For insurers and brokers, recruiting and nurturing a diverse workforce represents a means to gain a competitive edge over their peers.
As the industry's customer base grows ever more diverse in terms of ethnicity, gender and other qualities, insurers and brokers must step up their efforts to diversify their own workforces. They must create a culture of inclusion to draw upon as broad a pool of talent as possible, experts say.
But the same experts say the industry lags others in promoting diversity.
The very definition of diversity, like beauty, lies in the eye of the beholder.
Diversity even extends to military veterans. Last month, Marsh Inc. said it would hire 500 military veterans in the next three years.
“We view diversity not only through the differences you can see, such as gender, ethnicity, age, military service and sexual orientation, but also through the ones you don't see, such as different points of view and culture,” said Nichole Barnes Marshall, Aon P.L.C.'s global head of diversity and inclusion in Chicago.
Creating a diverse workforce is a “talent imperative for us,” said Trevor Gandy, Warren, N.J.-based chief diversity officer at Chubb Corp. “We need individuals from different backgrounds and perspectives.”
He said Chubb looks for people who can bring their unique perspectives and backgrounds to the table. This extends beyond the United States; as a global organization, Chubb is increasingly dependent on non-U.S. staff to contribute their ideas and perspectives. “For quite some time, this has been an imperative for leadership of our organization,” he said. “Top talent doesn't come in one package.”
“They have to make a strong effort to recruit, develop and promote diverse candidates,” said Liam Lawrence, managing director at Reilly Partners, a Chicago-based executive recruiting firm. “Development and promotion are key. It seems to me that in recent years, more companies are looking beyond diversity numbers across the board and instead focusing on the inclusion of diverse individuals in key senior leadership roles throughout the company.”
Diversity among insurers is critical to reaching a changing customer base, said Brian Little, vice president of human resources and head of business partnership at Zurich North America in Schaumburg, Ill.
“Most of the large carriers spend a lot of time ensuring that they look like their customers,” he said. “That helps them understand the needs of their customers and to be innovative.
“You have to look at all dimensions of diversity” to make sure products are going to align with what the customer wants, he said.
“The foremost and fundamental reason is the fact that our clients are becoming more and more diverse; they want to see and buy from a company that supports and has a diverse workforce itself,” said David Jacobs, president and chief operating officer of Oswald Cos., a Cleveland-based brokerage.
“On the distribution side, you do see a lot of opportunities for diversity,” said Howard Mills, New York-based director and chief adviser of the insurance industry group at Deloitte L.L.P. “A diverse distribution force allows a company to reach out to underinsured people,” he said. This provides opportunities to have people from those communities going into them to sell products.
“Clients will buy from those who provide value — and add diversity to that and that brings that much more value,” Mr. Jacobs said. But he said the insurance industry has quite a ways to go in creating the diverse workforce it needs. He said that on a scale of one to 10, “the industry rates about a two.”
“We're fairly weak when it comes to supporting diversity. It's very much been an industry dominated by white males,” he said. “It is getting somewhat better. It's been a very slow process. But at the principal level, it's still not where it needs to be.”
Mr. Jacobs said that Oswald Cos. established a partnership with a minority-owned Cleveland insurance agency, Taylor Oswald.
The nature of the industry itself may cause it to lag some other industries in terms of diversifying its workforce, Mr. Little said.
“The insurance industry is very talent-focused, and it takes a while to learn the business, and it has a higher retention rate of employees than most industries, therefore it changes a little bit more slowly than companies that have higher turnover,” he said. “Insurance companies are very focused on attracting the best talent from college or high school and the experienced marketplace.”
The industry is somewhat challenged in creating more diverse workplaces in part because the insurance industry suffers “from the stigma as not being the most exciting of industries,” Mr. Mills said.
David Arenas, managing director at Reilly Partners who is responsible for the firm's diversity and inclusion efforts across all of its practice groups, said the industry doesn't stack up very well against other industries in terms of creating a diverse workplace, “but it is getting better.”
“Consumer companies are closer to the end consumer and do a better job of paying attention to concerns from the growing diverse communities they serve,” he said.
Insurance companies dealing in retail products like individual life and personal lines property/casualty insurance are making progress, but other sectors of the industry remain further behind, he said.
“However, the entire industry needs to increase its efforts in attracting diverse talent in an industry lacking attractiveness, when compared to other industries such as technology, consumer, energy or even banking,” Mr. Arenas said.