Diversity, equity and inclusion, DEI. You see it everywhere. It’s on almost every website or product that involves human capital. The phrase has three interconnected concepts vital to our current society. The first, Diversity, refers to the representation of different groups in a particular environment, such as a workplace or a community. The second, Equity, is the idea of establishing a fair and just society where everyone has access to the same opportunities and resources. The third, Inclusion, is the act of fostering an atmosphere where people feel accepted, appreciated and respected.
According to a McKinsey & Company study, organizations prioritizing DEI are more likely to attract and retain top talent, improve employee engagement and productivity, and build stronger relationships with customers and stakeholders. DEI can also lead to better decision-making and problem-solving by bringing diverse perspectives to the table. To create a culture of DEI, it is suggested that organizations and individuals take a deliberate and proactive approach, which includes educating themselves on DEI principles, identifying and addressing their biases, and taking concrete actions to promote diversity, equity and inclusion.
I invited a few employees from RGA, a global reinsurer, to share their thoughts on this concept and why they chose to lead DEI groups and the importance of their actions.
Madeline Elbe leads EveryMind, the neurodiversity employee resource group (ERG) at RGA. Neurodiversity is the idea that there are natural variations in how people think and process information and that everyone, whether neurotypical or neurodivergent, should be treated equally. Most people are neurotypical, meaning their brains function and process information in ways society expects. However, it’s estimated that 1 in 7 people who are neurodivergent have brains that function, learn and process information differently.
EveryMind at RGA embraces both the struggles and joys of neurodiversity and intends to help those who identify as neurodivergent feel secure, accepted and empowered to work in ways that maximize their skills and allow them to thrive.
Elbe’s experience tells why she chose to spearhead this initiative. “My younger sister, Kennedy, has been diagnosed with DDX3X, a recently discovered disorder in females with developmental delays and intellectual disabilities,” she said. “This diagnosis has presented her life with many challenges, yet she has never let her struggles keep her from loving life and finding joy every day. She is truly an inspiration. Along with my sister, I also identify as neurodivergent and have experienced my fair share of challenges.”
Elbe also shared the story of an aspiring actuary with the exam and technical qualifications but had difficulty finding a job because of interview difficulties related to autism. There’s much work to be done, and Elbe is devoted to supporting neurodiversity in the workplace.
Bo Herrmann leads the Asian Pacific Professional Network at RGA, which provides career development and networking opportunities by advocating awareness of Asian Americans and Pacific islanders’ culture and perspective.
Herrmann’s experience as an immigrant played a crucial role in how she grew and how her view changed throughout different stages of her life. “I was 8 years old when my family left Seoul, South Korea, and landed in St. Louis in the middle of the night,” she said. “I had no understanding of what I was getting ready to embark on and why, just that it was dark and snowy, and we were very far away from home. In the childhood phase of my life, being different was hard. As a kid, you just want to like things and people and be liked in return. That wasn’t always the case in the Midwest during the 80s, living in a two-bedroom apartment with five other family members. But I had friends and many happy memories, along with the sad ones of being a young immigrant child.
By early adulthood, I realized that being different was work. School was a struggle as visibility usually meant negative attention, so I tried to be discreet with activities at school so as not to draw any attention to myself. In college, there seemed to be more tolerance for not being just like everyone else, and I made new friends and started looking toward what I could do to feel more fulfilled without feeling validation. I now realize that blending into the background became instinctive; if you are not seen or heard, you cannot be pointed out as being different. I started my career at RGA as an intern when I was 24 years old. For many reasons, my role with RGA has changed several times over the years, but consistently it’s been a second home.
I am now many things; wife, mother, a leader in IT and I help the DEI efforts as the ERG lead for Pan-Asians in the U.S. I always wondered why I chose IT, considering my college degree is in religious studies. Why keep being the fish out of water? My dedication and faith in our leadership, friends and peers, for one, kept me with the company and became my obvious strength. But how to find success where my strength may not drive IT technologies? And just like that, as I kept questioning why of myself, I realized that being different is a gift. My whole life has prepared me to accept that sometimes we need the round fish to swim through the square holes so that we can expand our services, grow our business and make a difference because, without the differences, we don’t grow.”
Sylvia Scheuler leads the US/Latin American Regional Diversity Inclusion Council and is a member of various ERGs at RGA.
She shared her thoughts on why she loves to be part of these groups and the meanings behind her volunteering. “My work in DEI has been incredibly rewarding with the opportunity to work with individuals who are passionate in developing ways that improve our awareness, understanding, policies and DEI programs, but primarily recognize that building a diverse and inclusive workplace that respects and embraces all is critical,” she said. “As society has changed, it is encouraging to see how RGA adapts and has responded to the need for associates to be their authentic and unique selves at work and not feel the need to fit into a mold. We recognize that work for DEI encourages collaboration and innovation and fundamentally helps us achieve our mission. More important, it helps people feel seen and that their voice, their view and their unique and shared experiences are truly valued.
I am humbled by the opportunity to lead and facilitate efforts in our Regional Diversity Inclusion Council for the US/Latin American Region, with incredible success in many areas, but most notably in launching ERGs. Our most recent celebration of the Lunar New Year hosted by our APPI ERG was a shining moment whereby thoughtful planning by a highly engaged committee provided immersive activities sharing Asian culture through stories, images, zodiac calendar explanations, games and, most important—food and drinks! Giving teams the opportunity to directly engage, see people in a new light and appreciate what is important and shapes them creates new energy and connection. I believe that organizations that actively and visibly support DEI will continue to be a differentiating factor not only for the workforce but also customers.”
Debbie Gideon leads Women at RGA, the DEI group dedicated to raising awareness of the issues facing women in the workplace. Gideon is passionate about supporting and encouraging women to step up and accomplish their goals in a safe and inclusive environment.
“First, I was raised by a very strong, independent woman who struggled in a man’s world. My mom was a farmer, and some of my memories are my dad taking us kids and lunch out to my mom as she was plowing fields or harvesting crops, watching her repair tractors, which included welding,” she said. “Second, after my daughter was born and in preschool, she loved dinosaurs and superheroes. One day she came home from preschool and said she couldn’t ever play with superheroes because they were toys for boys only. Women and girls are oftentimes placed into gender roles, and this doesn’t allow for them to fully grow their ideas and views. Third, I’m a girl scout troop leader, and it’s important to help build leaders for tomorrow. Women should be able to have a voice and not be ashamed of themselves.”
Reading these stories shared by different groups makes it clear why DEI is essential in the workplace or any other aspect of life. In conclusion, DEI is critical to creating a fair, inclusive and prosperous society. It requires individuals and organizations to act proactively and take practical steps to promote diversity, equity and inclusion in all aspects of life. Doing so can transform the world into a place where everyone shares a sense of belonging and thrives.
Statements of fact and opinions expressed herein are those of the individual authors and are not necessarily those of the Society of Actuaries or the respective authors’ employers.
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