The New Playbook of Bringing Diversity, Equity & Inclusion to the Workplace
“In the COVID-19 crisis, inclusion and diversity matter more than ever,” according to a 2020 Mikensy & Company study. I have this saying that I often share in my Facebook group for women insurance professionals that “Big thinkers meet in small rooms.” What I mean by that is that we are all influencers, we’re all thought leaders and we all must understand the value of diversity in our insurance workforce. Conversations, specifically focused on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in the workplace, albeit a bit uncomfortable, I believe it is the linchpin for change, opportunity, growth and advancement in our industry.
In today’s business world, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) are often treated as buzzwords that often amount to little more than a mandatory annual training. But the reality is, when you make DEI a priority, every facet of your organization benefits, including your bottom line.
While there isn’t a one-size-fits-all rule book for rolling out a successful DEI program to your company or organization, you can begin your journey by learning what DEI truly is and understanding the value it can bring.
Each month, I along with The National Association for Advancement of Women In Insurance, host and facilitate a Virtual Executive Roundtable. The roundtables are designed to tackle some of the insurance industry’s most challenges topics. We use the Virtual Executive Roundtable format to leverage the vast backgrounds and experiences of the attendees, share best practices and success strategies.
In February 2021, we tackled the topic of: The New Playbook for Bringing Diversity, Equity & Inclusion into Your Workplace. During our session, we identified key areas of opportunity for insurance professionals to be a stronger ally to not just support, but to develop and execute their own DE&I initiatives. A common thread during our discussion was that leaders must take a systematic and daring approach to strengthen inclusive practices.
Based on some of the best practices shared we were able to highlight 5 key areas of action:
Build a culture where all employees have a sense of belonging: Employees should feel like it is ok to bring their most authentic self to the workplace. From the person that wears a turban or the person sitting in the wheelchair, everyone should feel they can bring their whole selves to work. Agency leaders must communicate and visibly express their commitment to diversity. Agencies should regularly assess the climate of belonging in their workplace, through regular surveys and employee interviews. Host town-hall or office-hall meetings to keep the open dialogue going. Remember, change begins with a conversation.
Cultivate Relationships: Building a stronger connection to a wider range of people and supporting employee resource groups can further foster a sense of community and belonging in your agency. Professional networks and personal friendships depend on helping one another. Reach out and share your time and expertise beyond your current circle of influence. Perform random acts of kindness and build mutual support in communities outside of your own.
Strengthen leadership accountability and emotional intelligence: Unequivocally, hold yourself and all leaders on your team to account for the development and progress on DE&I Initiatives. While the insurance industry has made some strides in supporting these initiatives, real change has still been slow to evolve. Remember, real leaders embrace accountability, they do not run or hide from it. Embracing accountability can be tough to swallow when there is a sensitive issue involved, such as DE&I. However, embracing accountability will earn you respect, and we need more brave leaders in the industry.
Ensure team representation from a more diverse talent pool: Focus on advancing diverse talent into executive sales, mid-level management, technical, and even board member roles within your agency. It is important for agencies to identify their overall goals for diversity according to the different segments that comprise it. If there is a lack of certain diverse talent, then build a pipeline using creative development programs and community support initiatives. We should all look for ways to support the communities that we serve.
Promote openness and tackle bias and discrimination: Agency owners must uphold a zero-tolerance policy for discriminatory behavior, such as bullying and harassment in the workplace. Actively help your leaders and staff to identify and address microaggressions. Host open discussions and administer regular “pulse checks” to ensure that your agency is living up to the standards that you and your team created.
I will leave you with one last statistic. According to a 2018 study by Harvard Business Review that showed that companies with higher-than-average diversity, experienced a 19% higher innovation revenues. Based on the current business climate that we all face today; I am sure we would all agree that DE&I is not just an option. But rather it is imperative to the success and profitability in business. It’s important for us to foster a healthy and productive workforce that can provide the best and most effective programs, policies and services to our community. It’s every one’s task to help effect this transformation.
Mernice Oliver, affectionately known as “Coach MO, ” is the president and head coach of Mernice Oliver International, LLC, a coaching & consulting firm helping women insurance entrepreneurs launch, build, grow and scale thriving insurance agencies. She is also founder & CEO of the National Association for Advancement of Women In Insurance, a professional leadership organization focused on helping minority and multicultural women build success and thriving insurance careers. Coach MO has rendered transformational results her specialty of mindset, agency management, and staff development for her clients which have made her a much sought after coach, consultant, and speaker on the regional and national platforms.
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