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How a historically white male sector is grappling with diversity

The ESG Insider newsletter compiles news and insights on environmental, social and governance developments driving change in business and investment decisions. Subscribe to our ESG Insider newsletter, and listen to the ESG Insider podcast on SoundCloud, Spotify or Apple podcasts.

In this week's newsletter we bring you a special series about diversity in the insurance industry. Following the death of George Floyd, U.S. regulators have renewed their focus on how race plays into insurance practices. And with growing calls for diversity and a dearth of new talent, the U.S. insurance industry has made some progress in adding more women and people of color to its ranks over the last decade — see our Chart of the Week.

But progress is slow: Data on race remains scarce and there are just a handful of women leading U.S. insurance companies. We bring you interviews with three of them. We also talk to the top regulator at the New York State Department of Financial Services, Linda Lacewell, who describes diversity and inclusion as a "top priority" and says her department plans to engage "much more directly" on the topic with companies.

"We need to talk about these issues. You've got to open up the dialogue," Lacewell tells us. "If you don't recognize the problem, you're not going to solve the problem."

Chart of the Week

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Top Stories

Insurance regulators weigh ban on underwriting factors they say harm minorities

Race is already a factor that U.S. insurers are prohibited from using when underwriting policies, but several prominent state regulators are looking to ban the use of other factors such as ZIP codes, education, occupation, income and credit scores that they believe have no place in underwriting algorithms. "[S]ystemically insurance may have inadvertently impacted communities by using what seemed to be innocuous characteristics because they relate to risk, but they were still disadvantaging certain groups," Michigan Department of Insurance Director Anita Fox said in an interview.

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New York Department of Financial Services Superintendent Linda Lacewell
Source: New York Department of Financial Services

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

New York's top insurance regulator does not believe all the factors currently used in underwriting insurance policies are necessary. "Where you live, and what your job is, has no bearing on your driving record," New York Department of Financial Services Superintendent Linda Lacewell said in an interview. She also said insurance companies are responsible for ensuring that their products and practices are not having a disparate impact on minority communities.

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

Approximately 23% of executives and officers at the large insurers that trade on the NYSE or Nasdaq are women, according to data S&P Global Market Intelligence compiled from publicly available sources. "That's just a sad, sad percentage," said NMI Holdings Inc. top executive Claudia Merkle, one of the industry's few female CEOs.


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