Diversity Begets Diversity: Rachel Perry’s Winning Formula at Aon
If there’s anyone who knows both the importance of building a diverse team and how to execute it successfully, it’s Rachel Perry, chief innovation officer, North America, for Aon.
Perry, whose career has spanned 30 years at Marsh and Aon, has had firsthand experience in spearheading these initiatives and creating diverse teams.
“I have often been the only woman of color in many rooms throughout my professional career,” she said. “And I don’t say this as a point of pride.”
Because of this, Perry has devoted a substantial part of her career to ensuring that when she does hang up her hat one day, the industry will be filled with more diverse thought leaders than when she first entered it. In fact, she refers to recruiting diverse talent as one of her superpowers.
“I have ended up really investing deeply into the talent, being able to identify diverse talent and bring that to bear,” she said.
Constructing the Playbook
When trying to incorporate diversity into the insurance space, being able to see the big picture is only a small component of the work that goes into fostering these efforts. In order to achieve a DEI initiative, there has to be a concrete plan. And when it comes to this plan, Perry believes the industry is falling a bit short of its diversity goals.
“Our industry should be further along in the promotion and development of diverse colleagues,” she said, “in leadership roles especially.”
She continued, “It’s not enough to go to universities, grab a diverse group of college students and start them in entry-level positions. How do we retain and develop them? How do we put them in leadership roles?”
To execute these diversity and inclusion efforts successfully, Perry focuses on the entire organization, rather than just the leadership team, to see where employees with diverse backgrounds could be needed.
“We were able to take that [mindset] to our account executives, our brokers, and say, ‘Let’s think about the team that we think is the best representation of our clients,’ ” she said. “If our clients are very diverse, let’s try to create a team that’s diverse as well.”
However, Perry’s standards for the people in leadership and within her team are sky-high. She doesn’t just hire someone to check off the diversity and inclusion box.
When building a team, “the performance piece is just as important as a diverse team — making sure it is a diverse team, but also that they are the right [people] for the role,” she said. “I really pushed that as a market leader.”
Through her experiences creating successful and diverse teams, Perry noted that it became a way to recruit and retain more diverse talent.
“When there’s diversity in leadership, it creates this intentionality where diverse people want to come work for you,” she said.
“Diversity attracts diversity.”
Women and People of Color
As Perry previously stated, she believes the insurance industry could improve its efforts when it comes to filling roles with diverse candidates.
But she does believe the industry is making strides and progress when it comes to enlisting women into leadership roles.
“The data shows that [the industry] is progressing with women, in particular white women, which I am very encouraged by,” she said. “I believe that is a step in the right direction.”
When it comes to the hiring of people of color in industry leadership roles, Perry said that the industry’s push for incorporating people of color has not been sustainable. Perry attributes this lack of movement to a lack of credible mentorship.
“I look at sponsorship [and mentorship] in a much more meaningful and authentic way,” she said. “When you see women in certain roles, it was because someone really took an intentional approach around helping them get to those places. I don’t see that same intentionality around moving people of color into more senior roles.”
And for that to happen, Perry said, there is still more work to be done.
Her Proudest Moments
Throughout her decades-long career, Perry has seen a handful of situations and successes she deems her proudest. Some of those moments rank highly as she views them through the diversity and inclusion lens.
“I’m really proud to be able to say that I can run a business, because a lot of times, when you look at our industry, you don’t see people that look like me, which is a Black woman running one of the top 10 markets in terms of revenue growth,” she said.
“I feel really proud that we have recorded new business sales and record revenue, all with a diverse team.”
Looking forward, Perry wholeheartedly believes that the next generation of diverse talent is ready to be tapped into.
“I discount the notion that the talent isn’t there,” she said. “We just need more development and commitment to the growth and opportunity to move people of color into some of these more impactful roles … I am a prime example.”
One thing is for certain: No matter where the diversity and inclusion train heads, you can find Perry leading the charge. &