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Make plans for a diverse workforce


SAN DIEGO — Developing diversity in a workforce takes advance planning, says an expert in this area.

“There has to be a lot of up-front work,” Christy Wolf, talent, leadership and development director for Arthur J. Gallagher & Co. in Chicago, said Monday while speaking on a panel on diversity at the Wholesale & Specialty Insurance Association’s Annual Marketplace in San Diego.

“People retiring in five years need seven years ahead of that to create collaborations” and prepare people to be put into the “pipeline,” said Ms. Wolf, whose session was sponsored by WSIA’s U40 group of insurance professionals under the age of 40 employed by WSIA member firms. “Something like that takes a lot of time.”

David A. Jordan, CEO of Kennesaw, Georgia-based Breckenridge Insurance Group, said his concern over the issue grew out of “looking out over the hedgerow” and asking how his company was going to sustain its business, solve problems, develop a workforce and “ensure they’re going to be successful.”

Daniel Kedish, Chicago-based assistant vice president and director of diversity and inclusion for Zurich North America, said, “It’s everyone’s responsibility to create an environment where everyone has access to opportunity” and meets their full potential.

It is not a “program” or an “initiative,” he said. When those words are heard, the assumption is that this is something that will end, he said. Instead, this is “a cultural value of our organization. Its built into our strategy. It’s how we see all our employees.”

The insurance industry is changing whom it sells to, the products it sells and how it sells them, said Heather Schenker, Scottsdale, Arizona-based vice president of brokerage and program underwriting at Nationwide E&S/Specialty.

If it does not train and develop talented people, “we’re going to miss out. We’ve got to really move to get to a diverse and inclusive environment,” she said. “We’re never going to be the best we can be without diversity.”

She described how her firm has created resource groups and conducts surveys of its members asking them if they feel they belong. “There’s a lot of things we’re doing, but I still don’t think we’re where we need to be,” she said.

Mr. Jordan said his firm has 325 employees in 15 locations around the United States, but only one office with more than 25 people in it. “We can’t have a resource group in an office with four people,” he said. “So we try to find more informal ways” to accomplish diversity goals.

Asked to describe a favorite success story, Ms. Schenker said there are no monumental victories, but “there are little ones.”

“We celebrate those little victories that will change the culture and get us where we want to be,” she said.

The session was moderated by Brandie J. Hinen, CEO and founder of Boise, Idaho-based Powerhouse Learning, a consulting firm.



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