Allies, sponsors key to creating diverse, equitable workforce

By Angela Childers for Business Insurance

Creating a culture that values allyship, mentorship and sponsorship of diverse individuals is a good place to start toward fostering a more inclusive and equitable workplace, said experts on Wednesday in an online panel discussion hosted by Business Insurance’s Diversity + Inclusion Institute.

“Employees are demanding more equity, more inclusion, more diversity,” said Dana Lodge, chief financial officer of Everest Insurance Co. “It’s just across the board, there is this pent-up demand for change that is pushing companies to do the right thing. There is a lot of societal pressure providing the economic incentive to companies to do the right thing.”

Early in her career, Ms. Lodge didn’t see herself progressing to the level she is at today, largely because she didn’t see other Black women like herself represented in top roles.

“I’m pretty sure my aspiration at that time was to be an accountant who does taxes for small businesses,” Ms. Lodge said. “I had great mentors and sponsors that helped me see that vision. I definitely think that representation is very important and in the absence of it, the allyship, mentorship and sponsorship is needed … to help people understand what their potential is.”

Roosevelt Giles, chairman of BI’s Diversity + Inclusion Institute and chairman of the board of Atlanta Life Financial Group, the country’s only Black-owned insurance company, noted that all people in leadership levels at insurance companies, including white male leaders, had allies, mentors and sponsors in their careers.

“The trilogy happens … and using the trilogy piece might be the first step, getting people to understand and have a conversation with another person,” he said.

Preeti Asthana, director and head of global programs, innovation and partnerships at Aon PLC, said she was “acutely aware of being the only woman” in the boardroom in many situations and was fortunate enough to have mentors and sponsors aiding her throughout her career journey, which led her to give back as a mentor for others.

“One of my early mentors told me, don’t be apologetic for being a woman,” she said. “That’s exactly what I mirror throughout. If you really want to show what you are and want to make the most out of mentorship, you need to be open to ideas and you also need to make sure you are vulnerable” and open to understanding where your gaps are and how to fill those gaps, she said.

One of the biggest challenges, Ms. Lodge said, is focusing on middle management and helping them look at diverse candidates, ensuring unconscious bias is not part of their performance reviews and making sure support and commitment of diversity, inclusion and equity comes from the top.

“How do we help to support (middle management) during that learning process is something we’ve identified as a need,” she said. “We don’t have all of the answers, but I think the first step is identifying a need.”

Companies need to “look at all constituencies and promote and mentor and sponsor all constituencies,” Mr. Giles said. “But if there’s no leadership from the top, then the middle management is going to look up and say, ‘I don’t need to do this because I don’t see it above me.’”

Another key is holding companies accountable for their actions — not just their statements.

“Asking more of those uncomfortable questions” and supporting companies that are hiring women to leadership roles and appointing them to boards is important,” said Christina Terplan, partner at Atheria Law P.C. “We want to support other companies that are showing movement” rather than “just having a splashy statement on a website and sponsoring an event during Women’s History Month.”

The panel was moderated by Ngozi Nnaji, founder and managing partner of AKO Insurance Consulting.

A recording of the full webinar is available here.

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