Remote Work Can Make Insurance More Diverse and Inclusive

By Kristin Nease | April 5, 2021

It’s no secret that the insurance industry is over-indexed toward individuals in the later stages of their career and isn’t on track to add enough talent to replace retiring workers. To remain competitive, agencies must tap into a more diverse cohort of employees. But how?

To gain insight on this question, the Vertafore team recently surveyed more than 1,000 insurance professionals to find out what they value about their career and how it has changed, especially during COVID-19. The survey results suggest that trends emerging from COVID-19 — increased remote work, career disruption and the use of insurtech — have set the stage for insurance to reinvent and grow its talent pool.

Keeping the Remote Work Door Open

In March 2020, many agency leaders accepted the imperative for remote work, even though working away from the office and community gathering spots where relationships form seemed risky. Nonetheless, a majority of insurance professionals in our survey worked remotely at least part-time. And they want to continue.

When asked about their ideal work environment, just 15% of respondents said they want to go back to the office full-time. Two-thirds of respondents would like a mix of time at home and in the office, while nearly one in five want to work fully remote. That could have benefits for employers. In a recent survey from Joblist, 68% of remote workers believe their productivity has increased while working from home.

But remote work doesn’t come in one flavor or apply equally to every agency. There are challenging conversations to be had about productivity, culture and work standards. A free-for-all of remote work arrangements won’t serve most agencies or allow their staff to advance through the mentorship and organic learning that happens when teams gather in a physical place.

At the same time, agencies that are too strict about remote work risk losing talented staff who’ve excelled in this environment and used it to better meet both their professional and personal obligations — which is not to be underrated. More than half of respondents in Vertafore’s survey said they would leave the insurance industry for more work-life balance.

That said, insurance careers have powerful appeal. Respondents indicated that their favorite part of insurance is the ability to work directly with their community. They especially enjoy one-on-one activities such as in-depth policy reviews, informal wellness chats, and catching up on major events in a client’s personal life. Second to that community engagement, respondents value their job security, and COVID-19 has shown that the insurance industry can survive anything. As such, that appeal, matched with a willingness to reevaluate the 9-to-5 in-office culture, could go a long way to helping agencies overcome the impending talent gap.

For a New Generation of Employees

Diversity in the insurance industry workforce, especially in leadership positions, is a hot topic — for good reason.

In 2018, the consultancy McKinsey & Company found that white women accounted for 45% of entry-level insurance roles but only 18% of the C-suite.

Women of color, meanwhile, hold only 12% of entry-level roles and 3% of the C-suite. The available data suggests that COVID-19 has made this imbalance worse — not just in insurance, but across industries.

Working women have faced shared challenges during COVID-19, regardless of their industry. Compared to their male partners, women disproportionately cut work hours or left careers to take on childcare, home education and domestic duties they once outsourced to local businesses and schools.

As of March 2021, the National Women’s Law Center reports that 2.3 million women have left the workforce since COVID-19 began compared to 1.8 million men. Moreover, 8.9% of black women and 8.5% of Latinas are still unemployed versus 5.3% of white men. In total, women are short 5.1 million jobs.

This data suggests there is an untapped pool of diverse women who are seeking work but need flexibility. Like many professionals already in insurance, they want, or perhaps need, the ability to work from home part-time. Mothers or those who care for elder family members especially need latitude around when and where they work.

Most insurance agencies already have ability to meet these needs. The vast majority of respondents in the Vertafore survey (70%) agreed that they had the tools necessary to work from home. Insurtech offerings like web-enabled agency management systems, digital communications tools, e-signatures and digital payments enabled many agencies to seamlessly transition from in-office to remote work. If that is the case, clearly agencies have the ability to recruit diverse employees who need flexible schedules. Still, it takes more than remote work and flexibility to improve diversity and inclusion.

A Makeover for Insurance

The good news is that the insurance industry is well-placed to attract a new generation of talent looking for meaningful, stable careers — and it needs to seize the moment to educate job seekers about the value of a career in insurance.

Vertafore found that 90% of respondents under age 40 would recommend a career in insurance. That’s five points above the average across age groups. Millennials and Gen Z especially value the opportunities for career growth and professional development in insurance.

‘When asked about their ideal work environment, just 15% of respondents said they want to go back to the office full-time.’

That appreciation and enthusiasm does not match the insurance industry’s outward reputation, stereotypes and self-image. If there truly are hundreds of thousands of vacant positions to fill, as several reports have suggested, then the numbers must come from younger generations and reflect their ever-growing diversity.

This requires a sustained, long-term image makeover. And as this article has suggested, it rests on several strategies:

1.Embrace remote work, with structure. Firms must invest in technology that enables professionals to be productive and effective whether they work from the office, at home or in a local coworking space. That does not mean that employees get to write their own schedules. Rather, it means that agencies need to have authentic conversations about the personal circumstances that lead people to seek this balance of career stability and remote flexibility.

2.Go find newcomers rather than wait for them. Invest in programs that develop insurance skills and interest in the industry from a young age. These programs might include scholarships, fellowships and internships designed specifically for people from cultures and backgrounds that are underrepresented in insurance.

There is no clearer way to embrace diversity and inclusion than to welcome students and people early in their career into experiences where they can “test drive” insurance for themselves.

3.Match benefits to the new workforce. Agencies need to consider whether their policies support their goals for remote work and diversity and inclusion.

Review your benefits to determine if they might hold a barrier to enhancing inclusion for your organization.

Create a culture where all employees, regardless of background, feel welcome and that they can be their authentic selves. As an example, consider your holidays to see what message they send more broadly.

Silver Lining for a Silver Tsunami

The age gap in the insurance industry is old news. Agencies have known about the problem for years. However, the silver lining of COVID-19 is that agencies have tested remote and flexible work and, in most cases, have proved that it is effective.

Knowing that, agencies now have the opportunity to make remote work a pillar of their diversity and inclusion strategy. Every agency has that option, and those that make it will find themselves an employer of choice for young and diverse talent.

About Kristin Nease

Nease is the vice president of human resources at Vertafore.

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