Driving real progress on diversity, equity and inclusion
The insurance industry has taken great strides over the past five years to cultivate diverse talent, however, recent findings from a report conducted by the National African American Insurance Association, (NAAIA) in partnership with Marsh sheds a light on how much more the industry needs to do to attract, retain and enhance the careers of African Americans in the industry.
The NAAIA was formed in 1997 to empower people of color working in the insurance industry. According to Omari Jahi Aarons, executive director and chief operating officer at the NAAIA, the association aims to “diversify the insurance industry” offering its members access to “mentoring, coaching, networking, as well as talent access; for instance job postings and career fairs.”
The NAAIA’s first study in 2018 ‘The Journey of African American Insurance Professionals,’ in partnership with insurance broker Marsh, delved into the experience of African Americans in the insurance industry. The association has now partnered with Marsh on a second study ‘The Next Steps On The Journey: Has Anything Changed?’ to explore why African Americans remain underrepresented in the industry and what insurers, brokers, stakeholders and other individuals can do about it.
“From the second study there were two things we wanted to understand. First, whether the listed recommendations in the 2018 study had been implemented. Second, with 2020 being a milestone year for the entire world, in particular George Floyd's murder in the US and the resulting outcry, what organizations have done to support African Americans in light of this,” says Aarons. “Furthermore, we wanted to understand what impact this has had on the experience of African Americans in the insurance industry.”
The study included 312 online survey responses, 25 interviews, and seven focus groups conducted over a six-month period and provides an insight into the racism and racial bias facing African Americans.
One respondent in the study states: “I believe the level of unconscious bias that exists for African Americans leads more people to react adversely towards this particular race of people. We are often starting from way below benchmark before we even begin to engage with a business partner, client, or colleague, and therefore have to spend a lot of energy disproving their bias before we can even get down to the business of what we came here to do.”
According to Aarons, one of the biggest barriers to the insurance industry, particularly for communities of color, is the number of predatory and discriminatory practices towards people of color.
Millennials, Gen Z and the LGBTQIA+ community are underrepresented in the insurance industry from an African American standpoint, and so those are groups that we are going after intentionally to say insurance can be a career of choice for you.
“We've seen that in redlining practices around home ownership and being able to secure loans, we've seen that in predatory lending practices, we've seen that in the absence of banks in disadvantaged communities and across the United States,” says Aarons.“The relational trust between communities of color and the insurance industry does not enable and support us in helping to recruit more people to the industry.”
For Aarons, the insurance industry needs to take “meaningful and sustainable action” so the experience of African Americans and people of color within the industry changes in a way that it reflects a more “equitable and inclusive workplace.”
“Millennials, Gen Z and the LGBTQIA+ community are underrepresented in the insurance industry from an African American standpoint, and so those are groups that we are going after intentionally to say insurance can be a career of choice for you,” notes Aarons.
The latest study also explored the primary barriers to entry into the insurance industry for African Americans. It found “lack of exposure to the industry” and “lack of networks” were the top most perceived barriers, as compared to racial bias. According to the study, while race is a key factor in pursuing or being recruited to the insurance industry, more important is the absence of information about career opportunities through formal or informal networks, college career placement offices, or accessibility of African American insurance professionals.
“We're asking people to think about how they're recruiting people to come into the workplace," says Aarons. "If their network is diverse and their extending a diverse invitation, then we'll see more racially diverse talent in the industry."
“The insurance industry has done a poor job of talking about the exciting career opportunities and how different and diverse the career opportunities are in the industry," points out Aarons. "We're not doing the work in high schools and at career days and elementary schools that we should be doing to share the diversity of careers within the insurance industry.”
Furthermore, those already in the industry have found mentoring and coaching programs to be important in their career development. Most of the respondents in the study said these programs have helped their career development, and a majority recommended that such opportunities be pursued by African Americans. However only 38% had an active mentoring relationship.
The NAAIA is committed to promoting insurance as a career of choice for blacks and African Americans, explains Aarons.
“As part of our theory of change in the way that we operate is that the more people of color are in the rooms making decisions around policies, practices, new products and services lessens the opportunity for those biases to be discriminatory against communities of color,” says Aarons. “We're encouraging people to have more conversations around the study. We're no longer talking about talking. We're now talking to inform the plan that is going to create the progress needed for African Americans to advance in the insurance industry.”