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Next Wave
Beyond Looks

To change the industry’s image, managers must be open to hiring people who look different than them.
  • Carly Burnham
  • February 2020
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As the insurance industry continues to deal with the talent gap, it also struggles to fill the job openings caused by retirements. Many employers will recruit from universities. As insurance recruiters try to find new talent, they face many challenges because of our industry's reputation. Not the least of which is the stereotype that our industry is male, pale and stale.

This month, I want to share a personal story that comes to mind whenever I hear about this stereotype. First, a disclaimer: I don't share this to call anyone out. Rather I want to encourage more thoughtfulness in how we talk about the people we work with and who we are looking to hire.

A couple years ago, I was an underwriter who had recently been promoted. I was well respected by my management team and the agents I served. In addition to my underwriting responsibilities, I was working to improve the training curriculum for our annual class of underwriters and became involved in the hiring of incoming trainees. The company always had a surplus of applicants, so this particular year we implemented an additional screening step. We began requiring applicants to submit an introductory video. This would allow us to see some of their soft skills and presentation skills up front. I was uncomfortable with the process and shared some concerns with a manager on the hiring team.

Sitting across from him, I knew I had his full respect and his confidence in my abilities, and he had my full respect and confidence. But I had recently dyed my hair in a way that was trending at the time. The trend was called “oil slick” hair. For those not familiar, it means my dark brown hair had been colored to resemble an oil spill. I had purple, green and blue streaks throughout. It was beautiful . . . and expensive, so I no longer keep it up.

This manager had never commented on my hair, but I believed it was obvious, and it was definitely alternative for the culture of our company. My hair was absolutely on my mind as I considered this video process. I said, “I know we have a lot of applicants, and we want to get a feel for them earlier in the process. But we know that managers tend to hire people that look like themselves and that diverse teams lead to better outcomes. What are we doing to ensure we make the best decisions and avoid personal bias?”

He replied, “Well, it's always about potential, skill and ability. But, Carly, you should see some of the videos we get. Some of the candidates have facial piercings and tattoos. Think of how some of our agents would react.”

At the time, I was shocked by his reply because I fully respected him, and I was clearly sitting across from him with an alternative hairstyle. My agents had certainly seen me this way and continued to trust and value my work. I didn't know what to say. Looking back, I wish I had questioned him further. In retrospect, I believe that he continued to see me as the conservatively dressed brunette that he saw when he interviewed me.

Next month, I'll write more about why this conversation matters and why we must change our own internal perspectives and our external image. I'll address two factors that have me convinced that diversity and representation matter in recruiting and how we as individuals can encourage a shift in our industry's image.

I am sure that I am not the only one with a personal story like this, and I encourage you to think about the parts of yourself that you still don't bring to work. They may be small, but consider if you had something of yourself that was bigger and that you couldn't conceal. What would it be like to look for role models and see people who you don't resemble? How would you feel about applying for a job at a company where you didn't feel you could be yourself?

Carly Burnham, CPCU, MBA, has been in the insurance industry since 2004. She blogs at and can be reached at

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