Fostering and Celebrating Diversity in the Independent Agent Channel

The U.S. population and workforce is becoming more diverse. By 2060, racial minorities will make up more than half of the total population in the U.S. And the Department of Labor Statistics shows that the number of women in the workforce has been steadily growing.

We’re starting to see more diversity in the insurance industry as well, but the industry still has work to do in fostering diversity in leadership positions. According to the 2018 Agency Universe Study, 83 percent of agency owners and principals are male, and 88 percent are Caucasian.

“The independent agent channel currently does not reflect the diversity of the population,” says Raina Walton, president of RT Thomas Insurance. “That needs to change if agencies want to continue to thrive.”

The future looks diverse, Walton says, and if IAs aren’t targeting diverse markets, they’re missing out on a big piece of the pie.

Agencies can only reach diverse markets if they reflect diversity within their agency, as well, she says. That means hiring and promoting more women and people of color and building inclusive workplaces.

Starting conversations

Walton acknowledges that agency owners are busy, and recruiting talent is already difficult. There are no easy fixes for fostering diversity within workplaces, but agencies can start by looking at their own agency and opening up conversations about diversity and inclusion.

These conversations can feel uncomfortable, but they can also lead to unexpected partnerships.

For example, a few years ago, Walton attended a Safeco conference for women leaders in insurance a few years ago.

“I left inspired and proud to see how far women have come in the insurance industry,” she says. “However, I was aware that I was the only invitee that was person of color in the room.”

When she later mentioned this to her Safeco territory manager, Gary Mesler, she thought the conversation would end there. But Mesler went over his agency list with open eyes, and he noticed the lack of diversity in agency staffs in his area. He spoke with other team members in his region and brought it up to his Field Exec, who challenged him to champion the issue of diversity within the independent agent channel.

By the time Mesler came back to Walton, he had already formed a group of agencies wanting to have the conversation about how to bring more diversity into the IA channel. The group now meets regularly, and they’re working on ideas for programs to help agencies with hiring and diversity training.

Creating support mechanisms

Erin Rodliff, Senior Vice President and General Manager of Liberty Mutual U.S. Business Lines Product, recalls once presenting at Liberty’s annual President’s Award event when she was seven months pregnant.

“I remember being slightly terrified as I was about to get up on stage with my big stomach in front of an audience that was 90 percent white men,” she says. “But after I got off the stage, the women in the audience came up and told me how inspiring it was to see me up there.”

Support from female peers and mentors has been tremendously helpful as she’s moved through her career, Rodliff says. For organizations that want to encourage women and diverse talent in leadership roles, she says, part of it is about creating opportunities and bringing in diverse talent.

“But part of it is also having support mechanisms in place – mentorship groups, for example, or ways to encourage female employees to attend conferences and pursue development opportunities.”

Walton also says support networks are important for retaining diverse talent. To increase diversity in hiring, she says, agencies will have to be purposeful and look outside their usual sphere.

But, “It’s not enough to just get diverse talent in the door – we need to make sure agencies are welcoming and supportive of all employees.” Things like diversity & Inclusion training and mentorship programs can help with that.

Celebrating diversity

Rodliff says insurance has been a slow-moving industry from many perspectives, including diversity, but she’s encouraged to see how things are changing.

“Every year at Liberty’s annual President’s Award event, I see a slightly different mix of people – more diversity both in color and in gender,” she says. “I think the more that we can celebrate diversity and recognize when we do have women in leadership, the faster we can push the change curve there. And I would expect with demographics continuing to change that we’ll see that pace accelerate.”

For her part, Walton says there is still a lot of work to be done, but getting support from carrier partners and starting conversations are good first steps.

“I’m glad to see more conversations about diversity happening in the insurance industry,” she says. “There are still many questions and issues to address, but we can start by making this less of a taboo topic.”

To read more of Raina Walton’s and Erin Rodliff’s stories, visit AgentForTheFuture.com.

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