What Do Innovation and Diversity Mean for Leave Professionals?

By: | October 25, 2018 • 3 min read
Terri L. Rhodes is CEO of the Disability Management Employer Coalition. Terri was an Absence and Disability Management Consultant for Mercer, and also served as Director of Absence and Disability for Health Net and Corporate IDM Program Manager for Abbott Laboratories.

There are many trends shaping the workplace and increased risks faced by employers. While it’s difficult to rank these trends, currently there appears to be two main drivers of change.


The first is probably the one constant when it comes to change: A new generation entering the workplace. While much has been written about the outlook, goals, and skills of younger workers, one characteristic stands above the rest: comfort with and expectation of diversity.

While bias and stereotypical thinking have not disappeared and might never do so, younger workers are much less likely to express and act on them. And there is substantial evidence they simply don’t share those views as frequently.

The second trend impacting the workplace is a long economic recovery that shows no signs of ending soon. Employers are once again competing for talent and must often implement proactive policies to retain top candidates.

What’s perhaps most interesting about talent competition in this economic cycle is that it usually centers more on the quality of the workplace than the quantity of the pay packet.

That means there is a greater emphasis on benefits, from paid family leave to more flexible 401(k) programs. Employers are getting innovative with these programs to ensure they have the workforce they need to grow in an expanding economy.

In today’s economy, employers that embrace diversity and innovation usually find themselves a step ahead in attracting and retaining the talent they need to exploit this economy’s many opportunities.

Much of this innovation involves and requires the adoption of new and especially impactful programs and technology.

At the 2018 DMEC annual conference, innovation and diversity were key themes. Most speakers and presenters touched on these concerns in some way.  Here are just a few of the insights offered.


It can take engineer-level intelligence and work intensity to deliver today’s technology products and services. Ernst & Young LLP (EY) found that a formerly ignored population can deliver these traits — people on the autism spectrum. Presenters described how they built their program to recruit, equip and support employees on the autism spectrum.

Adding neurodiversity to the workplace solved problems that other employees weren’t aware of. As the presenters noted, accommodations EY made for individuals on the spectrum helped the entire team.

This program provides a good example of how embracing diversity in all its forms isn’t just the right thing to do; it’s also good business.

Transgender Employees

Through growing awareness and education, there are now tools available to support people who have experienced a major shift in their gender identity and expression in a way that is helpful and legally compliant.

For many employers, embracing transgender employees requires changes in their processes and programs. This includes hiring or training qualified counselors who can identify psychological processes that may need and qualify for reasonable accommodations.

Of course, such counselors can identify the range of psychological processes that may require accommodations. This proactive approach to complying with the ADA and other laws enables employers to get ahead of the curve and help prevent medical, legal and other risks. It’s another example of how embracing diversity can benefit an entire organization.

Artificial Intelligence (AI)

“Automatic” claim management using AI is happening already as carriers and other claim management vendors install AI systems, which they make available to clients through outsourced or co-sourced services.


Some insurance carriers that have not yet fully implemented AI systems are using outsourced AI organizations to review blocks of thousands of complex claims.

Since AI systems rely on ever-more data, using them means absence, HR and other managers need to be skilled in identifying and obtaining it. This often entails new training programs to bring these professionals up to speed in how to maximize employers’ investments in AI, big data, etc.

As a result, this latest round of technological innovation is resulting in real innovation in how employers view and train “soft skills” experts.

Diversity and innovation are self-reinforcing trends. In today’s economy, employers that embrace them usually find themselves a step ahead in attracting and retaining the talent they need to exploit this economy’s many opportunities.

In the Fast-Paced World of Retail, This Risk Manager Strives to Mitigate Risks Proactively and Keep Senior Leaders Informed

Janine Kral works to identify and mitigate risks, building strong partnerships with leaders and ensuring they see her as support rather than a blocker. 
By: | October 29, 2018 • 4 min read

R&I: What was your first job?

My very first paid job was working on my uncle’s ranch in British Columbia in the summers. He had cattle, horses and grapes — an unusual combo. But my first real job out of college was as a multi-line claims adjuster at Liberty Mutual.

R&I: How did you come to work in risk management?

Right out of college I applied for a job that turned out to be a claims adjuster at Liberty Mutual. I accepted because they were offering six weeks of training in Southern California, and at the time that sounded really fun. I spent about three years at Liberty Mutual and then I spent a short period of time at a smaller regional insurance company that hired me to start a workers’ compensation claims administration program.

I was hired at Nordstrom as the Washington Region Risk Manager, which was my first job in risk management. When I started at Nordstrom, the risk management department had about five people, and over the years it has grown to about 75. I’ve been vice president for 11 years.

R&I: What’s been the biggest change in the risk management and insurance industry since you’ve been in it?

I would say that technology has probably been the biggest change. When I started many years ago, it was all paper and no RMIS.


R&I: What risks does the retail industry face that are unique?

We deal with a lot of people — employees and customers. With physical brick and mortar settings, there are the unique exposures with people moving in and out in a public environment. And of course, with ecommerce, we have a lot of customer and employee data, which creates cyber risk — which is not necessarily a unique risk in today’s environment.

R&I: Can you describe your approach to working with senior leaders and front-line staff alike to further risk management initiatives?

It starts with keeping the pulse of what’s happening with the business. Retail moves really fast. In order to identify and mitigate risks proactively, we identify top risk areas and topics, and then we ensure that we have strong partnerships with the leaders responsible for those areas. Trust is critical, ensuring that leaders see us as a support rather than a blocker.

R&I: What role does technology play in your company’s approach to risk management?

Janine Kral, claims adjuster, Nordstrom

We have an internal risk management information system that all of our locations report events into — every type of incident is reported, whether insured or uninsured. Most of these events are managed internally by risk management, and our guidelines require that prevention be analyzed on each one. Having all event data in one system allows us to use the data for trending and also helps us better predict what may happen in the future, and who we need to work with to mitigate risks.

R&I: What advice might you give to students or other aspiring risk managers?

My son is a sophomore in college, and I tell him and his friends all the time not to rule out insurance as a career opportunity. My advice is to cast a wide net and do your homework. Research all the different types of opportunities. Read a lot — articles, industry magazines, LinkedIn. Be proactive and reach out to people you find interesting and ask them about their careers. Don’t be shy and wait for people and opportunities to come to you. Ask questions. Build networks. Be curious and keep an open mind.

R&I: What are your goals for the next five to 10 years of your career?

I have always been passionate about continuous improvement. I want to continue to find ways to add value to my company and to this industry.

R&I: What is your favorite book or movie?

My favorite book is Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts. It’s a true story about a man who was in prison in Australia after being convicted of armed robbery, and he escaped to India. While in India, he passed himself off as a doctor in a slum. It’s a really interesting story, because this is a convicted criminal who ends up helping others. I am not always successful in getting others to read the book because it’s 1,000 pages and definitely a commitment.

R&I: What’s the best restaurant you’ve ever eaten at?

Fiorella’s in Newton, Massachusetts. Great Italian food and a great overall experience.


R&I: What is your favorite drink?

“Sister Carol.” I have no idea what is in it, and I can only get it at a local bar in Seattle. It’s green but it’s delicious.

R&I: What is the riskiest activity you ever engaged in?

Skydiving. Not tandem and without any sort of communication from the ground. Scary standing on a wing of a plane, but very peaceful once the chute opened, slowly floating down by myself.

R&I: If the world has a modern hero, who is it and why?

I can’t think of one individual person. For me, the real heroes are people who have a positive attitude in the face of adversity. People who are resilient no matter what life brings them.

R&I: What about this work do you find the most fulfilling or rewarding?

It’s rewarding to help solve problems and help people. I am proud of the support that my team provides others. &

Katie Dwyer is an associate editor at Risk & Insurance®. She can be reached at kdwyer@lrp.com.