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Empathy, employee support key D&I strategies amid uncertainty


Insurance leaders around the globe are continuing to find creative ways to prioritize diversity and inclusion initiatives despite the collective social distancing brought about by the pandemic.

Speakers at the Business Insurance Diversity & Inclusion Institute’s 2020 virtual conference from NFP Corp., Zurich North America and Crawford & Co. shared the challenges they’ve faced in continuing to make D&I a priority during a global pandemic and how their workforces have come together to learn and share their feelings about the civil unrest in the country.

When news of the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis and the resulting protests spread across the country, leaders at NFP and the insurer’s D&I board collaborated to develop ways to communicate with employees about the events, including retaining a therapist who has experience with trauma, was a person of color, and could “relate in a more direct way to the team,” said Ginnette Quesada-Kunkel, New York-based executive vice president and chief human resources officer at NFP.

“We reiterated again our core values, and also dedicated resources on matching contributions to organizations that are involved in social justice,” Ms. Quesada-Kunkel said. “It’s something that’s extremely important to all of us.”

Lauren Young, Chicago-based head of diversity and inclusion at Zurich North America, said she thought her strategy at the beginning of the year was complete, but after the pandemic hit and Mr. Floyd’s death, she changed course to include “more conversation, more empathy and more compassion for each other.”

“Everybody was just hurting, some more than others, and what we really needed to do was hit the reset button,” she said. The insurer decided to close all of its U.S. offices on June 19 to mark Juneteenth.

The holiday gave employees the time to “educate themselves on some of the struggles many were facing as a result of COVID and systemic racism,” she said. Zurich also held a town hall with seven black leaders from throughout the organization who described their experiences and the challenges they have faced in their careers and personal lives.

“It was attended (online) by more than 3,000 employees for an hour,” Ms. Young said. “It was very interesting to hear their insights … and it was a real turning point for our organization.”

Zurich has since developed nine action items and created an executive D&I council comprised of Zurich employees as well as customers, brokers and community partners. The insurer also emphasized empathy, exploring unconscious bias and helping employees understand how to become better allies and advocates for each other to create a sense of belonging not just in the organization but in the community, Ms. Young said.

Crawford & Co. has also made empathy a cornerstone of its communications and recently updated its mandatory unconscious bias training to reflect the current environment, said Bob Jett, Atlanta-based chief privacy officer and lead IT counsel at the insurer. In addition, the company has been trying to find better ways to support its employees who are parents, particularly single mothers and fathers who are working, caregiving and educating their children at home, he said.

NFP is also placing a focus on families and engaged a home-schooling specialist to educate its parent employees on how to create a suitable school and work environment at home and how to structure their day, Ms. Quesada-Kunkel said.

“We’ve been trying to gather very complete initiatives and tools to respond to the shift in reality,” she said. “We’re also right now focusing on how do we make work possible in a way that works for our employees and our clients.”

But these initiatives and strategies won’t enable change unless the organization knows its numbers and sets goals that are attainable, Ms. Quesada-Kunkel said.

“I think one of the best measures of inclusion is retention,” Ms. Young said. “Are you able to retain your top talent, your diverse talent? Are you moving them through the organization? What is their representation at the leadership level and how many of them are being sponsored by executive leaders?”

Kim Davis, executive vice president and chief D&I officer at NFP, moderated the session.

More insurance and workers compensation news on the coronavirus crisis here.