Efforts by the insurance industry to increase representation of Black and other minorities within its ranks have taken on characteristics of the Voynich manuscript, a mysterious unbreakable code. One the one hand, the hiring rate of Black employees in the insurance business is double that of other employee groups. But at the same time, Black workers are leaving the workforce at rates significantly higher than other groups. Why Black employees are leaving at higher rates baffles HR experts and DNI consultants and led to a recent National African-American Insurance Association webinar called “Cracking the Code: the movement to attract and retain diverse industry talent.”
“This trend is obviously concerning as it’s creating a revolving door effect for Black talent over time,” said Angela Berg, global diversity, equity, & inclusion consulting leader for Mercer. “And if the trend continues it will clearly erode the opportunity to sustainably increase representation of Black talent in the workplace.”
Performance Ratings At Issue
While more money, greater benefits, and flexibility are typical reasons why someone gives up a position in a firm, a recent Mercer study found that Black employees tend to get lower performance ratings as a group than other employee segments. This trend is endemic, the study said, and points to bias and inequities in the performance management process that doesn’t take race into account and leads to other workplace disparities for Black employees.
“Just think about it,” said Berg, “Getting a low rating is clearly problematic to career growth and retention and have so much impact on pay, promotion, career progression opportunities and your day-to-day experience relationships with managers.”
Berg said there’s no reason performance review scores should vary by race and employers aren’t universally taking basic action that can help uncover the trend and mitigate it.
Relevant Data is Scarce
Michele Lamarre, the head of Diversity, Inclusion & Belonging for QBE North America, said that despite the best efforts of many companies, there is still a paucity of data to help inform and create initiatives and programs that would help close the hiring and retention gaps.
“One of the reasons is a lot of the data we try and collect is voluntary, in that we ask employees to self-identify, and there are a number who don’t,” said Lamarre. “So, the numbers aren’t where we want them to be.”
She said the lack of data is another code that must be broken to make sure employees are feeling included, that they’re being listened to and that the company is taking action on what’s been said and heard.
Jeanette Kilo-Smith, head of Diversity, Inclusion, Equity and Belonging (DIEB) at Zurich North America, agreed that the industry hasn’t cracked the code.
“People don’t leave companies, they leave people,” she said. “And so we know that inclusive leadership is absolutely important, along with finding what compels people to go to another organization. Is it a great resignation or great contemplation. And some of that data is harder to get.”
Berg, however, noted that all the data in the world won’t matter if organizations do not have a culture that supports inclusive leadership.
“Without a feeling of belonging, data will not help the organization close those gaps,” she said.
Turnover Rates Are Troubling
The panelists agreed that the turnover rates among Black employees are troubling and sometimes it is combined with a lack of succession planning and failure to adapt to employee desires, such as the willingness to work from home, is stifling industry progress in minority inclusion.
“It’s critical to take a really hard look at current succession planning processes and really challenge who the individuals are who are getting into the talent pipeline,” said Mia Hairston senior vice president, Human Resources for Nationwide. “Do we need to start thinking differently about it and broaden the horizons and aggressively bring Black employees into your organization and get them into the succession planning pipeline.”
Not all the discussion was pessimistic as several on the panel mentioned that the industry has indeed made great strides in attracting minority talent.
“But we know that Black employees have much lower positive experiences based on the data we see,” said Berg. “So, for companies thinking about inclusion strategies, it’s all about pay equity and career equity, but it’s also about day-to-day interactions. The end game is that you need to get your people managers engaged in changing the trajectory of what it looks like to really make a difference. It’s wonderful to have board engagement, CEO engagement, and C-suite engagement. But that’s not who your employees are interacting with all day. So, getting them skilled and aware, prepared to really provide that best equitable experience is super critical to stopping the resignation and the contemplation.”
Doug Bailey is a journalist and freelance writer who lives outside of Boston. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.