Industry the April 2024 issue

Harnessing the Power of Belonging

The insurance industry should not lose sight of the business value of diversity, equity and inclusion.
By Kevin Davis Posted on April 1, 2024

Over 40 years ago, I graduated from Temple University in Philadelphia and was hired by a large insurance company, which I’ll call XYZ, as part of its affirmative action plan. Despite graduating from a major U.S. university, I faced skepticism about my qualifications.

At times I felt like I was on display. I noticed quite early the curious stares from employees who wondered how I got there. They complimented me as being very articulate and a credit to my race.

Whenever African-American employees were together in a group, other employees always wondered what we were doing—to the point of asking, “What were you guys up to?” This further alienated us within the company. This sense of being an outsider, rather than a valued team member, deeply affected me, creating the belief that my opportunities were not based on merit but on the color of my skin.

I recognized early on that, if I continued to work at XYZ, I would consistently be judged by my peers as being unqualified, thereby limiting my professional opportunities. I was not alone in recognizing this environment. Many of my African-American colleagues lasted only a few years at XYZ. I stayed for eight, fully understanding the difficulties I faced.

These experiences at XYZ established my foundation in diversity, equity and inclusion, inspiring me to create a workplace where individuals felt like they belonged and had an opportunity to excel based on their merits.

Diversity, equity and inclusion is not about compliance, quotas or lowering standards; it’s about creating a sense of belonging that can engage employees and increase productivity.

In 2000, I founded Kevin Davis Insurance Services with the deliberate intention of assembling a team with a wide range of skills, perspectives and backgrounds. I strongly believed that fostering diversity within our workforce was essential for cultivating a dynamic and successful workplace.

This approach enabled us to bridge gaps in access to opportunities that were previously inaccessible, providing all employees with pathways for growth and advancement. Our focus was dedicated to eradicating the detrimental effects of bias and discrimination, ensuring that all team members could perform at their best.

We understood that cultivating a diverse workforce promotes an environment in which employees can express themselves freely without fear of criticism or judgment. Open communication is a powerful motivator, especially when inclusivity is emphasized.

A notable instance occurred when the topic of pronoun usage arose at my company. I emphasized the importance of inclusivity by advocating for the inclusion of gender pronouns in email signatures—a seemingly small yet impactful gesture toward empathy in our workplace.

Our efforts have resulted in a highly loyal and engaged workforce, with many employees remaining with the company for over 15 years and the team growing from three to 50 employees over two decades. Seventy percent of our staff are women and minorities, and many team members are first-generation college graduates, some advancing to managerial roles, excelling in finance, administration and operational efficiency.

Ultimately, our commitment to diversity and inclusivity has contributed significantly to our success. These efforts resulted in significant financial growth, with over $11 million in revenue and close to $100 million in insurance premiums by year-end 2023.

Our success is a living example of how DEI is not just a moral imperative but a strategic advantage. As we embraced diversity, equity and inclusion, we dismantled barriers and created a workplace where meritocracy won.

Diversity, equity and inclusion is not about compliance, quotas or lowering standards; it’s about creating a sense of belonging that can engage employees and increase productivity. This empowers employees to contribute their best. It transcends race and gender, recognizing that we each bring a unique set of qualities to the table.

DEI initiatives have long been recognized as a way for society to correct systemic issues relating to race in America, and many organizations have taken steps to foster inclusivity within their organizations. However, it has become evident that the focus on DEI has shifted in the past year.

There is a growing lack of recognition of DEI’s importance and a growing disinterest in the topic. This is illustrated by layoffs in DEI departments and organizations questioning the necessity of formal diversity, equity and inclusion efforts at all.

Regrettably, many individuals eager for progress now find themselves anxious about judgment as DEI initiatives are increasingly misused, weaponized to instill fear rather than embracing the concept that a rising tide lifts all boats.

DEI has been politicized in a way that hurts everyone. When DEI becomes a political tool for the uninformed, it fosters disengagement, exclusion and a lack of opportunities in the workplace. Instead of fostering meaningful conversations about diversity, equity and inclusion, programs are often reduced to pursuing political correctness and advancing a specific social agenda.

Instead of fostering meaningful conversations about diversity, equity and inclusion, programs are often reduced to pursuing political correctness and advancing a specific social agenda.

Florida stands out as a hub for some of the most severe attacks on DEI. There’s a saying in the state that Florida is where DEI goes to die. In April 2022, Governor Ron DeSantis signed the Stop W.O.K.E. Act, which expands the prohibition on training and instruction related to racism and sexism, aiming to eradicate DEI programs and heavily restrict certain college majors associated with DEI.

Moreover, our focus in the workplace on complex social justice issues, like the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery, has diverted us from our goal of inclusivity. Conversations on criminal justice reform and the protection of the LGBTQ community from violence are important, but they often become oversimplified in workplace discussions, leaving individuals uneasy about potential judgment based on their beliefs or identities.

It’s crucial that we return to the fundamentals of DEI. We must reengage in conversations about the true essence of diversity, equity and inclusion, appealing to those who believe in these values. We need to be deliberate in explaining the meaning of this work, emphasizing what it entails and, equally important, what it does not.

Diversity involves casting a wide net to attract a talented and diverse pool of employment candidates or students from various backgrounds. Equity entails designing systems to ensure that everyone, regardless of background, has an equal opportunity to excel. Inclusion is about fostering cultures where all individuals can authentically be themselves and thrive.

In response, our organization is adopting a fresh approach to drive meaningful change by prioritizing belonging. Emphasizing belonging cultivates an environment in which individuals feel valued and understood, fostering an atmosphere of openness, curiosity and active engagement.

Belonging represents a crucial element often overlooked in the DEI process. It’s the space where team members can express themselves without fear of judgment or backlash.

My journey from being an affirmative action hire to founding a successful company underscores the transformative power of DEI. It is not just a philosophy that aligns with corporate values; it is the driving force behind our achievements. By recognizing and celebrating the differences within our team, we harness the strength that diversity brings, propelling us toward a future where success is synonymous with inclusivity. I hope the insurance industry will not lose sight of this.

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