Not too long ago, I was looking at a colleague’s LinkedIn post in which he was congratulating the new class of adjusters at his company. He is a high-level director with a national insurance carrier. The class looked as if it could have come from the 1950s; there was no diversity to be found. In a world that has been espousing diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) for the past few years, this seemed to reflect a huge disconnect.
As I thought more about it, I realized that it was not a disconnect but reality, and a reality that makes sense in the context of the insurance world. It is a reality that doesn’t have to be, but in order for the reality to change, more than lip service has to be given to DEI initiatives. There has to be a conscious and active desire for change by the insurance industry.
The insurance industry has traditionally been dominated by white people. There have always been some brown and black people in various roles, but nothing that is proportionate to the representation of minorities in the country, and that representation has rarely reached the highest levels of the insurance world.
I believe there are a number of reasons why. Like many other industries, insurance has become increasingly professionalized. Two generations ago, one did not need a college degree to enter the industry; one generation ago, a person could still fall into an insurance career without having had a plan to do so. It is now a conscious choice to be an insurance professional. Hires come directly from college having majored in risk management, insurance, or some other degree in a related field. These same graduates, more often than not, have matriculated from the business school or department of their undergraduate college or university—a place where minority students are underrepresented. There are many reasons for the underrepresentation, but perhaps one reason is the lack of knowledge or exposure to insurance as a profession. If you are not aware that a career exists, then there is no way that you will think to choose that path.
In order to open up new conduits for minority hires, companies should change the way they think about recruiting. Thought needs to be given as to how to make insurance attractive to not only minority college students, but also to high school and middle school students, as well. This is done through exposure.
One way of developing a more diverse corporation is to expand the pool from which the industry hires. Companies need to go where the potential hires are. There are more minority college graduates than ever before, but many of these students have liberal arts degrees and not business degrees. However, the beauty of a liberal arts curriculum is that it teaches one to think, and there is no reason that nonbusiness majors cannot make the transition into the insurance industry and become successful.
In order to expand their base of hire, insurance companies should consider not only recruitment efforts at liberal arts colleges, but also they should also strongly consider graduates from historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs). This simple change in hiring focus would become a way of attaining a more diverse company.
A deeper commitment by the insurance industry could also be the development of programs for high school and middle school students that explain what an insurance career looks like. Teach them what an claims professional does or what risk management is, and explain why these careers are important and needed. This can be done by partnering with high schools, and with enrichment programs or groups such as fraternities and sororities that help expose young people of all colors to opportunities.
Attraction and recruitment is just the first piece of this process, however. Retention is equally important. Companies must be mindful that no one wants to be the “only” in the work environment, and that cultural differences do exist. Those differences don’t make one person better or worse. They are simply differences that need to be acknowledged. In fact, those differences lead to a better work product because a diverse workforce is better able to meet the needs of a customer base that is increasingly diverse. Greater conversation is needed for this to happen.
Let’s start with the first piece of the puzzle and realize that the only way change happens is when it comes from the C-suite. DEI initiatives must disseminate from the top down. It must permeate a company and become an authentic part of a company’s culture. Don’t let your company be the one whose LinkedIn posts look like a relic from the 1950s.