The Independent Agency for the Future is Inclusive for All

Agency Culture, Events, Industry Experts, Personal Lines, Small Commercial Lines

In my 35 years in the insurance industry, I’ve often felt the pressure of being the “only” – the only woman or person of color in the room.

Early on in my career, that felt like a big hurdle to get past. Much of the advice was to fit in and assimilate. But I’ve seen a shift in the ways we think about diversity in business.

Nowadays, the insurance industry, like so many other industries, is realizing the importance of diversity. The industry has been predominantly white male, but as the demographics of our country, our client base and our workforce change, there’s very little tolerance for leadership teams made up completely of white men. Women and people of color are raising the flag and asking why it looks like that. We’re starting to ask leaders, “Who is your next person in line?”

The world is changing, and quickly. For the independent agent channel to thrive, we need to be prepared for what that change looks like.

Celebrate, Elevate, Transform

Last October, my team at Liberty Mutual and Safeco Insurance held our third annual Independent Agent Women’s Conference in Dallas. The goal of this event, like the events before it, was to bring together agents in the Central Region who epitomize the progress women are making in our industry. The goal was to celebrate these inspiring leaders—and find ways to empower more of them through collaboration, mentorship, and sharing our experiences.

The latest conference highlighted these successes once again, while also tackling issues that extend well beyond the growing role of women in insurance. At “Celebrate, Elevate, Transform,” 50 agents from the region and several special guests from around the country participated in sessions on diversity and inclusion, leadership, branding, hiring millennials and more.

It was incredible to see the commitment these women and their agencies have to diversity and inclusion.

In several of the conversations, I saw that the feeling of being the “only” is still a common experience for women and people of color in the insurance industry. But I saw how, instead of attempting to assimilate, women know what makes them unique and how they can contribute. We talked about the importance of women supporting other women, but also broadened the discussion to include men who are our allies. They have a vital role to play as we move forward.

An unexpected partnership

That importance of allyship was exemplified in a powerful story about diversity and inclusion shared by Raina Walton, the owner of RT Thomas Insurance in St. Louis. Raina related a discussion she had with Senior Territory Manager Gary Mesler and Region Director Joe Walker about the lack of diversity among agency owners.

To Raina’s surprise, Gary and Joe didn’t merely listen to her concerns—they became champions for greater diversity in the IA channel, and their work with her and other agents continues to this day. You can read more about Raina’s story, and how this group is helping with strategies to hire and support diverse employees, here.

What’s next?

As we face this global health and economic crisis, the in-person women’s event that was planned later this year has been moved online.

We’re dedicated to continuing the important work toward diversity and inclusion. This is especially apparent after recent protests brought conversations about race, disparity and inclusion to the forefront.

As we prepare for the online event, we’re encouraging agents in the Central Region and beyond to get involved in creating workplaces that are more inclusive for everyone.

Here’s what you can do to increase your role in the evolution of our industry:

  • Take part in the Skills for Inclusion program, which will help you create and/or enhance a culture of inclusion in your agency. Reach out to your TM for more details.
  • Check out the Big I Diversity Council and other Big I resources on diversity, including the annual “Level Up” conference.
  • Consider how you and your agency support and encourage diversity. Are you an ally to women and minorities in the industry? Could you be a stronger one? Get in touch with your TM, or feel free to email Myrna or LeTesha, to start the conversation.

Stay tuned for more news on these efforts. We’re honored to play a part in helping the IA channel become more welcoming to all. Our goal is to help agents thrive today, while positioning themselves for an even better future.

Myrna Estrada

SVP and Field Executive, Central Region, Liberty Mutual and Safeco Insurance

Myrna Estrada is Senior Vice President of Liberty Mutual and Safeco’s Central Region. After more than thirty years in this male-dominated industry, she and her team spearheaded an event focused on women agency owners in 2017.

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