Diversity and Inclusion Ignited

Societal and demographic shifts demand more from diversity and inclusion efforts Margaret Resce Milkint

Stop, drop and roll—the diversity and inclusion (D&I) movement is on fire! Disruption and innovation have fueled much needed action, propelling inclusion to the next level. We are living in a new age of D&I. A growing number of societal and demographic shifts are driving this change—especially the burgeoning future of work. The mandate for diversity, inclusion and intersectionality lives on the forefront. D&I efforts are rapidly evolving to address this unprecedented phenomenon that has forever changed the reality of the business world.

Millennials and Gen Z, our newest change catalysts, are demanding D&I from their organizations, immigration is skyrocketing, and the #MeToo movement is here to stay. These extreme shifts are changing the workplace and the workforce as we know it. The rise of sustainable and progressive diversity is the new norm as we seek ways to navigate the complexity of D&I and to understand the new faces and facets of diversity. Implications, responsibilities and opportunities are all front-and-center issues. Organizations are face-to-face with serving, attracting and retaining an increasingly diverse labor force. The case for D&I has a voice and a chorus of active leaders seeking answers and next steps. In fact, according to Deloitte, 32 percent more executives cited inclusion as a top priority in a 2017 study compared to the same study’s 2014 results.1

Societal Shifts

A highly globalized economy and increased immigration are playing major roles in the evolution of the racial and ethnic composition in the United States. The United Nations estimates that throughout the next 40 years, two million individuals will immigrate annually to more developed nations.2 More than half of those people are expected to immigrate to the United States. Our nation is no longer a “melting pot,” but rather a “salad bowl.” Despite predictions that all races and ethnicities will experience significant growth by 2020, this wave of immigration will have a significant impact on the minority population. Minorities are currently 30 percent of the overall population in the United States and are expected to quickly exceed 50 percent. In fact, according to U.S. Census data, the United States will be a “majority minority” nation by the year 2043.3 By 2050, there will be no racial or ethnic majority within the country. This momentous demographic shift will have a lasting effect on the face of the workforce. According to the Center for American Progress, new immigrants will account for 83 percent of the growth in the working-age population by that same year.4

The insurance industry in particular will be affected by these changes as it continues to fall behind in terms of minority representation. The actuarial profession remains an attractive exception with its long-standing history of impactful D&I initiatives.

Today, 98 percent of insurance leaders are white, according to Carrier Management.5 Minorities are significantly underrepresented, accounting for only 13 percent of all management positions. Minorities struggle to find a solid footing throughout the spectrum of insurance jobs. They continue to face challenges in finding workable pathways and advocates to champion their career advancements.

The Actuarial Aspect—Working Together to Bridge the Gap

The actuarial profession is working to make a bigger footprint in the areas of diversity and inclusion. The Casualty Actuarial Society (CAS)/Society of Actuaries (SOA) Joint Committee on Career Encouragement and Actuarial Diversity (JCCEAD) is responsible for increasing the awareness of the actuarial career among students, educators and career influencers in high schools, colleges and universities. This committee promotes actuarial diversity by making presentations and supporting summer actuarial programs at colleges targeted at minority high school students. The JCCEAD started more than 30 years ago as the Minority Recruiting Committee to address the lack of diversity in the actuarial profession. The initial charge of this committee included promoting the profession to women and Asian populations. The current underrepresented groups include blacks/African-Americans, Hispanics and Native Americans.

Increasing the entry-level pool from these underrepresented populations is critical for boosting diversity in the actuarial profession. Educating families about the power and the bright future of the actuary will increase awareness and make a significant difference in the African-American/black and Hispanic communities. A discussion about diversity in the profession would be remiss without applause for the impact of the International Association of Black Actuaries (IABA) and the Organization of Latino Actuaries for their groundbreaking work.

Men as Allies and Women Helping Women

According to Fast Company, women in S&P 500 companies make up only 4.4 percent of CEOs, 19.2 percent of board seats and 25.1 percent of senior level roles.6 Further, PayScale research shows men are 85 percent more likely than women to be in vice president or C-level roles by mid-career.7 Obviously, the majority of senior-level leaders are men. This puts men in the best position to incite change. Enlightened males are necessary allies and are taking on the role of D&I champions.

One of the simplest and most impactful things men can do to boost D&I is to promote the issue. Keeping silent on the topic of D&I can be seen as support for the landscape as it exists today. It’s important to recognize that men are not just male. They are diverse, too. Men can relate to D&I issues based on race, sexuality, ethnicity and so on.

Today, men are invited and encouraged to attend diversity-related educational and networking opportunities. The industry needs to leverage enlightened men as mentors and sponsors of inclusion efforts. Male insurance leaders must be held accountable for D&I progress just as much as members of minority groups.

What about the women already in the C-suite and in emerging leadership roles? As Madeleine Albright stated, “There is a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women.” We are seeing the rise of women stepping in and stepping up to support other women as executive sponsors, peer mentors and workplace champions. And the cry for more action, movement and success beyond white women is loud and strong. Gone are the days of isolated successes and programs—today the focus is on building multilayered success stories and rapid waves of change.

Progress Worth Celebrating

According to Saint Joseph’s University, the insurance industry has seen a 35 percent increase in board representation and a 66 percent increase in top executive positions held by women since 2013.8 This is impressive improvement in five years and certainly worth celebrating.

Additionally, Yale University reports that women currently account for the majority of students in 93 countries and earn more bachelors’ and masters’ degrees than their male counterparts.9 Further, the Women in the Workplace Study, conducted in 2017 by McKinsey & Company and LeanIn.Org, confirms that the percentage of women being promoted into middle and senior management is higher than the percentage of women currently at those levels.10 These are exciting statistics indicating progress.

As an industry, we need to be applauding these achievements and spreading the word. Celebrating these accomplishments and the positive outlook is so important to sustaining effective change. Nothing boosts results like positive reinforcement. Real change is on the horizon. However, it is important that the industry continues to build on these successes if we want to rewrite our future.

Practical D&I Tools

Inclusion begins with creating a culture where employees feel comfortable sharing their viewpoints and ideas. The journey to achieve this level of comfort requires openness in defining the true spectrum of diversity. Reaching the fundamental understanding that different perspectives exist and are all valuable sounds easier than it is. What is holding these individuals back? How can those obstacles be removed? What misconceptions, fears and unconscious biases exist in the company’s culture today? Only when these issues are identified can organizations develop and leverage diversity to its fullest extent. The ultimate goal is to create a culture where the inclusion conversation can occur safely and openly, and then watch as dialogue transitions into actionable change.

Enter the inclusive leader as a transformative agent of change. Inclusive leaders are open and aware. They adopt behaviors that foster inclusivity throughout the team and the organization. An inclusive leader is consistently welcoming, appreciative and encouraging of all employees and their contributions and ideas. Here are some actionable behaviors leaders should adopt to “walk the walk” of D&I:

  • Be self-aware. Celebrate differences and influence others.
  • Operate with a global mindset. Be transparent, and accept and act on feedback with conviction.
  • Practice empowerment. Be encouraging of employees and provide opportunities for them to grow and develop professionally.
  • Be courageous. Set principles and stick to them. Stand up for your principles even if it means taking some personal risk.
  • Admit mistakes. Accept criticism and learn from mistakes. Seek out advice and feedback from people with different points of view.
  • Hold yourself and others accountable. Build trust through accountability.

To take it further, leaders should celebrate differences in their teams, whether those differences are gender, race, ethnicity or other. It’s imperative that organizations strive to promote diversity at all levels, from entry-level to board positions. Knowing the business case for diversity and the upside to inclusive leadership should be everyone’s mission.

The D&I conversation includes a lot of important and specific terminology. Adopt these terms whenever possible to encourage an inclusive environment:

  • People of color. Currently the preferred term for U.S. citizens who do not identify as only white or Caucasian.
  • Ethnicity. Group of people who identify with each other based on a shared culture.
  • Culture. Set of ideas, customs and beliefs shared by a group.
  • Disability. Mental or physical difference that limits a person in everyday activities.
  • Gender identity. A person’s internal perception of his or her own gender.
  • Indigenous. Person or group whose culture, identity and/or spirituality are rooted in a particular place.
  • Sex. Chromosomal, hormonal and anatomical characteristics used to characterize male, female or intersex.

Diversity Can’t Exist Without Active Inclusion

It is no secret that diverse and inclusive teams outperform their peers. Leaders recognize that a diverse workforce undeniably provides a competitive advantage when it comes to selling products and services to diverse consumers. Unfortunately, while most leaders understand the behaviors that are needed to foster D&I, many fall short of actually adopting them.

As a call to action, consider shifting hiring behaviors to augment and realize change. Advocating new ways to increase diversity requires simple, repeatable steps and a shift in the cultural DNA of an organization. One example is focusing on D&I while building a final slate of candidates, acknowledging that there must be more than one “diverse” candidate in consideration. A single diverse candidate in an entire slate does not foster change. In order to achieve diversity, organizations need to look toward inclusive recruiting practices. Boldly challenging and expanding current horizons and casting a wider net when seeking potential candidates is a strong start. Insurers should consider setting targets for their slate of candidates. These targets should mirror the company’s goals for diversity numbers. Rather than making general statements about diversity, organizations should be specific. For example, no less than half of all new hires should match the organization’s definition of diverse.

A focus on D&I recruitment not only helps broaden the pool of talent from which a company can recruit, it helps organizations position their employment brands as fully inclusive. When companies recruit from a diverse set of potential employees, they are more likely to hire the best and the brightest in the labor market. In an increasingly competitive economy—where talent is crucial to improving the bottom line—pulling from the largest and most diverse pool of candidates is necessary for success.

What’s Next?

While the insurance industry has made great strides in recent years, the reality is that current D&I programs and initiatives still fall short. Today’s reality challenges us to re-imagine diversity—to shift our focus away from exclusively gender and racial inclusion and toward all faces and facets. The movement has reached a new level of urgency, energy and integration. Industry groups coming together under a “big tent” of collaboration will make all the difference. Alliances are taking hold across the industry among groups including the SOA and CAS; Insurance Industry Charitable Foundation, Women’s Insurance Networking Group and Dive In; and Gamma Iota Sigma and Insurance Careers Movement, to name a few.

The D&I fire continues to burn. As an industry, we must embrace allies, incorporate inclusive behavior, transform our vocabularies and promote grassroots movements. Women and men of all ethnic, generational and lifestyle backgrounds are joining together to ignite momentous change.

Margaret Resce Milkint is a managing partner at The Jacobson Group.

Copyright © 2018 by the Society of Actuaries, Chicago, Illinois.