TOWARD A MORE INCLUSIVE WORKPLACE
Insure Equality seeks to level the playing field for women and minorities
By Elisabeth Boone, CPCU
Diversity. Equity. Inclusion. These words have taken on fresh meaning as insurers and agencies strive to achieve balance in their workforces. But how well are they succeeding in this endeavor?
Not well enough, says Elisa Stampf, co-founder and chief executive officer of Insure Equality, a nonprofit organization that’s dedicated to ensuring that the insurance industry embraces diversity, equity, and inclusion.
Stampf acknowledges that many insurers and agencies have made impressive strides toward achieving that goal. But, she says, more needs to be done.
Insure Equality is committed to creating cultural change within the insurance industry by amplifying voices that often are excluded or minimized. The organization exists to call on the industry for action, not just words. It aims to hold companies accountable through a public rater, a national pledge, shared dialogue of genuine experiences, and actionable research.
The organization is partnering with human resources and diversity, equity, and inclusion programs for those who want to make simple and profitable changes to their company culture. It is dedicated to helping companies do a deep dive into their culture and reprioritize people. Insure Equality supports the entities and people who successfully instill an open and inclusive culture in the workplace.
“Our goal is to make insurance a more welcoming place to be,” says Stampf. “Our mission is to uplift the voices in our industry that are typically excluded or minimized. We’re finding that it’s not that these things are not happening; it’s not that people are not aware of them. It’s that people are too afraid to talk about it, to start the conversation, and then take the steps to make a change.”
Stampf continues: “We want to start the conversation and create the tools and resources that companies of any size can use to bring more diverse talent into the industry. By and large, we’re not where we should be, and we’re losing more people than we’re gaining.
“We’re finding that some women, some Black and Brown people, some people in the LGBTQ community make it to the top, but they’re typically alone or don’t have a lot of say,” she adds. “Our goal is to create a platform so that people in the industry can weigh in and talk about the things that are happening. They don’t have to have made it to the leadership level to have a say and an impact.
“It’s not that companies are not willing to do this; it’s not that they don’t want to bring in more diverse talent and watch them grow and push them to the top,” Stampf explains. “We aren’t doing the little things. We’re not saying: ‘Instead of having a golf outing every Thursday, let’s do something that appeals to a larger base.’
“The fact is, golf is geared toward higher-paid people who are predominately white and male,” she says. “Golf is not a bad thing, but by its nature it tends to be exclusionary. So the goal is to say, ‘There are other ways to bring people in, there are other ways you can socialize, and there are other ways you can do business.’
“Not only will this be good for the people you bring in, it also will be good for the industry,” Stampf believes. “You will have new voices, new perspectives, and a way to innovate that we haven’t currently been using.”
Insure Equality interacts with a diversity of audiences. “We have two websites: One has resources and blogs, and the other is called phoenix,” Stampf explains. “It’s a way for employees to anonymously talk about what’s happening in their company by taking a survey. The responses translate into components of culture. Does the company’s culture feel accountable? Does it feel communicative? Does it feel like it’s supportive of you?
“Seventy-five percent of millennials and Gen Z, which is much of the talent the industry is trying to attract, tend to work for and buy based on their values,” she notes. “As a former agent and marketing rep, I know that people’s choices are based on whether they like and trust you and your company. That’s always been true across the industry.”
An age-old story
How did Stampf decide to pursue a career in insurance? “I feel like it was an age-old insurance story,” she replies. “I fell into it. I graduated when the market crashed in 2008, and when I was going to school insurance wasn’t even a major. I had a finance background, so I went into banking.
“After three years I realized I didn’t really like it; I didn’t feel comfortable in that industry,” Stampf recalls. “A col-league suggested that I try underwriting, and I had never heard of it. I googled it and discovered that it involved strategy, decision making, critical thinking, and a lot of learning opportunities.
“It sounded really cool,” she notes. “I interviewed with an insurer, and I got hooked. Every day was a new challenge.”
What were attitudes toward women like when Stampf began her career? “When I started, the view of women, whether in leadership or not, tended to be stereotypical,” she responds. “When I interviewed with the insurer, two positions were open: one in commercial lines and the other in personal. The reason I got the commercial position was that the department was headed by a woman who looked at my background and told the interviewer that I could handle commercial.
“At that time the view was that men got the commercial positions and women were directed toward personal lines,” she adds. “Women were in service positions; men were in sales.”
Stampf offers a story to illustrate her point. “I had been in the insurance business for five years, and I knew that my boss was an avid golfer,” she recounts. “I asked him to recommend someone who could teach me the game, and he told me to focus on my job and that we could address the subject of golf lessons at some later date.
“At that time, a new person joined the team,” Stampf says. “He was a terrific person, but he didn’t have the same experience and background that I had. I tried to give him a heads up about our boss’s reaction to my inquiry about golf lessons, and he said, ‘That’s funny; he asked me to take golf lessons.’”
“Our goal is to make insurance a more welcoming place to be.”
Co-founder and Chief Executive Officer
Changes in attitudes
How does Stampf think attitudes toward women in leadership positions have changed over the years of her career? “I think there’s a disconnect in the sense that we are not changing any-thing about the organization,” she replies. “We are just adding a woman to leadership and expecting everything to be okay.
“When it’s not okay or that woman fails or is seen to have failed, we typically say that if she couldn’t do it and she was the best, no woman could,” Stampf adds. “This is especially true on the agency side.
“One agency was known to be an old boys’ club,” she says. “They hired a Harvard grad who was at the top of her class and put her into sales. They gave her impossible goals, and within the year she did not meet them. If she couldn’t do it, the thinking is, why should we hire more women?”
What unique qualities does Stampf believe women bring to leadership roles in insurance? “The two descriptors ‘emotional’ and ‘passionate’ overwhelmingly are applied to women and almost never to men,” she responds. “If we’re going to truly reach gender parity in our industry, we need to recognize that women and men both can be great leaders, can both be assertive and passionate.
“Women are socialized to be collaborative,” Stampf observes. “I think the cost of being wrong is high, especially as a woman climbs the ladder, so she won’t do her best to pull in diverse opinions and viewpoints because she doesn’t want to get it wrong.
“Women make the majority of insurance buying decisions, so it only makes sense that they should have top positions in our industry,” she continues.
How would Stampf characterize the opportunities for women in insurance? “I think women know that the opportunity exists,” she replies. “There’s flexibility of schedule, freedom, creativity, critical thinking, collaboration; there’s room to grow in almost every sector of the industry.”
What advice would Stampf give to a young woman who may be considering a career in insurance? “Create a community for yourself,” she advises. “When I began my career, women weren’t talking to each other as much or creating community. That definitely has started to change. We recognize the potential in each other and the potential for all of us when one of us succeeds.
“As much as you can lift each other up, they will lift you up too,” Stampf continues. “They will speak your name in rooms where it needs to be spoken, and they will open doors for you. Instead of trying to make yourself one of the boys, as many of us have done, find community with other women and lift them up.”
Elisabeth Boone, CPCU, is a freelance journalist based in St. Louis, Missouri.
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