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Our Authentic Selves

Achieving business development and advancement for diverse professionals

January 13, 2021 Photo

You may think of diversity as only the outward appearance of a person, or perhaps limited to demographic identifiers used to categorize individuals. But diversity is so much more, which can make discussions around it a bit challenging.

Diversity is more than just gender, race, sexual orientation, gender identity or age. According to Ella Washington and Camille Patrick, writing for Gallup, diversity is also about socio-economic status, physically different abilities, and religion. It is even about years of experience at an organization, education, family, and lifestyles. When we define diversity, we need to remember that all of the experiences we have had up to this moment in time help to make us who we are, and allow us to contribute an amazing array of ideas, and, through those, lead innovation in our thriving organizations. There are several ways to increase equity, inclusion, or a sense of belonging and diversity.   

Emily Jarrett, a business psychologist, offers some amazing recommendations when moving from the concepts of an equity, inclusion, and diversity plan to rolling it out within your organization. Arranging unconscious-bias training is a great first step. Even an awareness of our human biases is helpful to gaining an understanding of the role bias plays in our decision-making. Other recommendations include:

•    Capitalize on the idea that people are more likely to recommend others who share their background.

•    Intentionally include women on interview panels in order to appeal more to female candidates.

•    Make a focused effort to have a diverse range of senior employees to set an example, and to increase the chance of attracting candidates from a wide range of backgrounds.

•    Avoid too much masculine-oriented language on job postings. There are some great tools in the marketplace to assist with this, including Textio, which recently published a case study by Julie Yue, where Gallagher, a 92-year-old insurance brokerage, used this tool to assist the recruiting “team [to] intentionally select more compelling language and balance biased language to engage more candidates.”

•    Offer flexible working hours, which is often especially attractive to those who may want to start a family, finish schooling, or have additional priorities at that moment of their lives.

Diversity Advances Business Goals

A 2015 McKinsey report found that organizations that were the most diverse were 25 percent more likely to have financial returns above their national industry medians. In addition, with every 10 percent increase in diversity, earnings before interest and taxes (EBIT) rose 0.8 percent. That may seem like a small number, but it is very significant when you consider the EBIT average for the top four insurance brokerages in 2019 was $1.7 billion. If you decided to invest $30,000 into equity, inclusion, and diversity, you would see a more-than-four times return on investment.

Fast forward to Boston Consulting Group’s study from 2018, which looked at 1,700 organizations in eight different countries and found that those that were intentionally increasing diversity also increased revenue by 19 percent due to innovation. Organizations that were more diverse were 45 percent more likely to innovate over their competitors. Since innovation is how organizations will grow over the next 10 years, this can be a game-changer.

There are many ways to measure equity, diversity, and inclusion. A few great areas to look at include Diversity, Inc.’s ratings, the Bloomberg Gender-Equality Index, the Disability Equality Index from Disability:IN for differently abled people, and the Corporate Equality Index from the Human Rights Campaign for LGBTQ. While a sense of belonging may be difficult to measure, it likely will provide your organization with the greatest innovation culture if people feel they can be their true selves at work.

Though studies show that diversity in the workplace is good for the bottom line, a 2016 study published online by the Academy of Management shows that organizations sometimes punish diverse people who work for greater diversity and inclusion. If you are a leader in your organization, make a stand against such behavior. When employees push for greater diversity, listen to them, publicly applaud and reward their efforts, and protect them as necessary.

When we talk about a “sense of belonging,” is that just a rebadging of the term inclusion to get people talking again? To some degree, perhaps, but it goes further than that. To paraphrase inclusion strategist Verña Myers, diversity means being invited to the dance, inclusion is being asked to dance, but having a sense of belonging is feeling like you can dance your heart out with everyone cheering you on.

If we can create of a sense of belonging through cultural development at the organizational level, which will take time, we can attract new talent in the Generation Z and Young Millennial generational strata, and this will help achieve the sorely needed goal of increasing the talent pool in our industry. Additionally, creating that trusting environment will allow for fresh, unique ideas to be presented—ones that were not presented previously because of fear, which ultimately hindered the growth of your organization.

Finally, fostering a sense of belonging—through strategies such as establishing a strong mentorship of diverse employees—can help ensure that your organization retains the diverse talent you worked so hard to recruit. Retention and promotion of diverse workers result in exponential returns on investment at the organization, as well as at the individual levels.

Moving Past Self-Imposed Boundaries

It is easy assume bias in others, but it is critical to set aside those assumptions so that you can open yourself up to making new contacts, perhaps even new friends and colleagues. First, these assumptions we make are often wrong—you may be prejudging a person by believing that they harbor negative biases toward you or toward diversity without getting to know them. Second, unsubstantiated assumptions of bias in others is just another form of bias, which will negatively affect you and your career. Push past the fear and set aside your assumptions.

One of the best ways to build your confidence is to seek mentors that share your background. Most jurisdictions now have bar associations as well as professional claims associations for women, LGBTQ, ethnic, or racial legal professionals. Many law firms and most insurance organizations have affinity groups, employee resource groups, or inclusion committees. Join groups where you can get support to lift your career or business. Volunteer for committees and share your thoughts, ideas, and perspectives. Your involvement could lead to referrals, new opportunities, and valuable new contacts. The simple, but not always easy, act of getting involved will boost your confidence and reinforce the value of your diverse traits.

It is true that the more at ease you are with yourself, the more at ease others will be around you. Embrace your identity and your diverse traits. If you open yourself up just a small amount, you are more likely to flourish. Leaders who are authentic will lead teams that trust them and deliver demonstrably superior outcomes.

Strategies to Overcome Bias

In order to fix any problem, we must first acknowledge that there is a problem. Too often, seeing visual representation of diversity causes us to have a skewed perception of how dire the situation remains. Insurance companies, in particular, continue to have little to no diverse representation in decision-making positions. While diversity is present across the board with support and technical staff, there is often a lack of diverse talent in leadership.

Once we have identified the problem, we must then create a blueprint for change. Recognizing that diverse leadership will help attract diverse talent is important and fosters company prosperity. Companies should embrace a proactive approach to attracting and retaining underrepresented talent at all levels. Once the plan is in place, companies and, eventually, this industry will develop to reflect the world we help every day.

Achieving a diverse topography is not the end, but rather just the beginning of the story. Companies must maintain this momentum by also focusing on inclusivity and the sense of belonging. We must continuously reassess the needs of employees and the role we play in order to strive for continued trust throughout the organization, so that everyone can be their authentic selves. In addition, pushing toward a more inclusive environment will facilitate continual change across generations.

This article offers a basic framework to drive the advancement of your own career or business, or to provide a lift to someone else. Equity, inclusion, and diversity are something we should all continue to write about, discuss, and present until our industry is a reflection of the world surrounding us. In furtherance of accomplishing the mission, remember to understand the meaning, prepare to identify the business goals you will achieve, shatter your own boundaries, and challenge your organizations to overcome bias.

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About The Authors
Multiple Contributors
Kevin Clonts

Kevin Clonts, JD, is a partner at Rizzo Mattingly Bosworth. kclonts@rizzopc.com

Bradley W. Gronke

Bradley W. Gronke, EdD, CPCU, is talent acquisition and development manager at Gallagher Bassett. bradley_gronke@gbtpa.com

Flavia Pemberton

Flavia Pemberton, JD, is vice president at Ascot Group. flavia.pemberton@ascotgroup.com

Karen Saab-Dominguez

Karen Saab-Dominguez, JD, is a partner at Goldberg Segalla. ksaab@goldbergsegalla.com

Jamie Samaniego

Jamie Samaniego, CCP, is senior claims specialist at XL Specialty.  jamie.samaniego@axaxl.com

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