The Wholesales & Specialty Insurance Association’s U40 group for young professionals recently sponsored a timely and topical panel discussion that illuminated the challenges and successes of the insurance industry’s diversity and inclusion initiatives. The Wholesales & Specialty Insurance Association’s U40 group for young professionals recently sponsored a timely and topical panel discussion that illuminated the challenges and successes of the insurance industry’s diversity and inclusion initiatives.

The event was part of WSIA’s 2020 Virtual Annual Marketplace and coincided with the organization’s announcement that it has formed the Insurance Industry Diversity Foundation (IIDF) “to promote and attract diversity in race, gender, sexual orientation and disability and to influence meaningful progress in the diversity of the insurance industry and its talent pipeline.”

The panel discussion, which is available as a webcast recording for WSIA members, launched with an introductory video in which several insurance industry leaders voiced thought leadership around diversity and inclusion.

“All of us are shaped by our culture, our background and our personalities. That’s really the core of diverse thinking,” said Bryan Sanders, WSIA President and president of Markel Specialty. “If we can bring together people who think differently from one another, we can create conversations that stimulate new ideas and drive innovation. That is what our industry is all about, and why the WSIA Board of Directors and I are excited to launch the Insurance Industry Diversity Foundation and support its development.”

Carlton Manor, CEO of the U.S. division of Axis Capital, said diversity and inclusion must start at the top of an organization.

“The company must make it clear that diversity matters and is critical to the future success of the business,” Manor said. “When companies are committed to hiring, training, promoting, and retaining diverse talent, that usually results in a healthy work environment, and improved performance levels.”

Ryan Specialty Group Founder, Chairman and CEO Pat Ryan said people feel better about their work when it happens in a diverse culture. “We benefit from this diverse thinking,” he said.

And Century Insurance Group President Cheung Kwan said in the video that as society and workforces become more diverse, embracing equity in business becomes a competitive advantage.

“But most importantly,” Kwan said, “it’s the right thing to do.”

These insights set the stage for a rich conversation in which six African-American insurance professionals talked about the unique opportunity facing insurance and society in 2020 — the year that Black Lives Matter became a mainstream phrase and movement. The discussion was moderated by AXIS Insurance Executive Vice President Janet Jordan-Foster. She also is the incoming chair of the National African American Insurance Association (NAAIA). Jordan-Foster was joined on the panel by:

  • Kevin Davis, Worldwide Facilities, LLC;
  • Richie Henry, Markel;
  • Kevin Husbands, AIG;
  • Terrance Meade, AmWINS; and
  • Oveta Mitchell, AXIS Insurance.

Jordan-Foster offered the following context for the discussion:

“The last four months have made clear the systemic inequalities that permeate the lives and livelihoods of African Americans each and every day in this country. The country, the world, and our industry is at an inflection point. Across the country, people have finally acknowledged that the status quo is unacceptable. Leaders far and wide are leaning in and listening to the frustrations, anxieties, experiences, and aspirations of African-American employees, all in an effort to drive changes within their organization,” she said.

Jordan-Foster added that as an industry, insurance is about solutions, which lent a positive and productive tone to the panel’s conversation.

Kevin Davis offered historical perspective on the issue of diversity and inclusion in insurance. He said that at the time he began his insurance career in the late 1970s, “diversity and inclusion initiatives” were framed as “affirmative action.” At that time, Davis said, there were people of color in most entry-level and mid-level positions within the insurance business.

“That happened for about 10 years,” Davis said. “Then, from 1986 to about 1990, we really hit our peak. We hit a ceiling, and we started to see people who were younger than us passing us by.”

Davis said that in the 1990s, lack of advancement opportunities in insurance pushed many people of color to start their own businesses or go to work for other entrepreneurial endeavors.

Kevin Husbands had a different take on the state of diversity in insurance. He said that it wasn’t until recent history that many larger insurers started to bring structure and resources to their diversity initiatives, and that diverse “affinity groups” came together within the insurance industry in an unstructured and arbitrary way.

But 2020′s socio-political discourse leaves little room for diversity initiatives that are unstructured or arbitrary, the panel agreed.

Oveta Mitchell said that one of the benefits of the Me Too and Black Lives Matter movements is they helped to bring diversity work back into the mainstream. She said that until recently, many minorities and people of color felt afraid to discuss diversity or injustice in the workplace for fear of reprisal.

“There was no safe, comfortable space to bring up an issue or any process,” she said. “Any concerns were considered to be related to that person only. And there was a fear of repercussions that would affect your career.”

Mitchell added that the current trend toward finding and retaining diverse talent in the insurance business is propelled not only by what’s happening in society but also by businesses’ research that indicates diversity positively impacts a company’s bottom line.

Terrance Meade with AmWINS said that the desire for better hiring and advancement initiatives now permeates the insurance industry. “Over the past year, I’ve spoken to several brokers, retailers, underwriters, senior leaders, and they all want to see some type of change,” Meade said.

All of the panelists agreed that taking small steps toward a more diverse workforce is better than taking no steps, and that the companies that are truly getting out in front of the diversity issue have appointed executives whose sole mission is to improve workplace equity issues.

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