Diversity is good for business and essential for the long-term health of the insurance industry.
- Carly Burnham
- March 2020
Last month, I wrote about bias in the insurance hiring process. Specifically, I told the story of a former boss who weeded out candidates based on tattoos and piercings, and expressed concern about managers only hiring people who look like them.
This month, I want to discuss why that matters.
Since we work in a relationship business, and our jobs are knowledge jobs, we must create environments where individuals can thrive. People do their best work on teams where they are supported and welcomed. And, individuals need role models who can inspire them to strive toward professional betterment. If no one above me looks like me, it is harder for me to picture myself in those roles. Yes, I can look to a man as a mentor or a model, but picturing myself in his shoes is harder, especially if I see other people who look more like me and who I admire as hard workers consistently passed over for promotions.
But first, why does it matter? To me, there are two reasons.
First, diversity improves business outcomes. We know diverse teams make better decisions and create products that are better suited to the customers they serve. The customers we serve are diverse, and they have needs that may not be thought of by professionals who are not walking in their shoes. People who have different backgrounds and experiences also approach problem-solving differently. A wider set of potential solutions to a given problem makes it more likely that the best solution will be the one that is pursued.
Second, the insurance industry is people-focused. Insurance has always been based on trust, and if your employees don't understand the customers they serve, trust is difficult to establish in either direction. We have seen companies make real efforts to represent diverse populations in their advertising and marketing. This effort must go beyond representation of the customers in ads. Employees and agents must also reflect the various communities the insurance industry serves. Relationships will be stronger and thus lead to better information exchange if customers feel like the insurance company understands their day-to-day life.
These two reasons are not new ideas. I would say they are even generally accepted by most managers. But, we still struggle with practicing a mindset that allows us to improve diversity of talent at insurance companies. We still encounter well-meaning managers and fellow employees who believe that people who look different from us may be sub-par employees. We are all subject to unconscious bias.
One of the best ways to overcome that bias is by spending more time with those outside our comfort zone. A friend of mine, Amy Waninger, recently published a book called Network Beyond Bias that helped me examine my personal network. If you're starting to think about how you can improve the diversity of your work teams and fight your own unconscious bias, this book is a great starting point with actual tools to help you improve on these metrics.
Overcoming bias is essential to the long-term health of the insurance industry. We are nothing without talent, and without talent that reflects and understands the populations we aim to serve, we will miss the mark on the products we build. Our industry continues to look for opportunities to attract and retain talent. Building teams that are diverse and show visible paths to professional development and improvement for all kinds of people is a simple (but not easy) change to make within our organizations.
For me, personally, seeking out mentors and role models who look more like me has made me believe that I can achieve goals I never thought possible. But, it sure would have been nice to not have to wait so long to find them.
Carly Burnham, CPCU, MBA, has been in the insurance industry since 2004. She blogs at InsNerds.com and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.