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2021 US Insurance Awards: Ryan Specialty Group, Diversity & Inclusion Initiative of the Year

Patrick Phillips, Michael Blackshear

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported in 2019 that only 12.3% of people employed in the insurance industry were Black. 

To try to rectify the disparity, Ryan Specialty Group Holdings Inc. joined forces with the Ryan Insurance Program for Success and Equal Opportunity (R.I.S.E.) Foundation, Fisk University and the Spencer Educational Foundation in a collaborative diversity initiative. The effort won Ryan Specialty Group the Diversity & Inclusion Initiative of the Year award in Business Insurance’s 2021 U.S. Insurance Awards. 

R.I.S.E., a part of the Ryan Family Foundation, is dedicated to increasing diversity in the risk management and insurance sector by promoting recruitment, training and placement of underrepresented members of society through all levels of the commercial insurance industry. 

The recently created initiative is in the process of establishing a risk management program at Fisk University, in Nashville, Tennessee, as well as a professional development program in two Chicago high schools, said Patrick Phillips, CEO of the R.I.S.E. Opportunity Foundation.

The program at Fisk University started in September. “We already have a cohort of 14 students. We were fortunate to meet them on campus in Nashville recently,” Mr. Phillips said.

For Michael Blackshear, chief compliance and privacy officer at Ryan Specialty Group, who is part of the initiative, the project is personal. “I’ve been in the insurance industry for more than 30 years,” he said. “I have been involved in some large organizations where we had D&I strategies, but those strategies have not impacted the metrics of changing the face of diversity across our industry.”

The real momentum for the initiative came after the death of George Floyd in May 2020. “A few of us at Ryan Specialty got together and we created the Diversity & Inclusion Council and developed a mission statement,” Mr. Blackshear said.

He and Mr. Phillips agree that making students aware of the career possibilities the industry offers, and helping them build a foundation of professionalism, branding and an understanding of insurance and business is critical. 

To this end, Fisk University and the Spencer Educational Foundation are developing a risk management 101 course, which they hope to launch in the spring.

Also important is having industry leaders and professionals meet with students, which can lead to mentoring and internships. “I would love for this to trigger a panel of the chief leaders in this industry, to come together as a collective group to push this initiative,” Mr. Blackshear said.


• Arthur J. Gallagher & Co. — The brokerage developed Gallagher Connect Partners, a network of diverse certified insurance companies. It also is forging partnerships with other diversity groups, growing its network from 25 partners
to 60.

• CapSpecialty Inc. — CapSpecialty WOMEN+ was started in the beginning of 2021 by six senior women leaders within the specialty insurer. Its goal is to create sustainable opportunities and a support network for women at all levels of the organization. 

• QBE North America — In 2021, QBE refocused its diversity and inclusion efforts and created several new initiatives. Awareness and educational programs were created to deliver QBE employees content through various formats, including workshops focusing on unconscious bias.

• Woodruff Sawyer & Co. — Following the death of George Floyd, Woodruff Sawyer took action to enact meaningful change. A diversity, equity and inclusion council designed the DEI framework, identifying priorities, executive sponsorships and a path forward.

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