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Black representation in insurance grows slowly as industry seeks to diversify

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Black representation in insurance grows slowly as industry seeks to diversify

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This story is part of a series on race and gender diversity in the U.S. insurance industry and the ways regulators and companies are approaching this topic.

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NYDFS regulator plans to engage more directly on diversity with insurers, banks

Amid scrutiny on industry underwriting, Progressive CEO says rates are justified

Female insurance leaders work against odds to open doors for other women

To boost female leadership, insurers need to shuffle succession plans, CEO says

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With growing calls for diversity and a dearth of new talent, the U.S. insurance industry has made some progress in adding more people of color to its ranks over the last decade.

Insurance regulators have also taken up the cause. After George Floyd’s death while in police custody earlier this year brought racism into the national spotlight, the National Association of Insurance Commissioners launched a Special Committee on Race and Insurance to examine levels of diversity in the industry.

Systemic racism became part of the conversation for corporate America, but data remains sparse. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics provides industry-level data on employee race. Some insurance industry leaders say that improving racial diversity on their executive teams and boards will lead to better diversity throughout the organization.

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Modest improvement over 10 years

The percentage of nonwhite employees in the insurance workforce stood at 21.4% in 2019, an increase from 19.8% the prior year according to data S&P Global Market Intelligence compiled from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The percentage of nonwhite insurance workers was just 15.3% in 2010.

The percentage of Black or African American employees in the insurance workforce was 12.4% in 2019, up from 9.0% in 2010. Meanwhile, Asians represented 6.2% of the workforce in 2019, an increase from 4.4% in 2010. Those in the "other" category, which includes but is not limited to American Indian, Alaska Native, Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islanders, represented 2.7% of the workforce.

People of Hispanic or Latino ethnicity are not specifically broken out in the data set as they could have selected any race.

There were 157.5 million people over the age of 16 employed in the U.S. in 2019. White individuals represented 77.7% of that workforce while nonwhite individuals made up 22.3%. Black or African American individuals represented 12.3% of the total workforce, while Asians made up 6.5%.

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Lack of diversity starts at the top

The insurance industry was "relatively nonexistent to most African Americans" as a career path until a few decades ago, said Jerald Tillman, owner of J.L. Tillman Insurance Agency and founder of the National African American Insurance Association.

Tillman said his only exposure to the insurance industry until after college was through the workers who went door-to-door collecting policy premiums. Growing up, he said he had no Black mentors or role models in the insurance industry to look up to.

That lack of diversity in insurance leadership continues today, members of the industry say.

"We should be doing a better job as leaders to really harness diverse talent and to really cultivate them so that they feel even if they don't see themselves fully represented in leadership at the top of these organizations, they can still obtain these positions," Zurich North America Diversity and Inclusion Director Lauren Young said in an interview.

Susan Johnson, chief diversity and inclusion officer at Hartford Financial Services Group Inc., said that when employees look up within the organization to board members and the C-suite, they are often seeking others they can relate to in those leadership positions.

"Sometimes it becomes the ultimate proof point of a company's inclusion and diversity agenda," Johnson said during an American Property Casualty Insurance Association, or APCIA, conference. "I appreciate that a company might be committed to and value diversity, but show me."

There is also a business case for recruiting diverse leadership teams. George Nichols, president and CEO of the American College of Financial Services, pointed to the growing body of research showing a correlation between diverse leadership and above average profits.

In addition, Nichols said it is important that a company looks like its customer base so it can better understand those it serves and adapt to changing demographic trends.

"You can choose to wait until that happens to change your business model or you can get in front of that and begin to change your business model and have a longer-term relationship, a better understanding of [your] client base," Nichols said.

Against this backdrop, some insurance industry leaders are seeking to bake diversity into their core company strategies.

"If this is going to be a movement as opposed to a moment, then these tactics, these ideas around talent and markets, have to fit into your business strategy," American Family Insurance Group CEO Jack Salzwedel said during a recent APCIA conference.