Intersecting scrabble tiles that spell out "diversity" "equity" and "inclusion" The WSIA Board of Directors identified enhancing diversity in the industry as a strategic initiative in 2019 with financial support from WSIA member firms and individuals committed to bringing the initiative to the forefront. Photo: ClareM/Adobe Stock

Since its founding three years ago, the WSIA Diversity Foundation board has fully focused on developing and executing its mission to promote diversity and inclusion with a unified voice to the entire insurance industry; influence meaningful progress in the diversity of the industry and its talent pipeline; and coordinating programs to promote diversity and develop inclusive workplace culture for WSIA and its member firms.

The scope and scale of possibilities for the Foundation’s work is vast, but for Carlton Maner, WSIA Diversity Foundation Board of Directors chair, and AXIS CEO, wholesale division, that challenge is energizing.

“We have a tall task ahead, but I am invigorated by the work, and I believe that we’re making meaningful progress,” Maner says. “I have learned that building a high-performing team requires mutual trust, and the best way to establish trust is by responding to the needs of your team and being authentic and transparent in your interactions with them. The Diversity Foundation’s initiatives are making tools available to help me and others do that.”

The WSIA Board of Directors identified enhancing diversity in the industry as a strategic initiative in 2019 with financial support from WSIA member firms and individuals committed to bringing the initiative to the forefront. Since then, the Diversity Foundation has received pledges and contributions totaling $3.4 million from WSIA member firms, individuals and the WSIA Education Foundation.

The WSIA Diversity Foundation Board, now with 13 members, has developed a three-year roadmap for the Foundation’s work that includes three categories: Student & Talent Outreach, Member-Focused Inclusive Culture and Association-Focused DE&I. That roadmap includes annual milestones and success measures to help break down what could be overwhelming objectives into achievable steps.

Vanessa Sims, WSIA’s director of diversity, equity and inclusion, explains that this three-pillar approach helps advance the Foundation’s mission intentionally.

“The mission envisions reaching students and prospective industry talent, developing talent already within our industry, as well as providing resources for all WSIA members and the association itself,” Sims says. “We know that by traveling all of these roads simultaneously we are going to reach our goal of a truly inclusive industry sooner, and the roadmap keeps us focused.”

Student & talent outreach initiatives

Attracting and recruiting diverse students to the E&S industry is a Foundation goal and helps address a potential talent crisis for the industry, with a record number of professionals expected to retire in the next few years.

“The WSIA Diversity Internship is designed for students who don’t come to the program with RMI experience or coursework. We are focused on developing an inclusive workforce by connecting underrepresented students with a meaningful and robust internship experience,” says Tony Chimera, Diversity Internship Committee Chair and Chief Talent Officer, Westfield Specialty. “They are paid a competitive hourly salary, matched with industry professionals as mentors, and provided housing and transportation. Then, the Foundation awards a generous scholarship at the completion of their summer to apply to future study.”

As an added benefit, based on their performance, two interns are selected to receive mentoring by industry executives and additional scholarship and internship upon completion of their first internship.

The Diversity Talent Outreach Committee is also student-focused, and committee volunteers present in classrooms and information sessions, primarily at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSIs) where they can interact directly with students.

TJ Davis, diversity talent outreach committee chair and property broker with RT Specialty, says those presentations are rewarding for volunteers and students.

“We have visited with close to 1,000 students during the last two years, and it is special to share the benefits of working in this industry with them. They are bright and eager to learn more, and they offer so much potential to us as employers and colleagues,” Davis says.

Member-focused initiatives

Sims says that developing the diverse talent pipeline is critical for the industry, but retaining that talent is just as important, and research shows that a diverse workforce can lead to greater innovation, performance and profitability for companies.

“Embracing diversity, equity and inclusion in our own workplaces is not only just the right thing to do, but when people experience this culture in action it leads to a sense of belonging and good things for business,” Sims adds.

WSIA and the WSIA Diversity Foundation make a number of materials and resources available to members to enhance their own DE&I efforts. These include a microlearning platform with short interactive videos and lessons, a monthly DE&I newsletter with content and tools members can use on their own or with their teams, social media banners to use and share, free webinars on a variety of DE&I topics, quarterly DE&I Practitioners Forums, and mentorship resources.

Sims reminds members that all of these materials are available to members at no charge.

“Most of these resources are accessible on demand, and any WSIA member can leverage them,” she says. “The Blue Ocean Brain microlearning platform and the online inclusion theme resources, which are presented in monthly themes, are great tools for members who are just getting started on this journey and want to learn more.” Sims also says she is available to members at any time as a thought partner, to answer questions and explore best practices that can be implemented by firms.

Association-focused initiatives

Sims says that WSIA’s governance and processes have also been examined with a DE&I lens, leading to updates for the Diversity Foundation’s mission statement, adoption of a diversity statement for the association and a review of the code of ethics, board selection framework and other documents to enhance their inclusivity.

Maner says that he feels honored to talk about the Foundation.

“I know we are just beginning this journey and we look forward to enhancing and growing these initiatives into the future, but we’ve put a lot in motion in a short time,” he says. “It makes me proud to be part of this industry.”

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