Meet Them Where They Are
There’s an old maxim about pulling ourselves up by the bootstraps, but career achievement is more often a collaborative enterprise in which successful people spot, sponsor and promote their future replacements.
In that vein, The Council and several of its members and valued partners are undertaking efforts to assist minority talent with entering the insurance industry—and thriving in it.
The Council and several members have undertaken efforts to assist minority talent with scholarship programs, internships and apprenticeships.
The Chicago Apprenticeship Network helps employers craft initiatives to recruit and mentor minority applicants.
Aon recently made a $30 million commitment to expand the network to six more cities.
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The initiatives include college scholarship programs, internships, apprenticeships and professional certifications. While many are just getting under way, some firms are expanding already successful undertakings into new geographies and/or venues.
Aon has one of the more established initiatives. Its apprenticeship program began in the United Kingdom in 2012 and was exported to Chicago in 2017. To get the U.S. effort off the ground, the firm partnered with Zurich and Accenture to found the Chicago Apprenticeship Network, which now has more than 40 employer partners.
To become an employer partner, a company goes through the Chicago Apprenticeship Network for a briefing on getting started. The organization has a “playbook” and a guide that help employers craft an initiative that best fits their needs, using the already proven framework the network has built.
Aon is expanding its apprenticeship program to six more cities and has recently made a five-year, $30 million commitment to the effort.
“The goal is to tap into a more diverse workforce and talent pipeline,” says Lori Goltermann, CEO for commercial risk and health at Aon.
Earn While You Learn
In the United States, the program currently recruits from community colleges in Chicago. The program has more than 740 apprentices and is targeting 10,000 by 2030. In the United Kingdom, apprentices typically come out of secondary school (the equivalent of high school in the United States). They go into an apprenticeship “track” for specific professional qualifications in investment, insurance, actuarial or client management.
The choice of community colleges in the United States goes to the heart of reaching underrepresented populations. According to the latest statistics from U.S. News and World Report, one in four community college students is Hispanic, and roughly one in seven is black. A 2013 study by Georgetown University found that 30% of black students with a 3.5 high school GPA or better go to community college.
Getting participants fast entry into the industry is one of the goals, because many of the people who join as apprentices have immediate financial needs. A study by the Association of American Community Colleges says 13% of community college students are single parents, 62% of full-time students work, and 72% of part-time students work. Additionally, 73% of community college applicants seek financial aid.
“Our apprenticeship program gives a much greater opportunity for an earn-while-you-learn progression,” Goltermann says. “The program comes with more than a job: it comes with tuition support while you’re in school and a commitment for a full-time job with Aon when you graduate. It’s a two-year program through community colleges that includes mentorship and sponsorship at an industry firm. We require them to do eight to 12 hours of classwork and 28 to 32 hours of Aon work. We’re paying the students as if it’s a 40-hour-a-week job.”
Aon’s apprenticeship program is a sister to its larger diversity strategy, which also includes Launch, its early-career initiative. Launch is a 10-month development program whose participants receive work assignments that tackle real-life business challenges with mentorship from Aon’s senior leaders. Launch enrollees come from colleges, including historically black colleges and universities. Students must be in the final year of a four-year college. Opportunities typically begin in one of a handful of positions: account specialist/associate broker; actuarial analyst; cyber; health and benefits; consultant intellectual properties; and associate compensation consultant. Applications for the program, which starts each year in late summer, are accepted through Aon’s jobs web page.
Aon has published a corporate handbook, An Apprenticeship Playbook for Professional Jobs, that the company willingly shares with peers, Goltermann says. “Companies can customize it for the specifics of their business,” she says. That may be helpful for firms trying to get an apprenticeship program off the ground without reinventing the wheel.
1. Lack of exposure to the industry
2. Lack of networks
3. Lack of experience (e.g., internships, work/study jobs, first jobs)
4. Racial bias
5. Lack of educational preparation
6. Gender bias
One of the key lessons Aon learned, according to Goltermann, was the need to provide mentorship and support for the rigors of a professional job.
“Many of our apprentices were working somewhere else, like fast-food or retail, so we had to make sure they were transitioning into a new level of pressure and work while they’re still doing their schoolwork,” she says. “We have put some of our most senior people in those mentor positions. Now we have executives at Aon who ask to be part of the program. We also need to make sure there is a good fit for the student and to have the flexibility if the student ends up preferring a different path than originally expected.”
Internship and Scholarship Opportunities
For Some years now, The Council Foundation’s scholarship program has supported brokerage internship efforts by providing academic awards to college students interning at member firms. Building on that success, The Council is now helping Georgia State University—a top-ranked RMI university, according to U.S. News & World Report—explore the role internships could play in improving GSU students’ prospects for and success in insurance careers while at the same time exposing Council firms to a wealth of diverse talent they are looking for.
“One of our key goals is to give students the tools they need to excel in the insurance industry. Internships are very much part of that equation,” says Stephen Shore, chair of Georgia State’s Department of Risk Management and Insurance.
Dave Matthews, executive vice president and principal in property and casualty at Pritchard & Jerden, understands well the value of internships. “No one individual can do it alone,” he says. “You have to have connections within the industry.”
P&J, which is based in Georgia, already had an internship program, but Matthews was looking for a way to improve the pipeline of minority talent. He set the wheels in motion for the collaboration between The Council and Georgia State, putting the two in touch about their shared interests. “A lot of agencies are interested in diversity,” he says, “but they need help getting access to the talent.”
That is something Georgia State can help with. “Industry leaders want talent that reflects the great diversity of the United States,” Shore says. “That means reaching out to students of all economic backgrounds so we can bring a variety of perspectives.” According to him, about 40% of the students at the school are black. “It’s a tremendously diverse group of students across many dimensions.”
But cost is often an obstacle to going to college, making scholarships key to opening doors to diverse talent, Matthews says.
Shore agrees. “If you want to attract students of all economic backgrounds, you need sufficient scholarships that allow them to pursue this,” Shore says. “Scholarships are also a great way for employers to be known for talent development.”
Those scholarships could come from The Council Foundation, something The Council is exploring with Georgia State. “We know what our firms are looking for, and Stephen [Shore] works with GSU’s top students,” notes Brittany Lindberg, vice president of development at The Council. “Working together, The Council and Georgia State can help connect those high-performing students who are interested in these opportunities with the best-fit firms for them.”
Building a successful internship program for diverse talent is more than just populating it with bodies, though. There are myriad issues to grapple with—from pay to culture to professional conduct and intern enthusiasm.
Pritchard & Jerden knows this well. “We rotate our interns through departments,” Matthews says. “Everyone in charge knows interns should have projects. We’ve learned lessons over the years and have gotten more successful. We expose them to different problems. We can take them on sales calls. We give them the opportunity to experience the industry so they can see themselves in here in the future. I think you need to build the right combination of people—students who are willing to learn and mentors who are willing to teach.”
Developing Talent Once Hired
Once a firm has successfully recruited diverse talent, it’s then time to help those selectees grow as they wish—especially to executive levels.
“Recruiting the talent is one thing. But if we can’t give these new people the skills they need, the seed isn’t going to grow,” says Elizabeth McDaid, senior vice president for leadership and management resources at The Council. “We also need to provide a culture that allows them to thrive.”
That is especially true for blacks and other minorities, who are often hindered on the path to upward mobility. A 2018 Marsh study, done in cooperation with the National African-American Insurance Association (NAAIA), found the major challenges for African Americans in the insurance industry to be communications, networking and planning. More specifically, challenges included learning the language and culture of their organization (termed the “inside game”), garnering regular or meaningful contact with senior management or influential people in the organization, having access to informal networks that can help in understanding key players, and being able to plan ahead, anticipate changes and develop contingencies.
A Marsh study from September 2018 found 70% of respondents thought there were greater obstacles for blacks in the insurance industry compared to those of other minorities or underrepresented groups. An insurance association study from 2016 found that just over 90% of agency principals and senior managers, 85% of non-principal agency managers and CSRs, and 87% of non-principal producers are white. Blacks (about 11% of the general population) and Hispanics (about 13% of the general population) are extremely (more than 50%) underrepresented in executive and management ranks, with black representation falling short across all industry roles.
There are greater obstacles for African Americans in the insurance industry compared to those for other minorities or under-represented groups:Source: Marsh
38% Somewhat Agree
32% Strongly Agree
11% Somewhat Disagree
6% Strongly Disagree
That same Marsh study found that 100% of respondents agreed or strongly agreed that mentoring or coaching programs can provide exposure and access to senior-level executives and greater opportunities for career advancement.
“When you understand that the numbers of African-American professionals at all levels, but especially the C-suite, are thin and you weigh that with the importance of a sense of belonging, having mentors and sponsors, people who can relate to you and support you effectively, there’s a gap,” says Margaret Redd, executive director of NAAIA.
“Sometimes those relationships can be built within your own company, but there are also opportunities outside,” Redd says. “That is where NAAIA becomes part of the solution. Building these relationships isn’t automatic. You have to work for it. But we open the pathway. We can help people find each other.”
These external networks may be crucial in an industry that has anemic minority representation in internal executive ranks. In many firms, the C-suite and even upper management simply don’t have any minority personnel—even in organizations that tout the importance of diversity, equity and inclusion.
“I know from my experience at leadership meetings there’d be hundreds of people and maybe a sprinkling of, or no other, African Americans,” Redd says. “I recall my first NAAIA meeting 20 years ago, seeing about 75 to 100 African Americans in the room. It literally took my breath away. That visual was very powerful, and I came away with a very real sense of the opportunity.”
Associations like NAAIA provide more than just a chance to chat with others who are navigating the same choppy waters. They provide opportunities to enhance skill sets; to promote DE&I in an organized and effective way; to build, lead or support chapter growth; to interact with industry leaders; to showcase capabilities and more, Redd says.
NAAIA can also help CEOs and other executives take the sometimes painful actions that truly make meaningful strides toward diversity, equity and inclusion.
“Your CEO might be the most enlightened person, but there are likely going to be a lot of blockers—intentional and unintentional—within the organization whose efforts negate or minimize real progress,” Redd says. “Such issues must be identified and addressed to maximize efforts to establish and lean into a culture supportive of DE&I.”
Some of the panel discussions that NAAIA sponsors can help employers and employees better understand both the challenges and opportunities facing minorities in insurance. And NAAIA offers corporate partnerships so firms can ally with the association’s mission of expanding African-American numbers in the insurance industry and supporting those employees in their careers.
“We fully understand that, to attack the issue of meaningful African-American presence at all levels of the industry’s workforce, we must have programs that are geared toward educating, engaging and supporting youth, college students and emerging leaders,” Redd says. “Of course, we must not forget the seasoned professionals and the development and retention of that very important group. We work with our partners to strengthen our programs based on the needs of our members and our overarching goals for DE&I.”
The Council also has spun up a professional development program in conjunction with the University of Georgia and The Institutes. The Insurance Professional School welcomed its first group of new employees in February. With 60 people enrolled, says The Council’s McDaid, it’s a very diverse cohort. “It should remove some of the barriers minority talent might otherwise have.”
The school’s curriculum is taught virtually, so employees can do the work while still fulfilling the duties of their job at a member firm. “It’s self-paced, so if you need more time on one aspect, you can take it,” McDaid says. “Students learn business, financial, industry, and insurance coverage acumen. We also teach professional development skills—creative thinking and other broad skills that early-career folks need.”
The curriculum is divided into two sessions totaling nine months. Tuition comes to $2,000 for Module One, a four-month session that teaches industry nuts and bolts, such as insurance coverages, and $3,000 for Module 2, a five-month obligation focusing on professional development. The fees are paid by the employee’s firm, and the program culminates in a professional designation for the student.
One theme of all these Council member and partner initiatives is a focus on career trajectory for minorities, not just hiring into a job.
As Georgia State’s Shore says, “We aim to train our students not for their first jobs but to become future leaders of the insurance industry. We’re trying to get them excited about what their life in the industry might look like and how they might shape the industry.”
Corporate America responded to George Floyd’s death in May 2020 with a heightened awareness of, and commitment to, diversity, equality and inclusion among its ranks.
“Important bodies of work like The Journal of the African American Insurance Professional, commissioned by Marsh in partnership with NAAIA, received newfound interest from many,” Redd says. “I’d say this is a time when it is very important to take a stand, to self-reflect on what impact you’ve had and what impact you want to have, and to act accordingly.”
That sentiment is echoed in the Marsh study, which emphasizes a series of actions to improve minority hiring and development. Those include moving beyond conventional recruiting on college campuses and establishing relationships with key faculty members, business and community leaders, minority business and academic associations and other influential people who can increase awareness of insurance careers in minority communities. According to Marsh, senior leadership must be committed to engaging in their firm’s DE&I initiatives, and that includes establishing formal coaching and mentoring programs and taking advantage of external opportunities as needed.
“If we can combine all this motivation out there, there’s a real opportunity,” says Pritchard & Jerden’s Matthews.
That said, the brokerage industry is really just moving beyond roundtable discussions. As Redd notes, “The conversations are important to get at the root of some of the problems; they are a good starting point. But we have to go beyond that and really be engaged and involved to show employees there’s meaning behind what’s being said.”
Increasingly, Council members are doing just that, even though many are in the earliest stages of action.
But as McDaid says, “Early days is how it starts.”
- How many of our executives come from racial minorities? Is this representative of the general population? If not, why?
- Are we recruiting from places that have substantial minority participation? If not, where can we turn for more access to minority candidates?
- Can we sponsor a scholarship, internship or apprenticeship?
- How can we broaden career opportunities for our junior-level minority employees? Can we encourage them to try something new with confidence and support?
- Who in our organization would be a good mentor? How can we pair them with the right person?
- Do we know what developmental needs our minority hires have? Can we ask them?
- What external training and networking opportunities can we promote?
- How can we reward real DE&I progress at the management level?