Knowledge Center

Knowledge Center Items Podcast Episode 30

How to Make Sure Your Agency Leaderships is Inclusive

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It all starts with asking yourself "who's not at the table right now?"

Because in a perfect world, each seat should represent a person your agency wants to serve.

If not, don't worry, now you just need to figure out how to go and find them.

It might seem overwhelming at first, but it only takes the right mindset to successfully get started.

Whitnee Dillard, Big I Director of Diversity & Inclusion, talks about how you can make sure all the seats in your agency are full. 

For more Change Insurance episodes, click here.

Full Episode Transcript

Joey Giangola: Whitnee Dillard, How are you doing today?

Whitnee Dillard: I am doing well. How are you?

Joey Giangola: I'm doing all right. I'm kind of curious. I want to know, is there a job that you have before we really get into it, is there a job that you had that was more valuable than its pay at whatever point in time during your kind of working career?

Whitnee Dillard: I would say, and I feel like this is totally cliche, but I would say my current job would definitely fit that in. And if I can't do my current job fine, I'll do a prior job. I'll maybe the job right after college. So, right after college I was the president of an organization, a Christian organization that focused on African-American students while I was in college at the university of Michigan.

Whitnee Dillard: And then immediately after that, I took on a role to work with their organization, as it took a fellowship of sorts where I had to actually raise funds to work for them. And I would say that the pay was very minimal, but I would say that was probably one of the best decisions I could have ever made and that it kind of helped me to realize that regardless as to what you want to do in a career, there's a place for you. The fact that I had to raise funds to work on an initiative that I wanted to work on, quite honestly, that drove me to always make sure that everything I did post that position was something I actually wanted to do.

Joey Giangola: Yeah, that's a pretty solid. I guess you have better jobs than I did. The closest thing I could think of was, filling a gag magazine orders in a warehouse that led me into an insurance thing. Yeah. It can't be worse than this right? So, I think we all have our own sort of special place for those things. But yeah, that's interesting. I'm kind of curious since you did maybe have that inclination to go this job, obviously there's a lot of purpose and sort of kind of importance to what you're doing. What is going on just in your world? How have you been sort of adapting to what is happening around the last month, almost a year now with everything?

Whitnee Dillard: So, how are we referencing this fabulous pandemic that we're currently in?

Joey Giangola: That would be the one.

Whitnee Dillard: Okay. Yeah, it has been a quite interesting. So ironically in January we hosted our very first diversity summit. The level up agent summit focused on essentially tying in diversity and inclusion into business practices and helping that to essentially be a part of the DNA of your business versus a separate diversity conference, which is quite honestly why we didn't call it a diversity summit. We called it the level up agent summit. And ironically, so that event went absolutely fabulous. We felt everybody left super duper energized, and wanting to build a more inclusive culture across their businesses and understanding the innovation in doing so and how it does truly impact your bottom line. So we did that in January. February, took some time to just breathe.

Whitnee Dillard: And then come March, It was time to kind of get back to work. And initially the thought process was we were going to do Encore presentations of a lot of the breakout sessions we did at the level up agent summit. And then the fabulous pandemic. So, we did one session in March, the very beginning of March, we did "women who lead remarkably." We had that as an Encore type of session, webinar of sorts. And then when it was time to go into some of the other breakout sessions from level up, we had the pandemic that started. So we realized, "Uh oh, we need to backtrack. And as much as this is very important, we want to make sure that we stay in the moment of relevancy." So, with that being said, we ended up backtracking. And what we realized is there were three specific, immediate needs for our agencies.

Whitnee Dillard: One is how do you manage in a time like this? In a time of crises where everyone's at home? So, we started with a webinar focused on, "Your agency success starts with you." And the purpose of that webinar is to emphasize the importance of self-care and team care. So ironically, we have that session that will be the opening Encore presentation of the, Our Lets conference, our fall conference. That takes place on October 19th, not sure when this is aired, but that Monday the, "Your agency success starts with you." We have a clinical psychologist, Isaiah Pickens, who will be a part of that session. We have a diversity practitioner, Jennifer Ingram. Who's a part of that session. Isaiah focuses on the mental health piece. Jennifer focuses a little bit more on the social justice piece with all that's taken place since the pandemic occurred.

Whitnee Dillard: And then we have three agents that are on there. Spencer Holden, one of our prior national chairman's for the big eye, as well as our diversity council chair, Benny Jones, and our prior chair, Alex Apazo. And they just talk about, what it's been like, how've they taken care of themselves, how they've taken care of their teams and how to be an inclusive leader during this time. So, that was essentially where we kind of shifted. And that was March. Then after March, we had the situation that took place with George Floyd, at the very end of may. And that was the first time our association as a whole responded to a social justice issue, least I would say under our current CEO, who's been, I believe a CEO for probably going on 20 years now. He's Bob [inaudible 00:06:04]. After that, that triple bounced other things, but I don't want to get ahead of myself. So I'm not sure if you have another question before I continue to talk.

Joey Giangola: There's always more questions Whitnee, but I think the interesting thing that, around this whole time that we're sort of still in is, you brought up the point to me about mentorship and how creating sort of a culture and an environment to where, younger people in the business are being brought into a place where they're being taught to have these conversations and continue them unto their selves and maybe help them kind of push that change forward a little faster. What does that look like in terms of, again, how is it affecting the progress of things? And What do you think maybe should be an expectation that is maybe set across the industry for that sort of mentorship to take place on a maybe wider scale?

Whitnee Dillard: Mm-hmm (affirmative). So, we actually started a mentorship program a few years ago, 2017, and it started as a pilot project. And it's specifically focused on developing agency owners, independent agency owners, and the thought process behind it was as we just, as our diversity council, we have three in person meetings a year, two of them are new locations typically. So, as we would go to those two other locations, the one meeting is always in DC. So spring meetings are always in DC, but our fall, winter meeting always rotates across the country. So, as we would go and meet across the country for our fall and winter meetings, we realized there was an opportunity to connect with local diverse agencies. And in this respect, we were more so looking at people of color and LGBTQ, I don't know that we specifically singled out women as much as we did people of color, LGBTQ, and we didn't single out younger agency owners, although, and just singling out women and people of color.

Whitnee Dillard: There were younger agency owners that ended up coming to the table and coming to our meetings. But the key thing that we noticed is a lot of the agency owners, when we asked them, "What are the challenges that you're facing?" A lot of them brought the challenge of getting appointments with top carriers. So we realized, okay, and then feeling like it was like, the chicken or the egg kind of thing, and that they would go to one carrier and that carrier would say, 'Well, who else do you have, that's a top carrier that you're already writing business with?" And they would say, "Oh, we don't have anyone." They go to the next carrier and get the same question. So nobody wanting to essentially be that first person to provide this person with an opportunity. So, with that being said, we started the right start training series, focused on agency 101 types of principles, how agency operations employees, how do you make sure that you are using your employees to the best of your ability.

Whitnee Dillard: Leveraging your employees within your agency, and then another session that focuses on carrier appointments. What do you do before you solicit carrier appointment? And what do you do after you received that appointment? And lastly, what does yearly planning look like? So, that's essentially the four different pieces that this training series focused on. And we realized, "okay, we have this fabulous training series. We're wanting to see more scratch agencies come in and, and be a part of The Eye channel." A few of our diversity council members said, "well, how are we going to make sure this training series is actually effective? And shouldn't, we actually go through this with people and make sure that they're gaining the information, and how are we able help them a little bit further along in the areas that they're not doing so well on."

Whitnee Dillard: So, that's how we started the mentorship program and the mentorship program. We're looking at underrepresented agency owners, including individuals that are under the age of 42 that are agency owners, people of color, women, people of the LGBTQ community and the thought processes. We are essentially taking them. And we are linking them up to two mentors, one mentor that is a seasoned or veteran agency owner or whatever you'd like to call it from a different state. And then the other member, or the other mentor is someone from a company ranks. And this is not guaranteeing them an appointment, but it's giving them an opportunity to go through this right start training series with someone who has the expertise that they're desiring to have.

Whitnee Dillard: And we've done this twice before, one time in 2017, one time in 2018. Because of our fabulous conference that took place in January, we did not embark on the mentorship pilot in 2019, but this year we are now releasing our very first cohort of sorts post pilot with a program. We think that is really cool in that the individuals that we have that are being mentored look very different than the individuals that are doing the mentoring. And we found that these, although this is more of a formal mentorship program that after the mentorship program, even during organic relationships are built from it. And essentially anytime you have an organization such as our organization where it's been around for forever, we're 120 years or so old. And, you have so many legacy members that just pass on to generation, to generation to generation. So, it was very easy to be in that country club type of mindsets. And I felt like in the way that we're mentoring these up and coming, developing agency owners, it's kind of truly practicing the art of inclusion for lack of a better word.

Joey Giangola: That's fascinating because, care appointments is a real thing, right? And you don't necessarily look at it, maybe from that way, bringing them from the from care side and the agency side. Do you have any sort of early results as to what kind of you're hearing from the feedback from people that are in that program? How beneficial has it been to sort of get that inside sort of look on both sides from the different experiences?

Whitnee Dillard: Mm-hmm (affirmative). So, I think a couple of things, one, I think has been really helpful that they're not meeting with the agency owner mentor and the carrier mentor at the same time. What we found is that there's some people that are gravitating more to that carrier mentor, and there are other people that gravitate more to their agency mentor. There's some that gravitate towards both, but the types of questions you're asking your carrier mentor are quite different than the types of questions you're asking your agency, owner mentors,. So I think we're just really taking a holistic approach to mentoring. And it appears thus far that it's been a relatively successful program. I know that with our second cohort, we had someone in Georgia, an agency owner in Georgia who, participated, she was a minority woman and she was not electronic. So she didn't have any type of electronic forms or any type of systems in place to be electronic her to allow her agency to be electronic.

Whitnee Dillard: And her mentor essentially mentored her. So, the agency mentor mentored her on how to go through eDoc or DocuSign, whatever program they use and how to make sure that you're able to work from home. You're able to have you and your employees set up where they can work from home or work from the office. And it works out fabulous. And that while she was a part of the mentorship program, they found mold in her agency. And she had already learned how to work virtually and already kind of set up her employees so that they knew what to do. So, she was able for a month and a half close her agent, her physical location for our agency so that they could address the mold problem because they essentially had to tear out quite a bit of the building.

Whitnee Dillard: And then she also wanted to be able to create more office space. So, had it not been for the mentorship program, she doesn't necessarily believe it would have been as successful of a transition. And then the other thing about it is there's a agents group. And I can't remember the name of it. Is it AIOA? I can't remember the name of it. But there's a group exclusively for agents led by agents and they meet every year.

Joey Giangola: Yeah it's IOA.

Whitnee Dillard: Thank you. They meet every year while these developing agency owners with working with these more seasoned veteran agency owners were invited to participate in these groups. And had they have not had that connection with this person who's been around for a long time and knows what's going on. They probably would have never learned about those types of groups that kind of helped them to build an even wider network even outside of our association. So yeah, it's been a really cool program and it's been nice to see how agents have benefited from the program. We definitely have seen some appointments with the agencies that have participated in the program. Not every agency got appointed, but there have been some that have been appointed because of the program.

Joey Giangola: Did you get any feedback from those agents that were struggling to get the appointments? Like, what are they what some of the roadblocks were that they felt were maybe standing in their way, some of the things they didn't know that could maybe help, or have you heard anything in terms of, what has come from those mentorship programs to where they have maybe had a little more familiarity with the carrier side of things to help things along? Is there something that was kind of in the way of that?

Whitnee Dillard: So, we will do a follow-up conversation on that. because I want to give you like actual, legit data and in texts and all that stuff, because where we're at right now is we're at that 18 month ish point where we feel like, of course we did a closing survey after they finished with a mentorship program, but we knew that six months is not really going to be able to truly show the value of the program, especially because again, a lot of these relationships continued on after the mentorship program. So, we are in the process of doing another follow-up just to see, "okay, you've been out of the program for quite some time now..." Looking back a year and a half ago, like a year and a half to some people, even two years... "How has this impacted where you are today?" So I want to follow up with you on that. I just don't want to, I'd like to give you a thorough followup on that question.

Joey Giangola: Fair enough Whitnee. So, you toss this idea out to me about inclusive leadership and just the idea of leadership in general is sometimes hard to come by and it's varying forms of quality. If you had to sort of lay out a definition of inclusive leadership, it sounds like you would know what that means, but is there something that maybe goes overlooked and really how that's properly executed?

Whitnee Dillard: We'll go with this. So, in thinking about inclusive leadership, it's essentially constantly considering who's not at the table right here who's not represented right here. I heard someone use that Amber Carol with Carol Consulting. She was our closing keynote at the level of agent summit. And she just brought that whole idea up where, when you're in a meeting and you're going about different determining what you're doing next, within your organization. And you're looking around that table is everyone around that table representative of the organization, representative of the population being served? So, who's missing around the table and how can we get them there? I would say would be what I constantly try to think of when I think of inclusive leadership.

Joey Giangola: It's probably going to be a tough question, but have you seen any good examples of inclusive leadership across the industry and, the people that you guys have been working with? Is there something that might be missing from the day to day agency that they could really look to implement and what they're doing?

Whitnee Dillard: That's a really good question. I'm glad you asked that question. The reason why I'm glad you asked that question is when we talk about diversity and inclusion and even connecting with our state chapters across the country, there were some States that were very hesitant to have a conversation on diversity and inclusion, and they were hesitant because quite often, when we're talking about diversity, the first thing that comes to mind is race. And okay, "do I have people of color around? And I don't. So I don't want to jump on the call cause I don't want to look like a failure." Yes, that is a piece when we're talking about diversity inclusion, that definitely is something that can be a measurable component to diversity and inclusion, but it's not the end all be all. So, one of the things that I had to, or I have continued to have to help our state chapters, as well as our agencies understand is it's sub mindset.

Whitnee Dillard: So if you're practicing the correct mindset, even when you're looking at people of color or whatever the case may be, they're going to be attracted to your organization that you're going to have an opportunity to be able to reach out to them. And I say that because I think of one of our chapters, I think of our Ohio chapter, putting them out there and they have done a phenomenal job of getting young people into the fold. They realized that they were lacking younger people in their organization, and they did just a really, really good job, like put together think tanks of sorts and all of these innovative types of ways to make sure that the younger voices being heard. And I really, really liked how they done that. There's other States that have also done a really good job.

Whitnee Dillard: I think of Oklahoma, they've done a great job when it comes to women. So, essentially taking the same practice that they took for younger professionals are in the same practice that they took for women. And the fact that essentially best practices, inclusive leadership, best practices, and realizing that they're transferable to any group. So, you don't have to be a expert on diversity and inclusion or race matters for you to be able to take that same thing that you did with younger people or with women or in whatever, or veterans and transfer that over to the other underrepresented missing person at the table.

Joey Giangola: So I'm curious, because you said somebody might be hesitant to jump on the call because their agency doesn't look the way that it might be. That, that call might be hoping that it would, right? And I'm curious from the person that let's say, you are that person that you're trying to get somebody into that agency. Right? That's not a very comfortable place to go. I'm the only person like me there. How do you go about bridging that gap to where you're saying you to get the ball rolling. Right? Because that takes a brave person to come into an agency that is more than likely going to be the only person that might be outside of that traditional insurance stereotype. Right? So, what does that look like in terms of at least starting that process? I'm sure you've had conversations with people saying, "Do I really want to go work here? What's that going to be like? Is there some hesitation? How do we help sort of bring that together?

Whitnee Dillard: Mm-hmm (affirmative). There's so many things there. Okay. So, I would say if you are within an organization where you have that one person and ironically, we had a agency in Pennsylvania and that was her struggle. She had that one person and she didn't know "How can I be more inclusive? I want to make sure that this person knows that we're an inclusive environment, that they are the only person of color within our agency. What do I do?" So, with those types of situations, there's so many things that you can do. One thing that I think is very important is, providing outlets. So, let's say that you hired an African-American you're a primarily white agency and you have one African-American employee. So, providing outlets, professional outlets, where they are able to not be the only one. So, rather that's, making sure that you're aware of some of the multicultural industry organizations that are around and don't just invite them to participate in that organization.

Whitnee Dillard: Also, open that as something, that perhaps you or other people also belong to and participate in. So, it's not all because you're black, you should go and do this, but it's "Hey, we support diversity and inclusion. So, the national we know about the national African-American insurance association, we want to give an opportunity for our staff to get involved." And of course not mandating stats to be involved, but providing an opportunity for staff to get involved in other things like that. And to me, that's a very important way that you can't immediately show that you do, want to implement a culture of inclusion and you do want all of your staff to feel comfortable when coming to the table.

Whitnee Dillard: Right now, another example would be with us in the pandemic and all of the working from home providing services for working parents that have kids at home, being able to like have a webinar on that or providing support groups. Again, it doesn't necessarily say you only have one, one staff member that has kids at home. Well, it's not going to be really helpful if you start a staff group on that, but if you were able to find out where are some external communities that they can belong to and then offering that to your organization, and again, figuring out ways that you can as a company, get involved in it and that can truly show your support in inclusive leadership.

Joey Giangola: All right Whitnee, we've had a couple of conversations over the years, and I think you mentioned in the beginning of just the patience that maybe is required the fact that it might not be going as fast as you would maybe want it to, and in any attempts to maybe just sort of look the other way on that for a second, if you could have the ability to sort of just give everybody maybe one little thing that just helps it go just a little faster. Is there something that you've seen over the course of the years that, that does help even in a small way kind of move things, move that progress bar a little bit faster.

Whitnee Dillard: Yes. Collaboration's I think is the one of the most important things and moving things forward. And quite honestly, even with the national organization, the Big Eye, and what we've been doing on our diversity council, if it wasn't for the external collaborations that we started to participate in, I don't know that we would have evolved to the level that we've evolved to today. So really, really important recognizing that you can't do it by yourself and you need external people to help you in moving the needle forward.

Joey Giangola: All right I've got three more questions for you.

Whitnee Dillard: Okay.

Joey Giangola: This one's pretty straight forward, but what's something that you hope you never forget?

Whitnee Dillard: Let me think about that one. Let me make sure I don't butcher this, that you live to work and you don't work to live.

Joey Giangola: All right. Simple, straight to the point on the other side of that, what's something that you have yet to learn?

Whitnee Dillard: Hmm. I'm going to go with the balancing act. I'm still very much learning the balancing act. And I hope that I will eventually be very good at that work-life balancing act, but I am not there yet.

Joey Giangola: Well, no one says how balanced, what the balance needs to be. So, it's always up to you. But Whitnee, last question to you. And If I'm going to present you with a magic wand of sorts to really do change, speed up, anything that you want in the insurance industry, where's it going? What's it doing? And how are you getting there?

Whitnee Dillard: Okay. So, anything in the insurance industry? I would say the out go to the whole talent pipeline. I know that we talk about it all the time, but figuring out how do we do a better job of making it truly known? Of all of the opportunities within the insurance industry, and I feel like this is such a cliche answer, but I say that because every time I've had an opportunity to connect with college students on it and talk to them about the various things that they could be doing in the insurance industry and how it's so multifaceted and how have you are interested in music, you can go that route. Or if you're interested in healthcare, there's things in healthcare that you can get involved in. It totally amazes me how people are still. They don't know. And there's just so much that we can be selling and we don't really do a good job selling, but we already know that, that's the case so, it's a cliche answer, but I'm going to stick with that one.

Joey Giangola: Whitnee, This has been great. I'm going to leave it right there.

Whitnee Dillard: Okay. Thank you, Joe.

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