D&I in insurance: Promoting an inclusive culture

Increasing representation within an insurance company goes beyond demographic statistics and must ensure an overall inclusive culture is promoted throughout the firm, according to Assured Allies’ Nkenge Blue.

Blue, who serves as head of actuarial, told ESG Insurer that an insurance company can ensure its diversity and inclusion (D&I) initiatives look to target legitimate issues by aligning the intentions behind the programmes.

“Why do you value trying to increase representation at your company? If you can't really answer that question, that shows that you're really just doing it to check the box,” said Blue.

“You need to make sure from the senior leadership level down there's a clear, defined answer to that, and that then drives the mindset throughout the organisation.”

She added that a clear statement of intent should be followed with regular checks on female and ethnically diverse employees to ensure their experience is positive.

“Even if you see your numbers starting to increase and you're seeing better representation, you need to determine how those people are feeling at the company,” Blue said.

“Are they comfortable? Are they enjoying their time? Are they progressing? Are they getting development opportunities? Is it really an equitable environment, or do you just have the numbers?”

Blue noted that D&I initiatives can be harnessed into a strategic corporate advantage, particularly to address industry-wide issues such as lower insurance penetration levels.

“We know there’s a large insurance coverage gap. As you start to look at certain communities, the gap is wider than others. In terms of growing the pie, you attract these consumers by understanding what their needs are and what resonates with them.

“You don't really want a one-pronged approach to addressing the market. You need people who understand those communities to craft those marketing materials, engagement campaigns and products for the types of insurance coverage that certain people need.”

Speaking further on the inclusion piece in addition to diversity numbers, Blue added that this means supporting talent retention and progression as much as boosting entry-level statistics.

“I have seen insurance companies hire a ton of Black actuaries who didn't really advance or get through their exam, but they had the numbers. I think the success of those actuaries is a lot stronger when the mission as an organisation is to improve both the numbers and success of Black actuaries in the field,” she said.

This includes investment in coaching and mentoring programmes to connect more entry-level female and ethnically diverse employees with senior role models that they can relate to.

“A bad manager or mentor when you're a minority among a field of people who don't look at you can really make or break your experience. So, being really strategic about how you're developing the communities you're trying to address is just as important as hiring.”

Despite progress in increasing minority ethnic and gender representation at the entry level, these numbers begin to tail off at mid-manager level. This can be for various reasons, such as talent leaving for a firm with more inclusivity initiatives, or women taking maternity leave.

For the latter, the rollback of some flexible working schemes introduced during the Covid-19 pandemic may be detrimental to working parents or employees with other caring responsibilities.

Measuring success in improving D&I within an insurance company therefore must combine qualitative and quantitative approaches. In essence, just because a woman holds a senior role does not mean the environment is equitable – for example, it may have taken her three more years to reach that level compared to a male peer, or the firm may have passed over another female colleague with childcare responsibilities and flexible working requirements.

“It's a multi-pronged approach of qualitative and quantitative types of metrics. That means tracking the numbers, sending out surveys and assessing their responses, but also engaging with HR to ensure they are well-trained to understand the company and the people working there,” said Blue.

“Qualitatively, it’s being connected with the people who work at the company and getting a feel how people's experiences are going, however soft that sounds. Do they seem like they feel empowered? Through relationships, you gain a lot of insight on the true culture of a company that a survey or statistics may not capture.”

Looking forward, Blue was optimistic that the implementation of D&I initiatives across the insurance sector is trending in the right direction.

“Despite a lot of the realities, I think it's trending in the right direction. Maybe not as quickly as we'd like, but that's typically how progress is,” she said.

“And I only see that continuing. I see more women and people of colour in executive positions, significantly more than 10 years ago when I came into the industry. A lot of it is around the qualitative inclusion piece as companies are finally starting to realise it's more than the numbers – and it's starting to work.”