Enhancing Diversity, Equity And Inclusion In The Next Normal
During a session on breakthrough diversity, equity and inclusion held during LIMRA’s 2021 virtual annual conference, attendees received some critical insights on creating successful DEI programs from a panel of senior, financial-services executives.
The panel consisted of Ron Adams, field diversity and inclusion, Northwestern Mutual; Marcia Dukes, diversity practitioner, U.S. businesses, Prudential; and Lorie Valle-Yanez, head of MassMutual D&I, MassMutual. The panel was moderated by Mary Jane Fortin, chief commercial officer, Thrivent.
Adams developed a passion for DEI during his time in the Army, where he had three leaders with three different styles and from three different ethnic backgrounds.
“Through these individuals,” he said, “I began to understand how DEI can help you along your journey to success.”
For her part, Valle-Yanez has 30 years of experience working in the DEI arena. When she started, she did not have a playbook about diversity. Instead, she said, “we had to build something from the ground up.” That sparked a passion for advocating and promoting DEI, she said.
Building Successful DEI Programs
Members of the panel described some of the programs that “are moving the DEI needle” at their organizations. One such program is transformative learning, according to Valle-Yanez. Because the organization felt that some of its leaders were not culturally competent, it invested in transformative learning, starting with the executive team.
In 2015, the company made a big investment in this area. Leaders spent three-and-a-half days on DEI programs addressing various topics, such as dealing with systemic racism.
“It has been the cornerstone of our program,” Valle-Yanez said. Hundreds of leaders have participated in it, she said.
The organization also focuses on metrics and transparency, she added. It measures and shares with its employees everything that is being implemented, and this has helped it move forward.
For Adams, a program that has resonated a lot with Northwestern Mutual is their assessment of its DEI efforts. “Each organization must do a strong assessment of where it is in its DEI initiatives,” he said.
In addition, to move ahead, “you need to have a plan and make sure you are taking a long-term approach,” he said. To increase your chances of success, the program has to be holistic and must be “baked” into the organization.
Dukes emphasized the importance of having a roadmap. “We have been testing and learning and we will continue to test and learn as we go forward,” she said.
Members of the panel also shared some of the effects of events that have occurred during the past two years on their companies’ DEI initiatives. For example, Dukes noted that Prudential conducted listening tours and held meetings in small groups since people tend to open up more in small settings. In addition, they are using and sharing a lot of metrics. Even though they do use metrics, she said, they believe that they should be used only to help move the DEI dial.
And for Valle-Yanez, 2020 was a catalyst for individual engagement and a lot of activity happened at MassMutual. The organization launched a $50 million MM Catalyst Fund, which uses a two-pronged approach to creating impact on the entrepreneurial environment in Massachusetts:
- Enable the growth of technology and sustainability driven business in less-developed regions of the commonwealth.
- Drive growth and capital for business expansion into financially underserved Black businesses.
“We are spending a lot of time and energy to step up and do things differently as a result of events in 2020,” she said.
Adams noted that Northwestern Mutual is now in its 12th year of a 15-year DEI road map. After 2020 and 2021, “we have a new normal,” he said.
Last year, the company invested $20 million in startup companies founded by Black entrepreneurs in Milwaukee and across the nation. It also launched the Women's Field Association of Northwestern Mutual, a self-driven women's advocacy arm that is a community for growth, development and relationship building for all women at Northwestern Mutual.
“Events in 2020 really catapulted us into the future,” Adams said.
To drive accountability for its DEI programs, the company views them not as corporate initiatives, Adams said, but as programs that must be woven into the fabric of its leaders.
Ayo Mseka has more than 30 years of experience reporting on the financial-services industry. She formerly served as Editor-In-Chief of NAIFA’s Advisor Today magazine. Contact her at [email protected].