Prioritizing Diversity and Inclusion in the Workplace

By JoJo Harris | August 19, 2019

For the past several years, diversity and inclusion (D&I) has been a prominent topic of discussion within the insurance industry. However, while most companies understand that diversity is good for business, many have not made D&I initiatives a priority until more recently. To achieve a lasting culture shift, insurance organizations must proactively and strategically incorporate D&I efforts into the workplace. As the future of work brings innovation and customer experience to the forefront, embracing diversity of thought and leveraging its benefits can truly differentiate organizations.

What is the impact of D&I? A greater sense of inclusion leads to an increase in collaboration, quality of decision-making and team performance, according to Deloitte. McKinsey shared that companies in the top quartile for racial and ethnic diversity at the leadership level are 32% more likely to outperform their peers on profitability. Additionally, Boston Consulting Group found that innovation revenue (which they define as revenue from new products or services) was 19% higher in companies with above-average diversity on their leadership teams, compared to those with below-average diversity at the leadership level.

Diversity has many benefits, yet there is still a disconnect in the workplace, especially within senior level positions. For instance, while women make up 60% of the insurance workforce, they hold a disproportionate 11% of named executive officer positions and 19% of board of director seats. While true diversity extends past gender to encompass experience level, age, race, sexual orientation, background, ethnicity, skills and more, this underrepresentation is the case for most minority groups, especially those that are intersectional. The goal is to achieve a variety of thoughts, opinions and viewpoints in order to truly innovate and make decisions that are well-thought-out, forward-thinking, and reflective of the needs of customers and other stakeholders.

Now is the time to take action and ensure organizations are not just talking about D&I but moving these initiatives forward.

Now is the time to take action and ensure organizations are not just talking about diversity and inclusion but moving these initiatives forward.

Culture Shifts Take Time

First, it’s important to recognize that D&I is a process. True culture change is less likely to happen overnight and more likely to occur through small changes. Make sure to identify and celebrate these accomplishments, knowing minor wins will add up to larger gains. If certain initiatives do not have desired results, keep trying and consider what adjustments should be made in order to have greater organizational adoption and impact.

Encourage All Contributions

All employees should feel confident their contributions and opinions are welcome. As often as possible, let team members have a vote or say in plans and decisions, ensuring input is given and received with mutual respect and validation. Today’s work environment is much more collaborative than it was even a few years ago. There are benefits to hearing from a number of voices, regardless of level or company status. By seeking out various viewpoints and providing equal opportunities to contribute, teams benefit from healthy discourse and multiple perspectives. Encourage individuals to be open, candid and honest, and demonstrate that conflicting viewpoints should be embraced, not avoided.

Listen, Then Act

It’s important to encourage individuals to think differently and share their opinions, yet soliciting ideas and feedback does not mean much unless it’s followed by action. Actively listen to colleagues and consider how you can “say yes” to their requests. This may mean facilitating conversations around different points of view, bringing individuals together to resolve a conflict, or accommodating different workplace needs. Before discounting someone’s input, think it through with an open mind. If you hit a dead-end, ask a colleague or trusted advisor for their take. Someone else may have a fresh perspective that can help bring ideas to life.

Bring Diverse Groups Together

When possible, seek a variety of perspectives when creating project teams or task forces for special initiatives. The more diverse the team members, the more likely they will reach innovative and thorough solutions. To truly level the playing field, consider switching up traditional roles and asking a less experienced professional to serve in a leadership capacity for the project while enlisting more senior-level employees as individual contributors.

Look to Younger Generations for Guidance

Millennials and Generation Z are great advocates for diversity and tend to seek out unique viewpoints and opportunities for collaboration. In fact, Deloitte’s 2018 Millennial Survey found 69% of millennials in diverse organizations say they will stay longer than five years, versus 27% of millennials in organizations that are not considered diverse. Additionally, nearly half of millennials say a diverse and inclusive workplace is important when they are searching for jobs, compared to 33% of GenXers and 37% of baby boomers.

Grow Diversity at the Top

In many cases, there’s a diverse group of professionals in entry-level positions and the workforce begins to homogenize as individuals advance into manager and director-level roles. Examine when this shift takes place within your own organization and proactively create development programs tailored to all talented individuals. A great way to achieve this is through mentorship and sponsorship opportunities, which can create connections between members of underrepresented groups and senior leaders that may not have otherwise been possible.

Be Self-Aware

Understand that unconscious bias exists and work to recognize when it might be coming into play and affecting decisions and attitudes. Bias is difficult to eliminate but by being self-aware, individuals can identify when it’s time to take a step back and be more mindful of their choices.

Unconscious bias may also be mitigated by seeking out opinions from individuals of various backgrounds and considering these viewpoints when coming to your own conclusions.

Implementing D&I best practices within existing teams and roles is important in achieving long-term culture change. Take this a step further by championing inclusive hiring practices. Expose under-represented groups to the industry by partnering with colleges or participating in programs such as the Insurance Careers Movement. Encourage hiring managers and recruiting teams to use gender-neutral job descriptions, consider blind resume screening, and ensure diverse interviewers. Small and mindful changes can add up to a substantial contribution toward company-wide inclusivity.

The insurance industry is making strides in its diversity and inclusion efforts. By being aware of common hurdles and biases, while counteracting challenges through best practices, organizations will be capable of building innovative teams that will be successful now and in the future of work.

About JoJo Harris

Harris is senior vice president of human resources of The Jacobson Group, a provider of talent to the insurance industry. Phone: 800-466-1578. Email: jharris@ jacobsononline.com.

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Insurance Journal West August 19, 2019
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