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Diversity and inclusion in the insurance industry can only be achieved if it is supported by top management, said Black executives during a panel discussion.
Panelists also discussed the importance of establishing allies, of appointing a chief diversity officer, collaborating with others and what they can do personally, during a panel on diversity and inclusion at the Kansas City, Missouri-based Wholesale & Specialty Insurance Association’s virtual conference Tuesday.
WSIA’s establishment of the Insurance Industry Diversity Foundation was also announced at the end of the panel discussion.
Leaders must have awareness, empathy and a willingness to listen along with sensitivity, said Oveta Mitchell, New York-based vice president at Axis Insurance Services, a unit of Pembroke, Bermuda-based Axis Capital Holdings Ltd.
“In addition to these qualities, there should be ongoing training dedicated to the underlying causes of systemic racism and its effects on people of color,” said Ms. Mitchell.
“One key quality is the ability to step out” and act with courage, “and not being constrained, and not being concerned with what naysayers are saying,” said Kevin Husbands, territory distribution leader for American International Group Inc. in Atlanta.
What is needed in a leader is “someone who is willing to do what is right, even if it’s uncomfortable,” said Richie Henry, New York-based chief information officer at Markel Specialty (U.S. Insurance IT), a Markel Corp. unit. “As leaders, we need to make the decisions that we know deep down in our hearts, it’s the right thing to do.”
It is also important leaders be trustworthy, said Terence Meade, Birmingham, Alabama-based senior vice president with AmWINS Group Inc.’s brokerage division.
Discussing the importance of allies, Mr. Henry said, “We still have a long way to go, but we are making progress.”
“When you see something and you know it’s not right, you should say something about it, especially if you’re in an authoritative position within the organization. I believe you can make a change,” he said.
Mr. Husbands said, “Luckily, the pendulum is starting to shift” toward the increased participation of allies, “with people stepping forward with a willingness to lend an additional perspective.”
“Right now, we do have more allies, but we’ve never had any before,” said Kevin Davis, senior executive vice president at Worldwide Facilities LLC, which is based in Los Angeles. There is a need to turn fear into action, he said.
“We don’t have enough allies,” and there is a need to ask people for their support, Ms. Mitchell said.
Also discussed was the importance of diversity officers. “The role has definitely grown in importance exponentially over the last few months,” Mr. Husbands said.
“It’s great,” but it is important it not be just a check-the-box exercise, Mr. Davis said. It takes only one “no” from a top person if the diversity official wants to do something or invite a speaker to undermine the position.
“It’s a very critical role in organization and in the industry and it’s one that needs to have the power and the influence of the office, and we need to see more of them,” said the panel’s moderator, Janet Jordan Fisher, New York-based executive vice president at Axis, who is the incoming chair of the Washington, D.C.-based National African American Insurance Association.
Panelists also discussed the role of middle management in increasing diversity. “It’s got to start at the top. They have to make it a measurable goal for all management,” Ms. Mitchell said.
“Collaboration is very important, because it gives the organization the opportunity to learn what they’ve done correctly,” Mr. Meade said. He added that “while brokers have not been the first to dive into” this issue, their ability to collaborate helps put them on a fast track toward progress.
“In every relationship, you have to start out by having a dialogue,” and that is true in this context as well, Mr. Henry said.
Panelists also discussed what they can do as individuals. This means “educating others, where I can,” Mr. Meade said.
“Stay engaged” and “have the emotional commitment to what you’re doing,” Mr. Davis said.
At the end of the session, James Drinkwater, New York-based president of AmWINS Group Inc.’s brokerage division, said WSIA has established the Insurance Industry Diversity Foundation.
He said AmWINS is committed to donating $100,000 annually over the next 10 years, which will help go toward establishing a risk management department at Tuskegee College, in Tuskegee, Alabama, a historically Black college.
Brokerages will review their diversity and antidiscrimination practices, and in some cases have already taken action, in light of heightened concerns over racial inequality, executives at the firms say.