“This past week has brought a heightened level of devastation for many across our country,” said Bob Rusbuldt, Big “I” president & CEO, in a statement released earlier this week in response to ongoing racial injustice and recent protests. “From the unnecessary loss of another innocent life to the destruction of small businesses that may never recover in our own communities, many of us are overwhelmed. As proud independent agents, we always play a unique role in serving and assisting our communities in many ways, especially in times of trouble.”
In January, the Big “I” hosted its very first diversity and inclusion business conference, Level Up. The conference brought agents, association leaders and industry executives together from across the country to tap into inclusionary business practices to foster continued agency growth and innovation.
During the opening session, Building a Culture of Inclusion, Stephanie Piimauna with MGM Resorts International taught attendees the meaning of “Sawa Bona,” a South African tribal community phrase her organization puts into practice daily. The term translates to “I see you,” further meaning “I respect and acknowledge you for who you are.”
At this time of heightened awareness of racial injustices, it is critical that we as trusted advisors in our communities convey this short yet powerful phrase—sawa bona—by being inclusive leaders.
Here are action steps you can take to be a more inclusive leader within your agency and community at large.
1) Lean in. Guess what? The very fact that you are taking time to read this article is an indicator that you are already leaning in!
While being an inclusive leader seems relatively easy in theory, it can get downright uncomfortable at times. Very similar to beginning a new workout regiment, there are hard days where you leave with sore muscles, but the more you show up the easier and more rewarding it gets. Trust the process, as the discomfort in getting started, as with most everything, is inevitable.
2) Educate yourself. While some of us have racial or ethnic minority friends we can connect with to discuss racial injustices, that is not the case for everyone. Thankfully, there are so many resources on race and racism you can now tap into by the click of a button.
Get started by visiting Talking About Race, the National Museum of African American History and Culture’s newly launched website, which features educational resources and tools to better educate you on racism so that you can host your own courageous conversations.
3) Understand privilege. The Oxford Dictionary defines privilege as “a special right, advantage, or immunity granted or available only to a particular person or group.”
While it is critically important to acknowledge this inherited advantage as it pertains to being white in America, it is also important to note privilege doesn’t stop with race. Its oppressive impact is also experienced by women, those born into lower income households, people identifying as LGBTQ, people with disabilities and people with different religious beliefs.
Take time to consider how your life would look different if the privileges you inherited were stripped from you.
4) Be vocal. Your voice matters! We all have circles of influence from our homes, to our extended families, workplace, communities and social media networks.
Start a courageous conversation about racial injustices with those in your inner circles. You would be surprised how taking the time to talk about race can build bridges.
Don’t worry about saying the wrong thing or your level of expertise on racial issues. A simple “I don’t know” or “I don’t understand” is perfectly okay.
5) Support minority businesses. This could be attending a local minority business league’s charity event, grabbing a bite at an Asian restaurant down the street or purchasing your next car from the black-owned dealership in town; whatever it is, your patronage is valuable.
Be sure to also take it a step further by writing an online review of your experience. Your favorable review could bring even more customers to that business and once they find out you are a trusted insurance advisor they may reciprocate the favor in sending new customers your way.
Being a trusted advisor is more than just about selling insurance. It’s about impacting communities for the better. During this sensitive time across our country, make sure every member of your community knows you see them and respect and acknowledge them for who they are. Sawa bona!
“While we support those grieving the lives that continue to be lost due to racial injustices, let us as community leaders do so in a peaceful manner, encouraging reform and not destruction,” Rusbuldt said. “The Big 'I' is pleased to continue to promote diversity and inclusion and stand as an ally with the National African American Insurance Association. We will continue our collaborative efforts in advocating for change in our communities and our industry."
Whitnee Dillard is Big “I” director, diversity & inclusion.
Special thanks to the Big “I" Diversity Council—Allstate, Amerisure, AmTrust North America, Chubb, Church Mutual, CNA, Encompass, The Hartford, Liberty Mutual Insurance, MetLife, Nationwide, Progressive, Safeco, Selective, Travelers, Westfield, Vertafore and our most recent member National General. For more information, visit the Big “I” Diversity webpage.