaces across the nation have Generation Zers, millennials, Generation Xers and baby boomers. Each group brings their distinct perspectives and experiences to the table.
Today, the multigenerational workplace creates a diverse pool of viewpoints that significantly shape the workplace culture and operation of agencies, as well as the expectations of how clients and communities are served.
For instance, Gen Z members have been familiar with computers since their preschool years. This seamless integration of digital technology into their everyday lives has shaped their approach to education and work. It also shapes their expectations for technology in the workplace and their expectations as a consumer.
When reflecting on diversity, it's essential to question not just the composition of our workforce, but also how these diverse experiences, perspectives, and skills can be leveraged to create a more inclusive, effective and innovative working environment. Here, diversity is not merely a demographic representation; it's an intersection of diverse facets that shape our communities and chart our course forward.
Of course, there are more facets to think about outside of age. A broad spectrum of characteristics create a person's identity that makes them unique. For example, diversity also pertains to gender. Meanwhile, diversity in race and ethnicity involves acknowledging and valuing the rich diversity of human backgrounds, each with its unique cultural heritage, traditions and histories.
Diversity includes acknowledging and including people with disabilities. Here it's about recognizing their potential and creating an environment where their skills and abilities can be leveraged, ensuring the workplace is accessible, accommodating and supportive. This facet of diversity extends beyond physical disabilities to include mental conditions and neurodiversity.
There are also factors such as socioeconomic status, education, language, religion, sexual orientation, and diversity in thought and experience. Each of these elements contributes to a person's identity and can significantly impact their perspective, innovation and productivity within a workforce.
It is important to be aware of our own diversity as well as others'. Increasing awareness about differences helps us understand the needs and preferences of current and potential clients. A workplace where diversity, equity and inclusion are valued brings success to both your agency and staff.
Applying these concepts at your independent insurance agency is hard. Here are four areas where you can look inside your walls:
1) Demographics. Attracting and engaging a wide range of talent at your agency can open the door to innovation and provide connections to groups that may not have been a part of an agency's traditional market. Also, different backgrounds and perspectives can bring new perspectives to the table, fostering a culture of innovation within the business.
2) Technology. Consumers have become—and will continue to become—more savvy about using technology to interact, often preferring it to traditional methods. Higher expectations place a demand on your agency to keep technology interfaces and skills up to date while also seeking options and alternatives to provide access to broader groups of individuals, such as less tech-savvy customers and people with disabilities.
3) Health. The coronavirus pandemic and the aging of some large generational groups in the marketplace have prompted a growing focus on providing equity in access to health and well-being. An agency's reputation for creating safe, healthy working environments can illustrate an understanding and appreciation of this concern.
4) Sustainability. Being an upstanding company and corporate citizen includes being guardians of the communities in which we live and work, so our children and grandchildren can enjoy them. Agencies that get involved with projects like recycling, community cleanups or building community gardens beautify neighborhoods and show a commitment to preserving them for the future.
Light in the Darkness
It's important to note that a commitment to DE&I should be genuine, embedded in the business's values and practices, and not just a surface-level effort. It requires ongoing intention, education and an inclusive mindset to truly reap the benefits of a diverse and inclusive workplace.
Further, DE&I is multifaceted. By committing your business to some of these themes, it will improve operations. Here are a few dimensions where it can have an impact:
The marketplace: Clients and customers want to work with successful agencies that are known for being good stewards of their business. Companies with greater diversity are 70% more likely to capture more markets, according to Harvard Business Review. An enlarged and broadened market brings business growth and sends a clear message to the marketplace that an agency is open to a diverse client base.
The workforce: The most diverse companies are more likely than ever to be more profitable than non-diverse companies, according to McKinsey. When the workforce is encouraged to express ideas and offer improvements, they envision themselves as a part of the agency's future and, as partners in that future, can be an essential part of maximizing the profitability and stability of the agency.
The workplace: Igniting the potential of a diverse marketplace and workforce is key to creating a workplace that thrives. Including DE&I in an agency's vision of success can result in a workplace that celebrates innovation and maximizes growth.
Walk the Walk
There has been a lot of talk about DE&I in recent years—so much talk that some people may think that they are just buzzwords. But they aren't. DE&I is important for everyone. The Big “I" Diversity Council provides resources and programs so members can learn more and make a concerted effort to improve their business from this perspective.
The Big “I" Diversity Council works to engage and develop a sustainable, diverse independent agency network by partnering with state associations, carriers and industry affinity groups. The council is a cooperative industry group comprised of multicultural Big “I" member agents in addition to leading insurance company executives. The council aims to promote awareness of the opportunities and benefits of embracing diversity and advocating the necessary changes for the independent agency system to survive and flourish.
Independent agents and agency leaders are always looking for ways to improve, achieve growth and stay ahead in today's competitive market. That's why we are thrilled to introduce you to an incredible membership benefit: the Inclusive Agency Training Series, created by the Big “I" Diversity Council. And, as a Big “I" member, you have access to all the resources that the Big “I" Diversity Council creates for free.
Designed specifically for independent agents, the four-part training series is a gamechanger for your business. By participating, you will gain the knowledge, skills and strategies needed to cultivate a more inclusive agency culture that can transform your business and open new doors of opportunity.
Here's an outline of each module:
Module 1: Building Awareness of DE&I. You've heard these terms, but what do diversity, equity and inclusion mean for you and your agency? During this session, you'll go beyond the terms and focus on the actions to incorporate DE&I into your marketplace, workforce and workplace.
Module 2: The Business Case for DE&I. You'll learn how to drive DE&I in business decisions related to your marketplace, workforce and workplace. Module 2 focuses on data showing the business impacts of DE&I and potential areas to focus on in your marketplace, workforce and workplace.
Module 3: Understanding Blind Spots and Microaggressions. We go beyond the buzzwords everyone is talking about and explore the science behind biases and learn how to combat them, when necessary, along with other discounting behaviors. This module also shares 10 common biases that often show up in the workplace.
Module 4: Developing an Inclusive Workplace. In the final module, we explore ways to strategically determine DE&I initiatives you can implement at your agency.
By actively participating in the Inclusive Agency Training Series, you will unlock countless benefits as an independent agent or agency leader. Embracing diversity and inclusion will give you a competitive edge, expand your client base, foster innovation and create a workplace that attracts and retains top talent.
This membership benefit is your gateway to success in an increasingly diverse and interconnected world. Further, this training series is available on demand so that you can complete it at your own pace. It also comes with a PDF printable workbook.
Anitra Rivera is Big “I" diversity & inclusion program director. Email her if you have any questions about The Inclusive Agency Training Series or how to get the most out of it.