Column: Workers' Comp

Time to Act on Diversity

By: | February 19, 2015

Roberto Ceniceros is senior editor at Risk & Insurance® and chair of the National Workers' Compensation and Disability Conference® & Expo. He can be reached at [email protected] Read more of his columns and features.

As the executive director of the Puget Sound Workers’ Compensation Trust in Renton, Wash., Clairmonte Cappelle is keenly aware of the racial and ethnic diversity shift occurring among students in school districts across the nation.

But when the executive director of the self-insured workers’ comp pool for 35 school districts attends workers’ comp conferences and other functions, he hasn’t noticed a corresponding diversity shift in his industry’s workforce or leadership.

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He isn’t hearing industry discussions on specific strategies that might improve claims outcomes when injured workers come from a minority group.

Cappelle’s observation matters, because today’s students of various hues and cultures are our future workers and workers’ comp claimants.

The National Center for Education Statistics projected last year that 2014 would mark the first time that whites would make up less than 50 percent of the total number of students enrolled in public schools while the percentage of minorities grows. Their parents are already a growing segment of our workforce.

Recognition has spread that the insurance industry and workers’ comp service providers need to respond to our country’s changing demographics, but where are the strategies for moving forward?

Some have mentioned that the workers’ comp industry needs to respond, but there hasn’t been discussion on strategies for making that happen.

Cappelle, by the way, isn’t looking at this as a social justice issue. He’s looking at it as someone who must make business decisions to position his organization for success.

It would be helpful to have information on, for example, whether treatment compliance and claims outcomes improve when an injured worker interacts with adjusters, nurse case managers or doctors who understand their cultural sensibilities.

Is there claimant input that would speed claims resolutions, but gets lost when adjusters don’t understand differences in communication styles?

The safety side is more familiar with this. The American Society of Safety Engineers, for instance, has long sponsored forums to help overcome cultural and language barriers when addressing Spanish-speaking workers.

There have also been discussions about insurer communications with millennial employees and information on meeting the health and safety needs of aging workers.

A smattering of recent industry conference sessions have also addressed workplace diversity, with an industry leader or two expressing opinions on how diversifying the workforce can provide a competitive advantage as the insured-client population diversifies.

I have heard at least one CEO for a major third-party administrator discuss the potential advantages of meeting an increasingly diverse U.S. workforce with claims managers who can navigate cultural variations. And the title of “chief diversity officer” has been around for a few years at some major insurers.

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Recognition has spread that the insurance industry and workers’ comp service providers need to respond to our country’s changing demographics, but where are the strategies for moving forward?

“Now that we have identified this as a challenge for us, I am not seeing what the next steps are for us to meet the challenge,” Cappelle told me. “That is the piece that I think is lacking.”

He is right. The country’s changing demographic makeup has been in progress for decades. Just recognizing and discussing the issue is no longer enough.

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