By 2060, racial minorities will make up more than half of the total population in the U.S. This shift has already happened in younger populations – Brookings found that 44 percent of millennials are nonwhite.
When I heard some of the statistics about race and diversity at the Big I diversity conference earlier this year, it made me think about how this relates to the independent agency channel.
The independent agent channel currently does not reflect the diversity of the population. That needs to change if agencies want to continue to thrive.
What does the future look like? It looks diverse!
If we in the IA channel are not targeting diverse markets, we’re missing out on a big piece of the pie. And we can only reach those markets if we reflect diversity within our agencies, as well.
How do we make that shift? There are no easy answers. Agency owners are busy, and recruiting talent is already hard.
But I’d challenge every agency to take a look at their agency and start opening up conversations about diversity and inclusion.
Starting the conversations
As a biracial woman, I’ve openly had conversations about race and diversity my entire life. I am very comfortable in this space and have always considered myself a bridge maker. I have never shied away from bringing up the topic, but I know these conversations can be uncomfortable.
A few years ago, I had the privilege of attending a Safeco conference for women leaders in insurance. It was a wonderful conference, and I left inspired and proud to see how far women have come in the insurance industry.
However, I was aware that I was the only invitee that was person of color in the room. I wasn’t particularly upset about this – it’s always been that way in my 20+ years in the insurance industry. But I did mention it to Gary Mesler, my territory manager for Safeco, when he visited my office and asked about the conference.
I thought the conversation would end there as it normally does, but it didn’t. That night, Gary went over his agency list with open eyes, and for the first time, he saw the lack of diversity in not only agency owners, but also in producers, CSRs and support staff. When he brought this up to other team members in his region, their response was the same. They realized this had been a blind spot. Gary brought the conversation to his Field Exec, Myrna Estrada, who challenged him to champion the issue of diversity within the independent agent channel.
When Gary and I met again a few weeks later, I was shocked to find out all that had happened! He had already formed a group of agencies wanting to have the conversation about how to bring more diversity into the IA channel.
Our group now meets regularly, and we’re working on ideas for programs to help agencies with hiring and diversity training.
Hiring outside your sphere
Hiring is tough. Small business owners often tend to hire family members or friends, or people in their circles who have fallen into the industry. That makes sense, but it lends its hand to repeatedly hiring the same people – people who look and act and think like the agency owners.
To increase diversity in hiring, agencies will have to be purposeful and look outside their usual sphere.
The tactics for this will look different depending on the area the agency is in.
Agency owners – especially small agency owners – also need help from carrier partners and larger organizations. Because it’s not enough to just get diverse talent in the door – we need to make sure agencies are welcoming and supportive of all employees. Diversity & Inclusion training within agencies can help with that.
I’ve been amazed to see how one comment can turn into so much, and I’m glad to see more conversations about diversity happening in the insurance industry. There are still many questions and issues to address, but we can start by making this less of a taboo topic.
If we want to see independent insurance agencies continue to be successful into the future, we’re going to have to start having these conversations and make sure we build inclusive agencies.