Diversity in the Workplace: Race, Gender, Disability and More

By | January 25, 2021

Insurance industry leaders have renewed their focus on recruiting, hiring and promoting not just to fill a crucial talent gap with quality candidates, but also to intentionally diversify their workforce.

The civil unrest nationwide last summer, the Black Lives Matter movement and calls for police and judicial reforms have contributed to the unprecedented attention given to the cause of diversity and inclusion in the industry.

“There’s never been a moment like this. I think most people would agree with that. And so what we do at this moment is yet to be seen,” Margaret Redd, executive director of the National African American Insurance Association, told Insurance Journal, last fall.

Diversity and inclusion conversations are about much more than race or gender, according to Debra Martinez who was recently appointed as Alera Group’s new chief human resources officer based in Houston. “When I think about diversity, I think of it in terms of mindset, experience and background,” she said. “I think of it as people who have different experiences that come together to make a dynamic output.”

That could mean putting together a talent pool with diverse educational backgrounds, varied geographical backgrounds, industry experiences, or gender and race. It’s also physical abilities, she added.

“Diversity is now something that expands beyond what the conventional wisdom suggested it was a decade or two ago,” said Heather Giordano, vice president of human resources at CNA Insurance. “It’s beyond just race and gender now. It includes so much more.”

Giordano says she’s proud of the efforts being pursued by CNA and the insurance industry to place a greater focus on diversity and inclusion in its workforce. “But we’re not satisfied, and I believe that we will never be entirely satisfied, because the bar is always moving, and it should,” she said.

The insurance industry is less diverse than other financial services sectors and other U.S. employers as a whole. Non-white employees, including Black, Asian and other racial minorities, totaled 21.4% of the workforce at U.S. insurance companies in 2019, up from 19.8% in 2018 and 15.3% in 2010, according to S&P Global Market Intelligence. That compares with 24.9% of employees who are non-white in banking and related activities and 22.3% for the overall workforce, it said.

There are many insurance organizations with diverse workforces, however, gender gaps also exist between representation within entry- and mid-level positions and senior leadership roles. More than 60% of the insurance workforce is comprised of women, but women hold just 11% of named executive officer positions, according to a 2018 study, Women in Insurance: Leading to Action, by Million Women Mentors, a global movement to spark confidence in women and girls to pursue STEM careers and leadership roles through the power of mentoring.

“We need and want to do better,” said Robyn Hahn, president of small business at Westfield. (See Hahn’s Closing Quote on page 60)

Where to Go

Westfield’s Hahn said “the inclusion journey” can only begin once an organization creates conditions for acceptance first. “When diversity and inclusion harmoniously work together, that’s when you unlock the power and potential to change lives and move businesses forward,” she wrote.

Heather Giordano,
CNA Insurance,
vice president, HR

CNA’s Giordano added that being an ally to employees in diversity and inclusion efforts is critical. Employers need to understand what being an ally really means, she said. “Be clear on how to be a better ally so that together we can be stronger,” she said.

Martinez, a veteran HR professional who is a newcomer to the industry, said the first thing the industry needs to accomplish is advancing awareness of insurance as a career. Heightened awareness of career opportunities will bring diversity, she said. That should happen early, before high school, so that even grade school age students know there is a career choice in insurance.

Insurance is a field that many students in minority settings might not consider, she added. “In my old world, it was promoting STEM, while in my new world, it’s promoting financial services and analytics,” she said. “So they understand the economics of how you can make money and how that changes your trajectory going forward.”

Second, Martinez said agencies and insurance industry partners must create opportunities that attract a diverse talent pool. “Create opportunity in terms of internships and sponsorships,” she said. She plans to build an internship program for Alera Group.

Debra Martinez,
Alera Group,
chief HR officer

And third, she advised agency leaders to consider their intentions when hiring. That means looking at the personas of those seeking positions. “We’re a sales organization, so we need to look at the persona of what makes a good salesperson and then start to target that skillset, but not just in this industry,” she said. “Bring people in and onboard them and orientate them in a way that they can be successful.”


Disruption forces change, whether it’s related to technology, societal unrest or a global pandemic. “The question now becomes, how do we change?” according to Martinez. For CNA, that meant starting with its leadership, Giordano said.

“We actually went so far as requiring that every single one of our leaders and officers of the company complete a three-part leadership learning series on diversity and inclusion, which was all about building on the foundation they already had previously,” she said. Now diversity training became more of a “shift to action.” A shift toward understanding inclusive leadership behaviors to create an inclusive culture every day with each team, she said.

That set the stage for the emergence of safe spaces to hold at times provocative conversations. “At one time, I think our leaders and our employees would have struggled to perhaps feel comfortable having those conversations.” Giordano believes that through these tough conversations, employers and employees can embrace and celebrate all of the differences that make up a company.

“I think 2020 was a humbling year that taught so many of us that at times, change will be uncomfortable,” Giordano said. “We may stumble and there may be awkward moments, but it’s through those things that we learn and that make us better.”

Martinez agreed.

“Change is driven from the leadership,” she said. The more industry leaders that understand that diversity and inclusion efforts are a business’s responsibility, the better. “It’s not a nice to have ‘initiative,'” she said. “It’s really how do you stay competitive and relevant in your marketplace, just like you would with pricing.”

Topics Commercial Lines Business Insurance

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