DEI and Duality: How One Broker Draws from Her Own Experience to Pave a Path Forward
As a first generation American, Denise Campbell is well versed in duality: Jamaican and American, carrier and broker, musically trained and insurance bound. All these words describe Campbell, but what really makes this duality shine is that no single description exists in a silo.
It’s this unique background, these individual pieces, that enables Campbell to create, mentor and shape parts of the industry every day.
“There’s duality to everything,” she said. “I very much believe that because I had this duality, it has given me a gift to be able to sit back and look at something from multiple perspectives.”
Now a senior vice president, client executive for Marsh, she’s putting her dual nature to good use, assisting clients and pouring her efforts into industry initiatives, from diversity, equality and inclusion (DEI) to cybersecurity, ESG and more.
Orchestrating a Path to Success
Like many, Campbell’s path to insurance brokering was anything but linear. She started her working days in the music industry after earning her undergraduate degree in music technology from New York University. A few years in, she had a cancer scare.
“I was fresh out of college, watching people being laid off, and I didn’t want to be in a position where I was having to worry about health insurance,” she explained. So, Campbell tested the waters, throwing her resume in the ring at several places, including a law firm, the UN and AIG.
The last one felt like the right move.
“One of the key factors to being a broker is to maintain intellectual curiosity. If you stop being curious, you should start planning your retirement.” — Denise Campbell, senior vice president, client executive, Marsh
She started in the multinational department, working her way through AIG, meeting new people and asking questions. Then, around 2015, she moved over to the market-facing side, where her job had her talking to brokers on a daily basis. It opened her eyes to a new side of the insurance business.
All the while, Campbell immersed herself in AIG’s Black Professionals Employee Resource Group (ERG), a professional organization built internally to provide Black professionals with new career and professional development opportunities.
Campbell said when she started with AIG, “in my department, I was the only Black person on that team. And sometimes I was the only Black person on the entire floor.” The ERG enabled her to meet different people from different departments, growing her relationships within the industry as well as building connections with people outside the firm.
Her immersion into the ERG laid the groundwork for Campbell to become the president of the National African American Insurance Association (NAAIA), New York chapter, in January 2020 — a role she still holds today.
And just a few short months later, once again the two parts of Campbell’s life — being on the market-facing side of AIG and her commitment to the ERG — would usher her into a new phase of her career.
A Broker with DEI at Her Core
“In 2020, the world went crazy,” Campbell said. The coronavirus changed everything about daily life. The social justice movement drove home the need to re-evaluate how DEI was actually being addressed both professionally and on a personal level.
Blessed as a prolific speaker, Campbell was called up to speak at industry events on the DEI front. RIMS, PLUS, AIG and more all had her on the stage, sharing her point of view. She was gaining momentum, and it rightfully turned a few heads.
“I was very visible in the industry at the time companies started to realize that they had to start moving on the promises they started making around diversity,” she said.
Among the callers, Marsh stood out. “The difference was, Marsh had called before 2020, too,” Campbell explained.
At this point in her career, Campbell had been working on the market-facing side with brokers for nearly 10 years. She had seen how they were able to advocate for the client while putting their problem-solving skills to good use.
“I wanted to be closer to the client,” she said, “and you can’t get closer to the client than being a broker, unless you’re going to be a client yourself.”
She made the right move, she said. And now, she is getting to use those same problem-solving skills she so admired in brokers to help clients tackle today’s biggest initiatives.
“ESG is important to me. I believe in making this world better than when I came into it, and the same thing applies to the world we work in, the environment, our society at large and in how we govern and do things,” Campbell said.
Additionally, she’s keeping a keen focus on technology and the Internet of Things as artificial intelligence and automation grow.
And, as always, DEI remains at the core of what she does.
Asking the Tough Questions, Getting the Good Answers
When it comes to DEI, Campbell is not one to shy away from the tough topics. She’s the type of person to find leadership and ask what the company is doing.
“Whichever company I’m in, I’m looking to see what’s going on. I’m asking certain questions. I’m bold enough to meet with leadership and say, ‘Hey, you don’t know me, but you’re the CEO of this organization, and I would like to speak to you and get to know you and hear your thoughts on these things,’ ” she said.
DEI has become a very large component of business initiatives in the last few years, with corporations making promises to expand their workforces to include people across all backgrounds, races, religions and walks of life.
While the commitment may be there, sometimes it might be hard to see the advancements actually being made on the DEI front.
“Organizations have so many priorities,” Campbell said. “Sometimes it’s hard to put certain things out in front and make it obvious to everyone.” And, sometimes, it’s not always the easiest thing for companies to publicize their intentions. “There are stages to diversity. Everybody is on their own journey in terms of tolerance and cultural acceptance. Similarly, organizations are on their own journey to true DEI.
“Companies are scared of doing the wrong thing. And sometimes that can get them in a little bit of analysis paralysis, where they get stuck,” she explained. “The desire to prove DEI through metrics can create stress around DEI initiatives, thus leading corporations to keep their progress close to their chests until the measurements are more tangible.”
That’s not always a bad thing, Campbell said, but she added that communication around DEI efforts could be improved.
“We’re going to make some missteps, but we’re moving with the right intention and the right reasons … companies have to hold their leadership accountable, take some risks. But the public and stakeholders also have to have some grace in knowing that this is not always going to be a straight line,” she added.
A Leader and Learner
The duality that makes up Campbell never ends — as a mentor, not only does she strive to teach newer entrants in the ways of the industry, but she is also constantly learning more herself.
“I learn something different and something more every single day. One of the key factors to being a broker is to maintain intellectual curiosity. If you stop being curious, you should start planning your retirement,” she said.
This intellectual curiosity has brought Campbell through her times in the music industry, at AIG, and now into Marsh. As a mentor, it has also enabled her to teach that same curiosity to the younger insurance generation.
Her mentoring even led three of her mentees from different organizations to receive promotions around the same time. It was kismet: Campbell took the mentees to dinner to celebrate and also introduced them to each other for the first time.
“I was really excited about creating those connections and creating that community for them. They are all people of color, and this is a passion of mine. I’m passionate about diversifying the industry,” she said. “This felt sticky to me; it felt like they are going to be here and do things and stay connected and build a community.”
Building a community, she added, is everyone’s responsibility.
“We should all be a part of building this industry, not just in premium dollars and through solutions, but also in the people who are going to be the next generation of leaders. So, we should be curious about everybody and everything that we’re around. We should always want to know more.” &