The RPS Change Insurance podcast recently featured Whitnee Dillard, Director of Diversity and Inclusion, Independent Insurance Agents & Brokers of America (Big I), and Ngozi Nnaji, Founder and Principal, Ako Brokerage Services, who discussed moving the needle forward for greater diversity and inclusion in the insurance industry. Both women are committed to creating a larger tent within the industry that includes more people of color, a younger demographic, and individuals from all walks of life.
Making Diversity and Inclusivity Part of An Agency’s DNA
Dillard feels strongly about the need to tie diversity and inclusivity into an agency’s business practices, making it a part of its DNA. She stresses that an inclusive environment means bringing everyone to the table to have important and difficult discussions on an ongoing basis. Look around and consider who’s not at your table and who isn’t being represented at a meeting within your organization to start making the necessary adjustments.
Inclusive leadership means working at attracting a more diverse workforce, says Dillard. For example, one state association realized they had a lack of young people in their organization and successfully worked on changing that by putting together innovative ways to ensure that young voices were being heard. Another state association focused on attracting more women to its organization.
Mentorship is Vital for Underrepresented Groups
A few years ago, in its commitment to move the industry toward greater diversity and inclusivity, the Big I launched a mentorship program to help develop underrepresented agency owners, including people of color, the LGBTQ community, women and younger individuals. The mentorship program provides advice and assistance in how to get carrier appointments, agency planning and other important issues in running an operation.
Individuals are paired with two mentors; one who is a seasoned agency owner and another from the carrier side. This provides an opportunity to go through a training series and gain the information needed to move forward. Dillard explains how important it is to be mentored by individuals that looked very different from the mentee.
Have a “Courageous Conversation”
Last year, the Big I also launched its “Courageous Conversations” toolkit on the heels of the protests against social injustice that took place across the country. The toolkit is designed to help its state chapters and agencies cultivate a culture of inclusivity around race and gender.
Dillard emphasizes the importance of collaboration in moving diversity forward by reaching out to external individuals and groups to support an agency’s efforts in changing its make-up to look more like society.
The Insurance Industry has Roles for Everyone
After 20 years of working on the carrier side, Nnaji used her experience, talent and skills to open her own insurance agency, aiming to bring in more people of color into the industry. She soon realized that the main reason for underrepresentation was a lack of awareness. Now, she aims to educate young people on how meaningful and successful an insurance career can be, and stresses that the insurance industry is but one of a few professions where, regardless of your background or degree, you will find a role.
“That is what’s so cool about it [the industry],” she said. Insurance touches every other industry. If you love football, you can insure the players, the games, the NFL, etc. The industry can be lucrative and is also recession-proof. She tells this to her daughters and other young people to get them excited in an industry where her passion lies.
Tailor Insurance Coverage to Your Audience
Nnaji plainly explains that people like to do business with people who look like them and, as a result, shifted her marketing plan to get more involved in her community to bring additional products to help families and businesses protect their assets. Part of her success is educating and passing on her knowledge about the benefits of not only having insurance, but also the right amount of coverage.
For instance, look at life insurance—research shows that while African Americans purchase life insurance at a higher rate than any other demographic, they don’t purchase enough coverage. When her conversation with potential purchasers shifts to protecting the next generation, paying for higher education, and using the policy as a tool, there’s now interest in purchasing coverage in sync with the individual or family’s life goals.
Diverse Talent Leads to Diverse Thought
To help get more Black talent in the insurance industry, Nnaji recently founded Ako Insurance Consulting, a recruiting and retention firm for a diverse insurance industry. She explains that it’s not only about racial or cultural diversity, but also about diversity of thought that is needed to truly bolster the industry.
Nnaji dreams of the day she sees an insurance program on every campus, including at historically Black colleges and universities, to expose young adults to the possibilities available in the industry.
“There needs to be an insurance school on every campus, that’s how integral insurance is to our economy as a society.”
The Bottom Line
The insurance industry has a way to go in its efforts to be more representative of society as a whole, but through the efforts of trailblazers like Dillard and Nnaji, it’s on its way.