IMPACT
12/10/2017 08:13 pm ET

Diversity & Inclusion: A Test-and-Learn-and-Aha Process

D&I is not a program to implement, but rather a cultural shift that begins with our core values.

We recently got a question about our Diversity & Inclusion (D&I) program from an executive in another company who wanted to know the key thing he needed to do to embed D&I in his organization’s culture. It was an interesting question, and we had to say that, in our experience, there is no single thing or even single set of things – in other words, no magic formula – for embedding D&I. What we’ve discovered is that it isn’t something you roll out as you would a new product or marketing campaign. It’s about truly defining the core values of your organization and living by them – being “the change you wish to see in the world,” to borrow from Ghandi.

Building a diverse and inclusive culture is both deliberate and organic, both science and art. For us, it’s been a constant test-and-learn-and-aha process, and we’re still learning. 

Our first “aha” came in 2005, when we were reviewing our core values. We took a long, hard look in the mirror – a culture scan – and realized that, if we were going to build a diverse culture, we needed to bring Diversity into the light by making it one of our core values, not simply implying it in our core value of Integrity.

The culture scan was a multifaceted, in-depth, organizational assessment—including individual interviews, focus groups, and historical data and surveys—that identified the beliefs and values underlying organizational behaviors and practices. Not merely a description of the organization, it exposed root causes—something we needed to know if we hoped to institute enduring change. Two critical areas of focus for understanding root causes were: identifying barriers to mirroring the marketplace at the executive level (top 100 leaders), and being a great place to work for all employees. The culture scan was our starting point for developing ways to remove the barriers. It also shed light on other change initiatives, such as our core values. Following our culture scan, we developed and began taking action on a comprehensive diversity strategy and roadmap. 

We crafted a strategy that embraces workforce, workplace, community/marketplace and customers, and developed a roadmap that has proved invaluable to our journey. At every step, we have involved employees across the organization. As a result, we have eight very active Employee Resource Groups (ERGs), including a Near Eastern Appreciation Group and a Women’s Professional Network, and seven Regional Diversity Councils (RDCs). They have developed robust programs documented in an annual publication, Kaleidoscope. We host a bi-annual Diversity Summit and this year held our first Diversity Week. We also are partnering with our Marketing Department to incorporate D&I into our customer acquisition strategy. We are building relationships within the communities in which we do business and developing our Supplier Diversity Program to go beyond government regulations and align with companies that have similar values.

We determined early on that, for employees, D&I is not about training. It’s part of the mix, but open dialogue is critical to our ability to create an inclusive workplace and to our ability to innovate our future. Over the past couple of years, we have begun holding difficult conversations in the workplace. It’s a risky “aha,” especially for a generally logical-minded person like me, and it’s necessary to inclusiveness. Once you invite people to speak up, you don’t know what you’ll get, and you have to be willing to accept that it may be uncomfortable. Things may come out awkwardly or not as intended. This could be the first time the person has ever spoken out on an important and emotional issue, such as Black Lives Matter or gender equality. So, compassionate listening is essential. And, the “aha” is not just from me; employees see that our invitation to speak up and bring their “whole selves” to work is genuine.

Additionally, we continue to help our Employee Resource Groups evolve so that they can have broader business impact. Our Somos group (also known as the Hispanic Latino Association) is advising us in serving our Hispanic customers in the way they want to be served, with in-language marketing that resonates across all customer touchpoints, such as having bilingual agents in both service and claims. Somos also sponsored a speaker on immigrant driver’s licenses and the impact on the insurance industry. This was another great example of bringing tough conversations into the workplace, given the sensitive nature of the topic. Finally, our LGBT pride group helped guide the development of our Gender Transition Guide, for significant ERG-driven workplace impact.

Our commitment to diversity is core to realizing our business strategy and innovating our future. Understanding the diverse needs of customers will enable us to offer the right array of products and services. Similarly, the more we know and appreciate what makes each of our employees unique, the more employees can enjoy a workplace in which everyone feels welcome, included and empowered to contribute in a meaningful way to our business results — now and in the future.

 

In this series, CEO Action for Diversity and Inclusion™ signatory CEOs share their dedication to acting for workplace diversity and inclusion to make impactful changes that benefit both business and society. Follow along with #CEOAction and learn more at CEOAction.com.

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