Knowledge Center

Knowledge Center Items Podcast Episode 74

How To Empower Diverse Talent Into More Important Roles

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A lot of change can start simply by investing more in the people you already have.

Just knowing the possibility of available opportunities can dramatically change the outlook of a career.

The challenge is finding ways to make it bright enough so everyone can see them.

The sooner your company culture can illuminate that path the more likely people will want to follow it.

RPS Broker Kyle Pass guest hosts to talk with fellow RPS DE&I communities members Ryan Collier and Tonya Lauderdale about our journey mapping out the process.

For more Change Insurance episodes, click here.

Full Episode Transcript

Speaker 1: Insurance sounds different when you start to change it, come listen for yourself. This is the RPS podcast dedicated to helping you make the impossible possible.

Speaker 2: We have a special guest host episode for you this week where RPS broker Kyle Pass talks to a Chief Digital Officer, Ryan Collier and Vice President of HR, Tonya Lauderdale, who are all part of our D.E. & I. Committee. What's going on in the industry, what we're doing to address it here at RPS, and really just have a great conversation about what's going on in the space. Here you go, take a listen and enjoy the episode.

Kyle Pass: I am joined today by Ryan Collier and Tonya Lauderdale with the D.E. & I. Committee to talk a little bit about diversity, equity and inclusion today, go over our thoughts and feelings and kind of where we think we stand as a company with it. To begin, I'll let Tonya introduce herself, give a little background, and then we'll kick it over to Ryan who can take the wheel a little bit as well.

Tonya Lauderdal...: Thanks Kyle. As Kyle said, Tonya Lauderdale, I'm the Vice President of HR for RPS and excited to be part of the RPS D.E. & I. Committee, I've been with RPS for a little over a year now and came from corporate real estate where I was really involved with our D. E. & I. Initiatives there as well, so excited for our conversation today and to hand it over to Ryan.

Ryan Collier: Thanks Tonya. My name is Ryan Collier and I've got 22 years under my belt here in RPS. I'm in my fourth decade, the nineties, the zeros, the ones and the twos. We got a long history here, and two roles, one primarily the chief digital officer for RPS, and then also secondarily the president of the executive clients, and also very excited to converse today on D.E. & I. A subject we've spent a lot of time on and we may spend a lot more time on both.

Kyle Pass: Yeah, absolutely. Thank you both for hopping on this call today. I hope we can go over some questions and get your guys' feedback on it. Let's jump in. I guess the first question would be just based on it being D. E. & I. What is diversity equity inclusion mean to you and why do you think it's important?

Tonya Lauderdal...: I can start and you can add and expand, Ryan. To me, diversity, equity and inclusion really means that you're able to bring your whole self to work and be your unique self, your whole self at your workplace, whatever that means to each individual, it's a sense of belonging. I tend to really always lean towards and focus on first the include and think about everything we try to do to drive diversity and equity in the workplace and how that makes people feel. Maybe that's my HR feeling kind of personal hat I put on there. That's what it means to me. Then personally, I've always found the deepest connection at work places where I feel like I belong. That doesn't mean that I agree with everything or I fit in with every single group at work, but I feel like I'm accepted for who I am and my opinions are valued. To me, that's the core of D. E. & I.

Ryan Collier: I would echo that. I think you're spot on. I think everyone deserves a fair and equal opportunity to success in life. That goes beyond the workplace. I think we need to look at our world, not just our eight hours or 10 hours a day, that we work and bring that into the way that we live with. I think there's been so many injustices in the world that we see just in life, especially over the last year and a half and with the advent of phones to really bring it to the living room of everybody. Like Tonya said, we've got to bring our full selves to work and nobody wants to go to that party when they don't feel like they belong. They're in the corner all by themselves. Same thing happens with work. You want to be in a part of an inclusive group where you feel like you're a part of the family and that's what we really need to work on to make sure that everybody feels like they're a part of the family.

Kyle Pass: Absolutely. I agree with both of those statements as well. Just thinking a little bit deeper on that. How do we then make sure that as a company we are making people feel inclusive. We're starting this committee here at RPS. How do we really then get people to buy into it then?

Ryan Collier: I'll pick this one then. I think two things. I think one leading by example, there's no better way than to lead by example. I want to try to lead by example. I know I have not been perfect over like my 22 years here, my 49 years on this planet, but I surely want to get better and beyond leading by example, communication. Communication cures so many issues in the world, letting people know that they can be comfortable to be their true selves. Letting people know that their diversity of thought is appreciated. Obviously, I want to work in a place where there's diversity of thought.

I don't want a homogenous way of thinking. That's not where you get creative. That's not where you change Insurance. I know Joey Angola works on the Change Insurance Podcast. Exactly right beyond the podcast. We need to change insurance. Part of that is to look beyond where we have historically for the hiring pool, which has been very dominated by white male industry. That's not, what's good for our industry. That's not going to be what sustains our industry for the next a hundred years. We need to look beyond that and get better. That's where we started, I think lead by example with communication.

Tonya Lauderdal...: Just to expand upon broadening our industry and diversifying everything we do in every way. I think Ryan hit on it, diversity of thought and idea, and that comes from coming from different backgrounds and industries and all sorts of things. I think one of the key things that we can do to be more inclusive is to invest in our own talent that we have here today too and build and create a diverse internship pool and then develop those individuals into leaders, teach them the industry, bring them along. I know that's a huge focus of this committee and also RPS as a whole. I think that will be critical to our success on becoming a more inclusive culture.

Kyle Pass: No, absolutely. I think the committee itself was the first step in the right direction. You got to start somewhere. Getting a bunch of fine individuals like we have together once a month to kind of talk about it. Everybody has a different perspective. Everybody has different ideas. Just that in itself, getting the ball rolling and starting a committee, I think was a great start. It's definitely not going to change everything, but we had to start somewhere. I think that was the biggest piece. Both of you have different roles. There are questions that I think may be tailored to Tonya a little bit more or Ryan. I'll pitch this one to Tonya, just because I know you have a background in D.E. & I. from your previous work experience. What was some of those challenges that you dealt with? What did you see worked well in that previous role? How do you kind of plan on bringing that over to RPS?

Tonya Lauderdal...: I will say I went into my last company that I was with for over seven years with very little D.E. & I experienced. It wasn't a focus of my former company before that. I embraced the opportunity to kind of dive in head first and learn, and I did learn a lot there. I think there's a lot of things that where we are in our life cycle. Like you said, just starting our committee and really starting to create a change culture around how we embrace D.E. & I. are things that we can do. Some of the key things that I found really work that I would love to be able to implement RPS or see embraced are advancing and promoting diverse talent into leadership roles. I think that's traditionally been one of the biggest challenges. You can obviously find and hire and create diverse talent for entry to mid-level roles, a little bit more seamlessly and quicker.

It's that really that investment in your diverse talent to get them to the senior leadership role. Having senior leaders take a pointed interest in developing diverse talent. Like I said, this can be any type of diversity, somebody with diverse background, diverse thought, and really developing them with intent into future roles. What we did is, we really did a good job of spotlighting our high value talent. Highlighting where diversity could be added to gain business value and resources. If we knew this person had a different mindset or perspective that would be really valued by a client in a specific area. How do we intentionally develop them for three to five years to become the leader in that area and help grow our business, helped grow their career and create a more dynamic team. That's one thing that I'd love to see, and that starts with something that we all can do as leaders and as individual employees is mentoring.

It doesn't have to be a senior leader to an employee. It could also just be peer to peer mentorship too of people teaching and learning and really opening up to share about their experiences and helping people be successful. I'd love to see some structure put around that and something that even our committee could drive. I'd also like to see this committee grow into something more dynamic. We're starting out as a committee, but I'd love to see it as something that has legs, where different groups are taking ownership and driving a policy change around something that they feel like doesn't necessarily empower a specific group of employees or group of individuals and making a change in that area or going out and doing things in the community that promote RPS as a great and diverse place to work that it is, and shining that.

I think we can change this into more of an action oriented type of community. I'd like to see that done as well. Like I said, I think these are things that we all can do. We're starting out with the basics, but we can do these things and take ownership. I think as we start to get more folks involved and educated. The other thing is just awareness. That'll be my last thing here is I think, like you said, starting this committee is great, but the more we can teach people about the benefits of an inclusive culture, what they can get from it. Obviously, it's what your experiences, you spend so much time at work. It's like your second family.

How do you make this a place where you want to work and how do you make it a place that attracts the best and the brightest in the industry. Diversity is such a differentiator where people just feel like they can come and they can contribute. They can add value right away, then you're going to get the best people. I think that's the other thing that I really want to see implemented here. Once again, I think it's something we all can take ownership and commitment into doing, educating ourselves as well.

Kyle Pass: Ryan, you're part of senior leadership. You run a division here at RPS, kind of just bouncing off of Tonya. How do you then make sure that you are kind of passing that along to the people that are below you, people that are working for you, making sure that they feel that mentorship, or that you are making sure that people that may come from diverse backgrounds are getting, getting the best opportunities.

Ryan Collier: Sure. I think one of the things that I've gotten better on with age is time. Spending time with each of the people in our industry. Spending time with people on our team. There's actually a story. We took a road trip to go meet with a retail broker. The three interns that I took, one was Filipino, one was a Sikh, and one was a blonde haired kid from Minnesota. We went Cracker Barrel in the middle part of Illinois, and they looked at me kind of funny. I said, look at my three kids. I had triplets. It's amazing that they all came out looking a little bit different. That right there led to one of the most amazing lunchtime conversations I've ever had. Just by having that open, honest and fun communication. It was great. I think this is what we need to do.

We just talk about it, communicate, give time. That led to me having dinner with one of those interns. I had dinner, cause I wasn't familiar with the background of Sikhs. I did not have a lot of understanding of what that entailed and what the history was and what really made them up to their beliefs in that dinner was an eyeopening experience for me. It was just amazing. I was so appreciative of that. Had I not talked and communicated and even kind of made that joke. I don't think that dinner would have occurred. That dinner was great for him. It's great for me. It was really an eye-opener. I think just part of, it's just kind of taking it head on and just making sure that we realize we need to get better. The internship program is a huge opportunity that we have.

I know you're a former intern as well, and that's where we're planting the seeds. I think we need to look as we try to grow leaders, we have to grow them from within. We do that starting with the internship program, hiring young kids, letting them know that the great opportunity for a wonderful career, great industry. We're going to do a little bit differently than the past number of years.

Kyle Pass: Okay, you bring up hiring and that takes us perfectly into our next question then. We want to make sure that we're bringing up leaders and the internship is a great example of that. What steps though, can we take to help eliminate some of that bias that may occur during the hiring process though? We are bringing on the right candidates that we are bringing on individuals from diverse backgrounds? How can we kind of make that process better?

Ryan Collier: I know I'd love to take this one but the eliminating the highly bias, we all have it. I'm going to eventually punt this over to Tanya because she's much more well-versed. I think understanding that everybody has a bias. Everybody has it. It's impossible not to, if you've been raised in a world and not by yourself in a jungle or something. If you have external forces, if you have parents, you have friends, you've all been raised differently. We all have biases. Some are good, some are bad. Being aware that we have them as the first step. I think awareness is the first step of many things, maybe like alcoholics anonymous. Being aware that there are biases is the first step and how we're going to eliminate them. A lot of it's going to be training and that's where Tanya comes in with HR and the experts we have there. I'm a punt over to you Tonya because I've babbled enough about it. I do know that it does exist.

Tonya Lauderdal...: Yeah, it does. It exists everywhere. I agree. Awareness is step number one. The other thing we can do is really, and it's something we are focused on from an HR standpoint is build skill based assessments. Going into an interview assessing for specific skills, as opposed to just a free format, which I know we all want to have a conversation. You want to create that rapport in an interview and the selection process, which is critical as well. It's not an easy thing to do to be part of the selection process. It is something you should take time to understand and make sure that you use a skill based assessment for the role that you're seeking. Some of that we're working on right now to provide managers those tools, but then I think one of the more important things that I've seen be successful is to include diversity of thought, background, any kind of diversity in your selection panel.

The folks that are interviewing should also be diverse, not just the candidates you're interviewing, but actually make sure your selection slate's diverse. If I include me and my two direct reports, well, maybe we all have similar backgrounds and we're all thinking the same way, but maybe it makes sense to take somebody from leadership or from the OPS team or somebody with a different background who has come up in the industry a different way and include them as part of the interview process. I've always encouraged managers to do that. I think it's something that with training and communication, we could enhance that, as well. That's one of the key ways. Then lastly, partnering with your recruiter is another great way. Tell your recruiter and don't settle for not having a diverse slate of candidates?

Demand that. It's your job as a hiring manager, as well. As a leader of this company to drive diversity, you can maybe take an extra week or two to give your recruiter some time to build a candidate pool, if you can. I know there's situations where we can't, but most of the time we would be able to, and really partner with them, talk about where you can go to schools, if it's an interior level role where you can hire somebody straight out of school with diversity backgrounds or other companies or organizations that have this type of diverse skill set. That is the kind of things that we talk about every day. I think the more we can get our hiring managers on board with that, that will drive even more diversity and less biases in our process.

Kyle Pass: Yeah, absolutely. Do you think that's going to take some time just getting hiring managers that are a little bit more diverse, I guess, trying to understand the process a little bit more, just because are we bringing on individuals who have to work their way up through the company first and then they're kind of in a position to be a hiring manager or sit in on these interviews or is it we're just hiring individuals for those roles. Then we're determining who we're bringing on, if that makes sense.

Tonya Lauderdal...: Being a hiring manager means that the person's going to report to you typically. It depends on where the opening is. You can have a very senior opening or a very junior opening. I think even more so at the senior level demanding a diverse, diverse slate of candidates and having a diverse panel is even more important. I think it will take a little time only because it's communication and change. It's not something we couldn't start doing today, by all means. If we said communication and had all our managers on a call and said, we're really drilling this down. We want managers to be involved and invested. Here's some resources and tools that most of it we have readily available today. We communicate it regularly with our recruiters to asking them, please make sure you're working with our hiring managers and providing diverse slates.

Our hiring managers will uphold their end and really consider diverse candidates and have a diverse interview slate. It could take time to see the change because it's organic. You're hiring one person at a time. You're evolving the workforce. I think it would take time, but I think you could aggressively have people focused on it in a pretty quick fashion. Hopefully, start to see progress from a quarter to quarter standpoint would be how you'd measure it.

Ryan Collier: I'd like to echo that it is going to take some time. We have to do it right. If you want to do something right, just like if you're an artist and making a woodwork, you do it right. It takes time. If we want to do it right, we have to make sure we're putting the right people in the right positions. If there's somebody who's not trained for that position, and we're not putting that position to succeed, we're actually going to hurt a diversity initiative. If we put people into roles that might not have the right background, it might be. When I say background, I'm talking about, if I bring somebody in that doesn't understand that insurance, I say okay you're not a leader. They're not going to have the respect of their team. They're not going to have a respect of the underwriters or the retail brokers.

We need to make sure that we do it right. By doing so, we need to make sure we put people in the right place to be successful, to make sure we don't go backward by stretching somebody into a role that they're not ready for. You have to do that organically. I think when Tonya mentioned organic that I could not agree more, but we have to do it and we have to start somewhere. That's where we're starting at. What I don't want to do, like for example Kyle, if we put you in the role as the president of RPS, you're not prepared right now, you're still in your twenties. That wouldn't be a great idea for you because it might not be as successful and you might pull it off too, but we need to make sure we the right person for the right position. We need to train these people to make sure we're getting them prepared.

Tonya Lauderdal...: Ryan, I think you bring up a really good point that I hear a lot is we're just trying to get diversity in, regardless of if they're qualified or if somebody is not qualified and that's not true. To Ryan's point, you will actually hurt any diversity initiative that you're trying to accomplish, if you don't find the right people for the role, if it was easy, every company would do it and you roll it out to their shareholders, right? We're a hundred percent diverse and all these things that we all want to achieve? We'd love having a diverse culture. It's not easy because you have to find the right people. That's why we go back to the point of developing. It takes preparation. It takes strategy to make sure you have people in line to take these roles.

Having a diverse pipeline and your succession planning and developing people, it's hard. We all know that, but that's actually easier than going out into the market and trying to identify talent that has everything that you're trying to mark off of your list in order to be successful in a role because you're already joining a new company and a new culture and all of that is difficult. It's a hundred percent true. I always tell the hiring managers first of all, you need a diverse, qualified candidate list. That's the way I would frame it. All of your candidates should be qualified and then you need to go the extra mile and seek qualified diverse candidates. Ryan, that's a really good point.

Kyle Pass: We've talked about where we want to see our company and where we want to see the insurance industry going forward. Obviously we put together this committee for a reason because we want to see some sort of change. We all know the answer, but want to hear it from the both of you, just where do you think the insurance industry stands right now in terms of D.E. & I.

Ryan Collier: Well, I'll say it behind. I think the industry is behind. If it's a year or 10 or 20 years behind, I don't know, but the industry is absolutely behind in it. It's one of the black marks in our industry. We're behind on technology. I think we're behind on diversity. Insurance as an industry, that's moved very slow. I like to refer to it as glacial speed. The insurance industry has not moved fast. That's one of the reasons why insurance has, I don't think been a very attractive industry for a lot of our diverse talent even come into. They're not aware of it. It's a beautiful industry. It really is. If you're in the right spot, it's a great industry, but if you're not aware of the industry I didn't have any of that [inaudible]. I think the industry's done a real disservice to itself in the recruitment of young talent and the reason we don't have diverse talent.

I think the industry is behind because it just doesn't have a good reputation, obviously on the insurance industry as a whole, not brokers, not underwriters, not personal lines, not commercial, just the insurance industry as a whole is stoic and slow moving and boring and claims adjusting. Things like that, things that just aren't very exciting. I think we need to just jazz up the industry at least to the younger people too, because Kyle, I think you'd agree. That's a pretty damn good industry, but how many of your friends know about it?

Not that many. There's a lot of 20, 25, 30 year olds that have no clue, just how cool your world is when you go to work every day. I think we have a PR issue more than anything as an industry. We're not attracting nearly as much talent as we need to compare to the amount of retirees we have. I think it's a good three or four to one. Tonya, you have the number. There's three or four people for every one person. There's more people retiring for every one person entering our industry. We're graying out as an industry and that's because we have a PR issue. So we're behind.

Tonya Lauderdal...: With that, what a competitive advantage, if you can do this in this industry, I think it pushes you to the front of attraction for top talent in so many ways. If you're able to build this really deeply diverse culture, and I know we're starting out, but we're making a lot of traction. We're making a lot of headway and we have a lot of people very interested. If it's something that RPS Gallagher are able to continue to build upon and leverage, I think that it does provide a huge competitive advantage.

Kyle Pass: Tonya, you are a part of HR. Ryan, you are part of senior leadership. Myself, as a minority, you hit it right on the head. I didn't know a lot about the insurance industry. I had no idea what I was getting myself into when I first joined. As you said, it is a great industry. It is wonderful. There are a lot of opportunities if you take full advantage of them. I would love to see myself in a position of power, I would love to see other minorities in a position of power. I think that's how you really attract individuals, knowing that there is the opportunity for growth and advancement because everybody obviously wants to be successful in their career. We'll start with Tanya from an HR perspective. Is there anything occurring right now or that you guys have in the pipeline to help minorities be put in a position of power?

Tonya Lauderdal...: To be honest, I think we're starting at a level where we need to build and that's exactly a goal. I think I said it earlier. I think one of the things I'd love to take for my last company is to be able to see more diversity in the leadership, but in the leadership ranks in leadership roles. Some ways that I would say from tips of just how to achieve that though, as the organization evolves is take ownership of your career. No one else is going to own your career. No one else is going to own your develop, build your social equity network, build mentorships, get out and learn the industry and go to other industry events and network. That is the number one way to just to build social equity is just as critical as your career growth itself.

I think most of us know how to grow our careers. Continue to challenge yourself, push yourself, take development, those kinds of things, but people miss the social equity piece. That is what's key. Be part of the change, I think is another huge thing. You want to see executives and leadership roles then, or I'm sorry, minorities and leadership roles, then go talk to people about that. Don't be shy about it. Like Ryan said, let's communicate about it. What do I need to do to have your job in five years? What does it take? Do I need to sit in this meeting with these executives and see how this interaction works and help prepare the documents for it? Things like that. That's really anyone, honestly, but its great advice if you want to grow.

Then as an organization, like I said, I think our leaders need to take a conscious effort, strategically planned effort in developing those who show interest. Like I just said, you take those people who are willing with their hands raised and lift them up, right. Give them all your social equity, help them get there. That's what will be effective. That's really true for anybody but if you focus it and you really do it with intense then I think we can achieve that for sure, over time. Like I said, it's organic, but it can happen.

Kyle Pass: Yeah. It just takes time. I know I've thrown a lot at you both and you've answered the questions very well. I think we got time for one more question to wrap it up. The biggest one, just being after all that, where do we go from here? What are the next steps?

Ryan Collier: I just thought one of my producers before I got on this call, I'm a grinder. There's some people that get their jobs handed to them. There's some people have to work their butts off to get there. I like to look at myself as a grinder. Nothing has really been given to me. I think it got to keep grinding every single day. We're grinding it, but we have the awareness behind us that goes back to that success [inaudible] preparation and opportunity. We know where we need to get to. When you know where the finish line is or the gold line, at least you can strive toward that.

You can start taking the steps, but for me, I'm just going to keep grinding. Every day, we're going to start grinding and we're going to find more talent, grow more talent. I love the internship program. I really, truly do. I think we need to get to more of the historically black colleges. I think we need to start getting there more often than we do now. It's hard to start. That's the other aspect. That's really hard to get your foot in the door to start. Once you do, it's easy, then becomes commonplace. But for me, just keep grinding.

Tonya Lauderdal...: I would agree. I'm a strategizer a little bit to go into pair with Ryan's grinding. I'm a grinder too but I remember when I was in college and I wanted an internship, I went to the AG career fair because there was no one at the AG career fair. It was like four people. There were 4,000 people at the business career fair. I went to talk to the companies that were business AG based companies in my area because I'm from Central Illinois. I wanted to work at this company. I knew they'd be there to get my internship and it works. I got an HR internship, which only two people got in the whole company. I like to think a little strategic too, along with the grinding. I would say start strategically educating people.

I think that's the biggest thing. Ryan, you said it earlier communicate, build the trust where people feel safe to talk about these things. They know their managers want to engage in the conversations and help our managers feel comfortable having those conversations. To me, that is the next step. I know that's just the beginning and I know that doesn't change everything. All the things that from an HR standpoint, from a recruiting hiring manager standpoint and from a committee standpoint that we'll focus on. Cause we will do all the things we talked about today. We're really focused, but we start next step is if I could say, you walk away from this and you go do something. Have a conversation with somebody. Be a little bit more open-minded about maybe some of your biases and things that you know don't feel comfortable with somebody who's willing to engage in that conversation with you.

I think that's how we make the change. You start to really see a culture shift and where diversity and like we said, at the beginning, bringing your whole self to work becomes much more acceptable. I will say, I think the pandemic gave us a leg up where we had to be more acceptable around mental health concerns and people's families and lives have now become part of your work because we were all forced to have that meld together. I think we're at a perfect crossroads where this goes naturally into diversity and talking about how you continue to be your authentic self at work. That's just my one takeaway on the next step that I'd like to see after this.

Kyle Pass: Awesome stuff. No, I like I said earlier, thank you both for hopping on this. A lot of great answers. Through some tough questions at, at both of you, but appreciate both of you taking time to speak with us about this. Cause this is an important topic. As we've alluded to a lot, we have a lot of work to do. It's going to take some time, but I think we're headed in the right direction. That's something that people really want to hear. Again, thank you both for your time during this.

Ryan Collier: Thank you, Kyle. Thank you for everything you do for RPS, as well.

Tonya Lauderdal...: Yeah, I agree. Great questions, Kyle and thanks for your time.

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