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Building a sense of belonging
Leading the way in diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) is an indicator of a forward-looking company.
Marguerite Murer Tortorello, managing director of Insurance Careers Movement, says, “Many insurers are approaching diversity, equity, and inclusion as an ongoing business imperative with DEI strategies embedded across the company.”
Rhonda Moret, founder of Elevated Diversity, which supports organizations in implementing DE&I, adds, “In the insurance industry, diversity and equity inclusion is something organizations are realizing is here to stay.”
“It’s important to implement a DE&I program today because diversity in people’s backgrounds, experiences, perspectives, and thoughts drives innovation and transforms organizations”
Amy Bayer, Duck Creek Technologies
Some companies are stuck in a rut of merely “performative” actions, but the 17 IBA 5-Star DE&I winners have made impressive strides in not only enacting successful programs but also truly making employees feel like they belong.
Winners reflect on survey findings
During a 15-week survey, IBA’s research team conducted one-on-one interviews with DE&I professionals and then approached their employees to gauge the effectiveness of their programs.
Employees ranked the following assertions in order of importance, from most to least important.
Amy Bayer, global director for DE&I, engagement, and culture at 5-Star winner Duck Creek Technologies, agrees with the rankings, saying that belonging helps people bring their authentic selves to work, which, in turn, creates a thriving company culture. “These rankings reflect how we live our core values and culture code – we prioritize respect, we care, we listen, we lead, and we add value – and that DE&I is at the core of who we are,” she says. “We embody a culture where inclusion and belonging are reflexes, not initiatives.”
Aaisha Hamid, AVP and DE&I manager at award-winner Alliant Insurance Services, is also heartened by the survey’s results. “I think it’s validating to know that we’re headed in the right direction. I think that the areas that the survey measured are obviously the basic necessities, and that we need to make sure that every company is fulfilling them.”
Alliant’s EVP and chief diversity and inclusion officer, Lilian Vanvieldt-Gray, says that she’s not surprised that “belonging” was at the top. “It’s really a point in time where employees are wanting to be in a safe space, and they want to have an organization that understands, where they feel they can be heard, and where they have an opportunity for progress.”
Another winner is Tangram Insurance Services, based just outside of San Francisco. The company echoes its peers in seeing a direct link between IBA’s survey results and its own DE&I initiatives.
“It makes complete sense to me that belonging and respect for the person are up there in one and two. I think we have gone through a lot as a world, obviously, in the last few years,” says CEO Rekha Skantharaja. “And if you have a sense of belonging and you have respect, then obviously that helps you through those inevitable ups and downs and all around as a company and as a human being.”
“A lot of DE&I is about change management. And it’s also about more than just the people-centric part of it; there are a lot of numbers involved”
Aaisha Hamid, Alliant Insurance Services
Diversity drives innovation
“It’s important to implement a DE&I program today because diversity in people’s backgrounds, experiences, perspectives, and thoughts drives innovation and transforms organizations,” says Duck Creek’s Bayer. “It’s also just as important to be intentional and thoughtful about building a culture where these differences are valued – through respect, empowerment, and praise – and employees feel a true sense of belonging.”
Bayer started in the human resources industry more than 18 years ago, working for a federal contractor and having to file yearly affirmative action plans, but the actions felt performative and fell flat. Now, she is excited to make real improvements for employees, focusing on maintaining a grassroots movement that is concentrated on all elements of diversity and aims to foster belonging.
Among Duck Creek’s recent accomplishments are holding in-person diversity summits in Boston and Mumbai, hosting virtual courageous conversations, and initiating a “voice of the employee” initiative.
The company also attends four conferences that target the diversity it’s looking for: the Girls Who Code Career Fair; the Black is Tech Conference; the Grace Hopper Celebration, which connects women and nonbinary technologists globally; and Latinas in Tech.
Duck Creek employees took part in IBA’s survey and offered their thoughts on why DE&I programs are important.
“In order for this company to succeed, it must represent the customers it serves and the world in which we live,” says Jerome Curtis. Meanwhile, Jonathan Ehrmantraut says programs are important “because when we all feel valued and included, we open ourselves up to share more ideas and better ourselves individually and as an organization.”
“I think the case has been made that diverse teams are more creative, more interesting, more innovative, more balanced, have more interesting perspectives, and you just learn more, and if you’re not learning, then your business isn’t progressing”
Rekha Skantharaja, Tangram Insurance Services
Two examples of perseverance
“A lot of DE&I is about change management,” says Alliant’s Hamid, “and it’s also about more than just the people-centric part of it; there are a lot of numbers involved. So, unless you’re keeping track of everything and you have a plan and strategy in place, you’re not going to be able to get from point A to point Z.”
Vanvieldt-Gray adds that implementing a DE&I program “is morally the right thing to do. But I also think in terms of ESG – environmental, social, and governance. It’s something you must do as an organization to both attract and retain talent in your workforce.”
Alliant is expanding its employee resource groups, which include Asian American and Pacific Islander, LGBTQ+, Latino, Black, female, and veteran communities. It also has groups for employees who are living with or caring for family members with cancer.
In addition, the company has partnerships with identity-specific insurance and leadership development organizations such as Women in Insurance, the National African American Insurance Association, the Latin American Association of Insurance Agencies, and the Magnolia Leadership Program for Black female professionals, enabling them to equitably allocate development opportunities to underrepresented professionals.
More recently, the company has also developed its Alliant Fellows and Alliant Scholars programs to support and further bolster the pipeline of underrepresented students in the insurance industry.
So, what do Alliant’s employees think is important about DE&I programs?
“Company culture is now more important than ever,” says Lisa Butler-Del Rio. “People want to feel that someone like them is in a position of power and authority. That someone like them is available to mentor and encourage them.”
Meanwhile, Diane Fulgar comments that the DE&I program “enhances our company’s culture, attracts a broader talent pool, and enables better business performance across the board.”
And Linda Mattes says, “respect, kindness, and consideration start at the top.”
“It’s really a point in time where employees are wanting to be in a safe space, and they want to have an organization that understands, where they feel they can be heard, and where they have an opportunity for progress”
Lilian Vanvieldt-Gray, Alliant Insurance Services
Driving change from the C-suite
Skantharaja agrees with Bayer, Hamid, and Vanvieldt-Gray that establishing a DE&I program is the right thing to do.
“I think the case has been made that diverse teams are more creative, more interesting, more innovative, more balanced, have more interesting perspectives, and you just learn more, and if you’re not learning, then your business isn’t progressing.”
And she adds, “But you also have to make this about actually creating companies that are healthy and that are progressing. People will want to stay at companies that are healthy, progressive, and vibrant; otherwise, you will find yourself out in the cold.”
Skantharaja spent much of her twenties climbing the corporate ladder, eventually reaching the CEO seat in 2013. She says diversity energizes her. Over the past five years, Tangram has made a lot of progress. “We look a lot like I hope the future of our industry will be, which is a diverse organization with mostly women in the executive and leadership ranks,” she says.
Tangram gives employees training around the difference between diversity, equality, and inclusivity, as well as further training on unconscious bias, which includes the interviewing process and recognizing questions for candidates that carry inherent bias.
Tangram’s workers also have clear views on why DE&I programs matter to them.
“This fosters a culture of inclusivity, and it also allows for a diverse range of voices and opinions to be heard when trying to brainstorm ideas and solve problems,” says Shelby Kurtzer.
And JoAnn Garcia says that having a DE&I program exists “as a reminder that all persons have inherent dignity as individuals as well as members of their communities, and they should be respected for who they are and for their unique qualities.”
Lingering challenges for DE&I
DE&I is frequently discussed, and some detractors attach lazy stereotypes to it. This issue is being effectively countered, according to the IBA’s winners.
“I think that the more we talk about diversity, equity, and inclusion, the more important it becomes in the organization, and the more the leadership is invested in supporting it,” says Hamid.
Meanwhile, Skantharaja recently had an experience that encapsulated some of the resentment felt by historically overrepresented people when a successful white male businessman asked her about the importance of hiring women and minorities.
She says, “I don’t think it’s about feeling left out; it’s just about making more room at the table.”
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