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Diversity study examines low numbers of African-Americans in insurance

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Fewer than 10% of insurance industry professionals are African-American, according to a study released by Marsh LLC on Friday that aimed to understand why, finding that more mentoring opportunities could be the answer.

Lack of industry exposure, networks and experience topped the list of why so few African-Americans are in the industry, according to the survey of 312 African-American insurance professionals. The study was conducted in 2017 in part with the National African American Insurance Association.

The results were a mixed bag: 70% of survey respondents said they either strongly or somewhat agreed that the obstacles for African-Americans were greater for them than for other minority groups. Yet a large majority — 186 participants either strongly agreed or somewhat agreed — felt that professional development, certifications and license opportunities were equally accessible to African-Americans as to their majority peers, according to the study.

“This would seem to disprove a myth in the insurance industry that African-Americans were less certified or educated than their peers and therefore hindered in their upward mobility,” the study states.

Participants noted that because of the low representation of African-Americans in senior positions and the paucity of mentors or sponsors, they did not receive as many opportunities to prove themselves as did their white counterparts, according to the study.

As one participant observed: “I believe the level of unconscious bias that exists for African-Americans leads more people to react adversely towards this particular race of people,” according to the testimony in the study.

“We are often starting from way below benchmark before we even begin to engage with a business partner, client, or colleague, and therefore have to spend a lot of energy disproving their bias before we can even get down to the business of what we came here to do,” according to that testimony.

The study also tackled the issue of overt racism, which varied, stating “the factors of racism and/or bias in the industry are complicated and individualistically determinative.”

“Rarely do I encounter overt racism,” said one participant, according to the study. “Most of the time it’s people’s implied biases that hold African-Americans, females, and people of color back. Usually, the top of the house (senior management) says all the right things, but it doesn’t get practiced at the middle management level.”

Several study participants said that many senior African-Americans “have not been advocates of fellow African-Americans” through supporting their career advancement and mobility, the study states. “It is possible that some African-Americans inside the industry are perpetuating the lack of diversity, either because they are not able or are unwilling to advocate for greater diversity, or there is a sense of isolation that inhibits an individual from being a more forceful advocate,” according to researchers. 

Meanwhile, all participants strongly agreed or somewhat agreed that “mentoring or coaching programs can provide exposure and access for African American insurance professionals to senior level executives and greater opportunities for promotion or career advancement.”