Black History Month 2023 Spotlight
Senior Training Specialist
Liberty Mutual Insurance
SVP, Claims – Metrics | Analytics | IT
Arch Insurance Group
National Program Director
National African American Insurance
Shani Wright, MBA, CWCL
What advice would you give your younger self starting out in the insurance industry?
Andrea: I would advise my younger self to begin with the end in mind. I would tell my younger self that the first role gets you in the door. Of course, challenge yourself to be the best at the job, but at the same time, view the role as an opportunity to determine if the company and that particular assignment are a good fit for you. Companies, organizations, departments, and teams all have unique visions and cultures. I have found that it is a much more fulfilling experience to work in an organization that is aligned with your values. I would advise my younger self to not be afraid to take ownership of your career and investigate other options if you find a role is not a good fit for you. Learn from the experiences that each role offers and allow those experiences to inform how you not only search for the next role but also the questions you ask when you interview for the next role.
Dayne: The first thing I would tell myself is that there is no better time in your life to take risks. This can be in the form of working on a large and impactful project or working at an insuretech startup. You likely have much less weighing you down and far more time to recover if the risk doesn’t pan out.
I would also tell myself to alter my mindset around what my career should look like. I’ve had many tell me that your career is not like a ladder, but more like a lattice and they were correct. There have been roles I’ve taken that were lateral in nature or had seemingly little to do with the role I had prior, but gave me the foundational experience I needed to be a well-rounded leader today. Focus your career on learning, development, making an impact and getting exposure for that impact and the compensation will follow. Don’t be tempted to compare yourself to your peers. We are all on our own path and the only person you should be comparing yourself to is your prior self.
- It’s alright to be choosy about the “company you keep.” Representation is and should be important in your decision making. Do your research about the companies that are of interest to you and look at the leadership team. Does it in some part look like and or represent you? What are the core values of the company? Do they align with your values and the professional development you aspire to have?
- Work on your professional development incrementally and build and nurture solid relationships that can propel you forward and you progress in your career.
- Allyship and mentorship are integral to your career. Both do not have to reside in the company you work in. They can exist outside of your organization. Find yourself a mentor early on. Look for and join groups that offer a safe space to be your most authentic self and network with like-minded individuals in the industry. If there isn’t a current one, don’t be afraid to START one! Be the change you want to see.
Shani: I would tell my younger self to learn the art of networking. It’s the key to creating pathways for opportunity. We must create a circle of peers that support, encourage and will speak our names when we are not in the room. Those individuals don’t necessarily need to look like us either. It’s important that young professionals be open to creating a diverse network within the industry. I would also tell my younger self to be flexible. I believe flexibility allows a young professional to take on a wider range of opportunities that may extend globally. Lastly, I would tell my younger self that you are ENOUGH and deserve to have a seat at the table, never second guess your worth.
If you were starting today, as a young African American professional, would that advice change and if so, how?
Andrea: If I were starting in the industry today, my advice would change only slightly. I would encourage participation in Employee Resource Groups (as members and/or allies) because involvement in these groups is an organic way to network and to learn more about the organization. It presents opportunities to engage in conversations with people who work in different parts of the organization and provides you with a topic to initiate the conversation. The relationships formed through Employee Resource Groups can also assist you in developing professional allies. It can also be a platform to establish relationships with potential mentors and sponsors.
Dayne: Overall, it would not change however I would tell myself to leverage the African American networks and resources available. Many companies now have Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) that weren’t around when I started my career that can be great for networking, finding a mentor, taking workshops and building business acumen. Finding a mentor that can help guide and introduce you to people you otherwise may not have had access to is crucial. Leverage professional networks, attend events and conferences to broaden your network. Finally, I would encourage you to pay it forward as you progress in your career and help create opportunities for others as they have done for you.
Ebony: I wouldn’t change the advice. Discovering and owning your value add to a company is empowering and can create areas of opportunity for advancement in the right environment. The items mentioned are part of that path to career advancement.
Shani: The advice would not change. The only thing I would add is to find your niche in the industry. Do something that you are passionate about. Your passion will ultimately lead to your purpose in life. Understand that all work experiences are preparing you for your final career destination. Never take any experience for granted. Invest early in yourself. When you get your first check develop a savings plan that will serve you long-term.
How has the insurance industry embraced diversity, equity, belonging, and inclusion? What challenges still exist?
Andrea: Across the insurance industry, I have seen a positive shift related to Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. Internally, we have Employee Resource Groups (ERGs), various leadership development programs, as well as direct programming to expand employees’ awareness of the company’s DEI goals. These opportunities provide all employees the ability to serve as champions or allies of the company’s DEI initiatives. The challenge, as I see it, is that we are still finding our footing in what it means to embrace DEI. There are varying levels of buy-in and participation across the organization. Considering the focus on DEI is still relatively new, I am hopeful that the industry will continue to not only focus on DEI but help those who are reluctant to understand the value that diversity, equity, belonging, and inclusion bring to the industry, to the individual organizations and to all of us who work in the industry.
Dayne: The industry has come a long way in embracing DEI during my career. I think about it in five phases: The first phase was awareness; awareness of lack of representation, diversity and pay equity. Then came the education phase to bring these issues to the forefront by giving individuals a safe platform to share their experiences with one another. Then came the advocacy phase where community groups were created to address lack of diversity, unconscious bias and discrimination in its various forms. Then finally came the action phase, where companies changed hiring practices, promotional practices, addressing pay inequality and making DEI a part of everyone’s goals.
Although the industry has made great progress through these phases, the main challenge that exists today is widening the funnel of diverse candidates. If you ask a college student to depict someone that works in the insurance industry, they will more than likely tell you that they are a Caucasian male wearing a suit holding a briefcase. There is a stigma to overcome that will take all of our efforts to educate the next generation on the opportunities that exist for them in the industry.
Ebony: Companies have embraced DEI by making public declarations of support for DEI, offering organizational support by appointing DEI officers to deal with company alignment and commitment to DEI initiatives; DEI strategies have been realigned within established ERGs to meet company and stakeholder needs.
The challenge lies in making sure the employee expectations of the ERGs align with the DEI priorities of the company; create programs that lead the feeling and appearance of inclusion in tandem with actual career advancement (not just the talk of it) for African Americans & People of Color. This is a step in managing the existing gaps in what is said vs what actually done.
Shani: Over the last two years the insurance industry has made great strides in creating a space for diverse individuals to soar in the insurance industry. The industry is raising awareness that diversity matters. Many companies have created diverse and inclusion committees to make sure all employees feel a sense of belonging. There are mentorship and leadership programs geared toward investing in talented diverse insurance professionals. Other companies are making an intentional effort to recruit students from HBCUs for internship program and entry level positions. I believe there are still challenges that exist in genuinely creating opportunities for talented professionals to move up into senior leadership roles. I am committed to making sure that individuals that look like me have opportunities in this industry. My hope is that this is not a moment, but truly a movement that will transform how the insurance industry receives, treats and promotes African Americans in the insurance space.
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