Two Birds, One Stone: How DEI Efforts Bolster Insurance Industry Diversity While Addressing the Growing Talent Gap

By: | March 29, 2022

Kim Briones is chief human resources officer at Berkshire Hathaway Specialty Insurance. She is a founding member of the IICF IDEA Council.

As the first in my family to graduate college and work in a white collar environment, I know what it’s like to feel out of place.

In my first professional role out of college, I felt like an outsider for a long time.

These experiences, combined with an educational background in sociology and social work, fueled my interest in learning more about inclusion. It also pushed me to take it further, to understand more about social injustice, its root causes and what we can do to better our environment at work and at home.

As chief human resources officer at Berkshire Hathaway Specialty Insurance (BHSI), my role centers mainly on building a strong team rooted in a people-first culture.

I joined BHSI nearly nine years ago as teammate number six. Today we have more than 1,300 employees across 15 countries.

We’ve been working to instill a successful culture of inclusive hiring from day one.

While we have made tremendous strides, we acknowledge that this is a work-in-progress for BHSI as it is for our industry as a whole.

Done right, a people-first culture rooted in inclusivity will not only create a more comfortable and inspiring environment for a company’s team members, it will spawn a variety of better outcomes.

The Power in Different Perspectives

Companies with a diverse workforce perform better.

Research from McKinsey & Co. found that companies with racially and ethnically diverse employees enjoy a 35% advantage in terms of performance over less diverse organizations.

The more people a company taps to view a problem with different lenses, the better the solution will be. There is power in fresh perspectives.

While this seems simple, implementing such a strategy has its challenges.

Often, when we approach a problem, we ask for the opinions of those around us — and too often, we already know those we ask share our point of view.

That’s not collaboration.

We don’t want our teammates to tell us what we want to hear or echo our own sentiments. We want people to be comfortable expressing their honest opinions. That’s where the true value lies.

However, individuals will only share their genuine views in an inclusive environment where they feel respected, psychologically safe, and comfortable expressing themselves.

Building a More Inclusive Future

Though no magic elixir exists to improve a company’s inclusivity, these five points can spark progress.

1) Pay attention.

Every team, company and industry needs to pay attention and be intentional about building a more inclusive culture. Not only by carefully monitoring who is coming in your doors but also by watching who is ascending to leadership positions.

Across our industry, more women and people of color are moving into leadership positions. We must continue to measure, cultivate and promote this progress.

2) Recognize the talent before you.

As we hire diverse candidates from underrepresented groups, we must also ensure that those already within our organizations know they are seen, respected and given opportunities to grow within our organizations and our industry.

3) Show your true colors.

At BHSI, we follow an intentionally inclusive hiring protocol.

Potential candidates meet with human resources and the hiring manager, but they also meet with the team members from other departments with whom they will be interacting on a day-by-day basis.

While this helps BHSI get a broader impression of the candidate, it gives the candidate a better view of who we are and the inclusivity of our teams.

4) Broaden your reach.

Attracting new, non-traditional candidates to our industry is essential.

One way to do that is to showcase the good the insurance industry does. Our industry helps propel and protect businesses and keep the world’s economy humming.

We also need to look for talent from different industries and universities that support and value a diverse population.

As a part of this effort, BHSI has partnered with Georgia State University and a nonprofit called Braven, which supports first generation college students with skills, confidence, experiences and networks necessary to transition from college to strong first jobs that lead to meaningful careers and lives of impact.

5) Walk the talk, every day.

When leaders talk about values and what they want the culture to reflect in terms of diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I), the organization will only follow if leaders lead by example.

If you say you value DE&I, you have to reflect that every day by your actions. Walk the talk. Then, hire only those who respect and share this vision.

A Network of Possibilities

One of the best ways we can build inclusivity is by collaborating and by sharing knowledge and the experiences of our peers.

We all know that developing inclusive cultures is the right thing to do; we can get there together.

We can work with nonprofits that unite the industry, like the Insurance Industry Charitable Foundation. IICF facilitates and raises awareness of collective industry charitable contributions and community impact, which is critical, but there’s more to it.

In terms of broadening our reach, IICF has launched the IICF Talent Hub™, an online resource center for non-traditional job seekers looking to learn more about opportunities in the insurance industry.

Further, in terms of advancing DE&I within our own “walls,”  IICF hosts events such as the IICF Inclusion in Insurance Forums to be held this June, where executives from our industry and beyond gather to share insights on DE&I and offer actional advice to help us all strive toward a more inclusive future.

At BHSI, we’ve enjoyed and benefitted from sending our team members to IICF and other industry networking events to meet with their counterparts across the industry, understand the value in diverse perspectives, and find more ways to empower and inspire a diverse workforce for the future.

We’ve come a long way, but there is more to be done.

Let’s work together to spread the word: Ours is an industry where people from all backgrounds can build fulfilling lifelong-careers, achieve work-life balance and do good for society.

And most importantly, ours is an industry that has cultivated a safe environment where employees can be themselves and advance in their careers. &

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