Allyship: The Next Step Toward an Inclusive Industry

By Debra Dunn | June 6, 2022

Today’s insurance industry has evolved significantly from when I first joined USAA 24 years ago. The idea of conversations around the concept of allyship was unlikely, even as recently as 10 or 15 years ago among industry leaders.

While allyship was not practiced in the industry in the early part of my career, many of its key features were employed by managers, mentors and others, however informally. I know because I was a beneficiary of allies who saw my potential and, with their guidance and confidence, supported, mentored and sponsored me — men and women alike. In the years since, I have both benefited from and cheered the increased importance of diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) as a key priority within the industry.

Beyond Personal Experience

According to data from the Current Population Survey (CPS), women account for 1.6 million workers in insurance as of 2021. That’s about 58.9% of the industry and, to some, seemingly impressive. Sadly, women are less well-represented within the industry’s leadership ranks. Women only represent 12% of top corporate officers across all industries, according to a 2018 McKinsey report.

There’s been improvement as women continue to climb to senior management, leadership and board member roles. However, there is still work to be done.

How can we improve the state of inclusivity in leadership throughout the industry? The first step comes through allyship.

What Is Allyship?

Allyship is recognizing that while you may benefit from privilege, you are proactively using this related influence to make a difference for those who don’t share it. It’s about understanding your position within the industry and using your power to advocate for the next generation as they seek to make their place in the business. I think of it as reaching up to grow, and more importantly, reaching back to help others do the same.

Throughout my career, I have benefited from having allies and sponsors who have guided me to the position I’m in today. It’s the responsibility of leaders across the industry to lower the ladder down. Everyone has something to offer, and as allies we have a moral obligation to encourage those around us to showcase their talents. As leaders, we have even more of a responsibility to inspire and aspire.

To see progress, our industry needs to focus on developing and advancing advocacy initiatives. In recent years, environmental social governance (ESG) and DE&I have transitioned from nice-to-have programs at certain companies to an expected and necessary part of corporate culture driven by a dedicated team and resources. Our industry has benefited from a top-down approach to DE&I and we need our companies to continue leading from the top, with CEO-driven and supported programs aimed at fostering DE&I through advocacy.

The keys to fueling such initiatives are purpose and intention. Without purpose, our unconscious bias too often takes over. Listen and talk to your employees about what they need, what they have experienced and create forums for dialogue and discussion.

Diversity must be a part of what we do and how we think, and we need to instill a culture of responsibility at every level of the company, so team members also feel a sense of accountability for building a more inclusive industry.

Fostering an environment that welcomes and encourages DE&I and allyship is a team effort, and one that goes beyond company walls. We need to work together and that’s what makes the unifying work of the Insurance Industry Charitable Foundation (IICF) so critical. Their events, including the upcoming IICF Inclusion in Insurance Regional Forums, bring these important conversations forward, offering opportunities to hear about industrywide DE&I successes, challenge biases and learn from each other.

While the industry has made significant progress over the years, we are far from perfect. We need to work together to build an industry that stands on the courage of our cohorts, who address uncomfortable conversations and biases every day. We want people to feel comfortable at work and to feel comfortable sharing their negative experiences.

If we work as allies, our colleagues will feel our support, help us change for the better, and we as an industry can move forward collaborating to build a fully inclusive industry with opportunities for everyone to succeed.

Was this article valuable?

Here are more articles you may enjoy.

From This Issue

Insurance Journal June 6, 2022
June 6, 2022
Insurance Journal National Magazine

Programs Directory, Volume I; Markets: Public Entities & Schools