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Time is now for insurance industry to embrace D&I: Experts


The insurance industry has made strides toward creating a more diverse and inclusive working environment, but it still has a long way to go, said a group of panelists Wednesday at Business Insurance’s webinar, “A New Era for Diversity & Inclusion: Why the Insurance Industry Needs D&I Programs More Than Ever.”

“I think the time is right for real change within the property/casualty industry,” said Michael Chang, New York-based co-leader of global insurance at Sompo International and CEO of Sompo Global Risk Solutions. “The property/casualty insurance industry, in general, has not really embraced fully people of color and women moving into senior leadership positions.”

During his more than 24 years in the industry, Mr. Chang said being a person of color has been a challenge and required him to “work twice as hard” to achieve his goals. He has seen companies create diverse workforces, but not include everyone in the conversation or value the opinions of all individuals, recalling a meeting where a senior-level woman brought up an idea that was scoffed at, only to have a white male make the same point later and have the idea heralded as great.

“Clearly they had a diverse workforce … but she was not included in the conversation,” Mr. Chang said. “We need to make sure all of our employees are valued in the organization and treating them fairly. We’ve got to train our employees … how to recognize our biases, and have senior leaders go through the same program that we make our entry-level people go through.”

Diversity and inclusion training at all levels of an organization is necessary to bring about change, and a diversity and inclusion strategy must start with the board and the CEO, said David W. Fitzgerald, New York-based member of the board of directors at Atlanta Life Insurance Co.

Everyone needs to have “an understanding of what is diversity and inclusion,” he said. “Right now is a very good time for organizations to take a look at it.”

“When you don’t discuss a problem, don’t face that there are inequities … that’s a bigger problem” than working to rectify the problem, said Bonnie Boone, area executive vice president at Arthur J. Gallagher Risk Management Services Inc. “When I can count the minority CEOs on my hand … that’s not a good thing. This is a good time to have those difficult conversations.”

With the changing demographics in the U.S. and the estimates that the minority will become the majority in the country by 2025, the industry has to promote women and people of color if it is to attract and retain talent, Mr. Chang said.

“The only way people are going to stay in this industry … is if they see people who look like them, talk like them,” he said. “(Without that), people will not come to this industry and the industry will be challenged in the future.”

He also noted that studies have shown that diverse groups of people running an organization outperform less diverse companies because of the different types of perspectives that a diverse workforce brings.

“If you just have one homogeneous type of person, you are blinded,” Mr. Chang said. “It all comes back to the business rationale for doing it. If you do it, with that type of inclusive behavior, you will outperform the others over time.”

Mr. Fitzgerald said an effective diversity and inclusion program must come from the top, include training for everyone in the organization on unconscious bias, and ensure that training is conducted on a regular basis and be ongoing.

“Set your diversity goals like you would set your business goals and put measurements on them … hold people accountable,” he said. “If you monitor the successes that you have… you’ll see that your organization will be a much strong organization, even in these times.” 

Ms. Boone agreed that change needs to come from the top, but she says it’s also important to hold middle management accountable, and providing minorities the opportunities to work on accounts that lead to advancement.

“The next time you hear about somebody getting promoted to president of an entity, the company needs to ask itself, ‘Was everybody in the room? Is everybody getting an opportunity?” she said.

“We need people on the other side willing to be courageous, step out of their comfort zone and recognize true talent,” Mr. Chang said. “There is a lot of diverse people that are talented, we need you to step up and do the right thing here. We want to see a changed industry over the next 10 to 20 years. The future can be bright if we bring more diverse people to the table.”

Regis Coccia, president of Wordsmith Strategic Communications LLC, moderated the webinar.

A recording of the full webinar is available here.





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