NEW YORK — In addition to full-throated support at the top rungs of the corporate ladder, success in promoting workforce diversity requires a companywide culture of inclusiveness and formalized program structuring, according to a panel of senior insurance executives.
Companies that place a high value on workforce diversity — particularly at the senior management and executive levels — consistently outperform their competitors on a range of metrics, including their overall returns on sales and investment capital, Aon Hewitt CEO Kristi Savacool said Tuesday during a panel discussion at Business Insurance's 2013 Women to Watch Leadership Workshop and Awards Luncheon in New York.
“When you think about the data behind it, (diversity) is a business imperative,” Ms. Savacool said. “It's not a women's issue, it's a leadership issue.”
Culture of inclusion
Panelists said building a successful workforce diversity program begins with establishing a corporate culture that values inclusion and diversity of thought at all levels of management and operations.
“Programs themselves are important and often necessary to effect change, but you need to have an organization that embraces the advancement of women and minorities because it believes in those things, not just because there's a progression program in place,” said David North, president and CEO of Sedgwick Claims Management Services Inc.
“You've got to determine what it is that you value as an organization,” added Peter Eastwood, president of Berkshire Hathaway Specialty Insurance. “The baseline needs to be respect and dignity for everyone within the organization, and you've got to create an environment within the company where you've given everyone a voice and a seat at the table.”
Dictated by clients' attitudes
Many of the elements that comprise a company's corporate culture when it comes to diversity — especially in the insurance industry — will likely be dictated by their clients' attitudes on the issue, panelists said.
“The clients we're serving have very diverse workforces,” said Scott Hudson, CEO of Gallagher Bassett Services Inc. “In order to serve them well, we need to share their perspective on the workforce, because it's something that's become very prominent among them.”
Only after they have established a consistently inclusive corporate culture can senior executives begin formalizing their goals for greater diversity within their workforce, which panelists said must extend beyond sheer meritocracy.
“You have to put it out there in a more formal way than just a baseline expectation,” said Chris Maleno, division president of Ace USA. “We want to accelerate the process so we can really make a difference.”
Peers as examples
Panelists said companies in search of guidance can look to each other for cues regarding their approach to workforce diversity, particularly as they begin to develop a formalized strategy for promoting greater inclusion of women and minorities within their senior ranks.
“In our industry, companies often look to each other's successes and emulate different pieces of their strategies in terms of what's happening in the marketplace, but perhaps not happening within our own organizations,” said John Lumelleau, president and CEO of Lockton Cos. L.L.C., adding that Lockton's Women in Leadership program borrowed elements of its structure from Ace USA's Women's Forum, as well as other similar diversity initiatives at peer firms.
“We've patterned what we're doing at Lockton around what I've learned from my colleagues on this stage and from around the industry,” Mr. Lumelleau said.