Diversity, Equity, Inclusion & Belonging Roundtable: The Importance of DEI&B

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DEI&B Roundtable: The Importance of DEI

Lindsay:  Everybody is talking about DEI&B and how this fits into the insurance asset management industry. My name is Lindsay Mickles and I’m the Managing Editor here at the Insurance AUM Journal. And we are joined today by Sarah Marschok from Wellington Management and IWIN and she will facilitate today’s podcast. Sarah, welcome. We’re very happy to have you.

SarahThank you, Lindsay. And thank you very much to the Insurance AUM Journal for your ongoing recognition and support of DE&I, ensuring this is at the forefront of minds of insurance companies and leaders alike. My name, as Lindsay mentioned, is Sarah Marschok and I’m a longtime member of the insurance team at Wellington Management, where we partner with clients on the management of their general account assets. Away from the core of my day job, and the reason why Stew and team asked me here today is because of my ongoing support of diversity in the insurance channel given my role on the board of IWIN, the Insurance Women’s Investment Network. 

Sarah: IWIN, our mission is aimed at creating a form for experienced women and men focused on the investments of insurance general account assets to share their insights and knowledge. It has been some time since we had an in-person IWIN gathering, but we have conducted several virtual events like many others over the past 18 months. We hope you’ll join us for a future event. 

Sarah: So, let’s meet our panelists today. First, we have Margaret Milkint. Margaret is a longtime industry leader who brings a depth of experience. Margaret is well known for her focus on diversity initiatives and talent and someone who continues to serve as a DE&I champion among the many roles she has had in her career. Today, Margaret serves as the Leader for the Global Insurance Practice at Diversified Search Group. Hi Margaret. Next we have Grace Reyes. Grace is CEO and founder of TIDE. TIDE stands for The Investment Diversity Exchange. In addition, she serves on the Board of Directors for NASDAQ. Grace is a prominent voice when it comes to promoting diversity and inclusion, as well as a gender balance in the investment management industry. Thanks for joining us Grace. 

Sarah: Next we have Laura Beebe. Laura has spent her entire career in the insurance industry at Farm Bureau Financial Services in Des Moines. Her most recent role takes her to overseeing the Investment Administration Group for Farm Bureau Financial Services, but Laura and I have known each other for several years, importantly, Laura’s leadership role overseeing IWIN, the Insurance Investment Network, so I look forward to having her join us today. And last but certainly not least is Gia Clarke. Gia is entering her junior year at Loyola University in Chicago, where she is studying advertising, public relations, and anthropology. Today she’s been working as a media associate for the Insurance AUM Journal, leading all things, keeping this forum of Stew and Lindsay running really well. We’re excited to have Gia today to bring a different perspective from a younger generation, dare I say, and learn more about her observations on diversity and hear about what the world looks like from her eyes. 

Sarah: So, we’ve brought this group together today with the aim of highlighting their observations and action steps we can all take to advance diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging in the insurance industry. The insurance industry has long made it a priority of attracting and retaining the best talent including making DE&I the center of the insurance culture. In addition, we’ll leave you with why insurance companies cannot afford to overlook diversity and the real need to embed this as part of their aggregated cultural framework. So let’s dive in. We’re all action oriented and we want to create real impact and be the catalyst for real change, which can sometimes differ from our intentions.

Sarah: I don’t want to keep our audience holding on to the end for this question so I thought it’d be a good one to kick off the conversation with. So I’ll open this up to everybody. How do you suggest that we enact real change at the organizational and insurance industry level? I guess to put it another way, what is one tangible action or major game changer you have seen to advance global DE&I in the insurance industry? Who wants to go first?

MargaretI’m happy to jump in, Sarah. 


MargaretAs you talked about it, I feel like this is like eating dessert first. Let’s get at it and let’s get to the core of it. And to me, the two things that come to mind is attacking this with candor and courage and let’s throw in a little bit of heart. I think when we have those candid conversations, those real, authentic human interactions, and we do so with courage and heart and kindness, that’s what makes the difference. It’s about taking the elephant out of the room and really getting to the core and to the heart of change and that’s with action. So, I say candor and courage

LauraMargaret, I like that. It seems that sometimes, yeah I think the candor and courage should help sell the message because I think there’s a little concern that diversity and inclusion might impact those who have had a seat at the table for a long time so it seems to me like equitable. We just all want a seat at the table. We all want to be around it and addressing that from the heart seems like that could assist with getting more room at the table.


GraceSo I recently was invited to speak at an investment committee meeting about DEI. There was a foundation that’s looking into DEI for the first time and one of the parts that I talked about was what can they do? What are actionable items that they can do? And so, a few example is to incorporate DEI questions within the due diligence process. How many of your firm’s female employees were promoted last year or minorities, right? So making it known that diversity is important to you enables them to make sure that it’s part of their thought process when investing. Also, one of the things that happened recently was one of the big firms tying DEI metrics to financial compensation, right? And so making sure that the executive team, their compensation is measured against metrics that include developing an inclusive culture. So things like that are ways to make sure that diversity is in the forefront.

GiaYeah, Grace, just to follow up with what you just said about, everything you just said, honestly, that as someone who is looking at industries for the future, there are certain industries that the DEI&B are already a priority and there are some that are working on it and then there are some that it’s still not there yet. And so as young people are choosing careers, choosing where they’re going to go in their life, there’s going to places where they are welcome or feel welcome and see that they’re valued and then there’s some places where they’re not. And so being one of those industries that is welcoming with compassion, with care, and genuine concern for their employees and the people that they work with is going to be really important, especially moving forward.

SarahNo, I love that. That’s great. Thanks for everybody for chiming in, and maybe Margaret going back to you, if I can, speaking to the items you highlight of candor and heart, and I know Grace talked about tying DE&I metrics to financial comp, but can you elaborate, Margaret, to kick off how organizations create these cultures of supporting real action oriented change? Maybe let’s peel the onion a bit and open that up and get to more specificity because I imagine the insurance executives listening to us today appreciate that, but how can they truly…you can’t teach somebody candor, you can’t teach someone heart, but how do you kind of bring that to the forefront for them for their policies and change?

MargaretAbsolutely. So I think we need to think in an actionable way. I think we’ve, on this journey of DEI&B, and it really is a journey, not a destination. And I think we’re doing better. I have to say that. The fact that we’ve added belonging into our conversation and into our mission as we go forward is important. And I think belonging ties beautifully into culture and cultural impact and DNA. So where do we start? We start in the boardroom. Start in the boardroom. And as you’ve heard, integrating and weaving into the culture DEI&B, its impacts, not just from an ethos standpoint, but from a business standpoint, making it real, making it measurable, talking about the risk that an enterprise has when they don’t have a strong DEI&B culture. So I think that it really does start in the boardroom and from there to the CEO, to the C-suite, and really to all levels of leaders.

Margaret: And I’m a believer that everyone is a leader, whether you are entering an organization or you’re sitting in the C-suite, we all have a leadership responsibility. And having that understanding, that empathy, compassion, a growth mindset, a drive for results, these are the things that we can weave into the mission and culture of an organization because so many organizations they want to win, they want to succeed, but they want to do it the right way, why not fully weave DEI&B into the strategy, into the accountability, into the measurement, not leave it off to the side but weave it in. So that’s my first thought and I think that’s a core thought, Sarah, as we start to build and we start to truly be intentional and actionable in what we do. 

SarahGreat. Thank you. So when I look back on COVID and 2020 in particular, 2020 seems to have been the real turning point where corporate America is finally waking up and diversity is being brought to the forefront of corporate agendas. I think after the terrible murder of George Floyd and sadly so many others, I can certainly think of organizations and insurance companies who have made this a priority and have already woven this into their corporate practices and their organization policies long before 2020. So I don’t want to say this is new for everybody or just being prioritized for all, but insurance companies are by no means as we’re all here today, new to this topic. 

Sarah: When I look up one definition of diversity, diversity is described as the full spectrum of human demographic differences so maybe I’ll turn to Grace and then Laura, what are some common misconceptions of diversity? And why do you think people and organizations are hesitant to adopt a policy supporting real change surrounding equity?

GraceWell, oftentimes the arguments against the diversity is that the most qualified should get the job or the capital allocation. However, it’s not binary. We can be both qualified and diverse and talent is universal, but opportunity is not. So we must make a greater effort to make sure we’re not unnecessarily limiting the talent pool or fund managers that would otherwise result to better performance. And with the global pandemic and circumstances in our country today, those issues have raised awareness of social inequity. And it’s empowered asset owners, such as investment managers in the insurance world to ask questions when they might not have done so in the past. And so DEI&B absolutely fits within their fiduciary duty and quite simply it’s that they need to make money. 

LauraGrace, those are excellent thoughts. I think that there is still a little bit of some fear of the uncomfortable. We know the numbers and we should be doing what is the best interest and then the best interest of the organization we’re investing in and if they’re diversified, that makes total sense, right. But I’m from the Midwest and we’re very traditional. And it’s an interesting, what is the definition of diversity? I chaired the Global Insurance Symposium for a couple years and just having a woman actuary on a panel was diversity. So it’s just, I know. And so let’s think about this. Let’s look at all ranges and get uncomfortable and seek others to come to the table, as I’ve said earlier in this podcast, and imagine what that brings to the plate and especially with what we’re watching on the world stage right now, you need that. You need those other voices at the table and welcome them in. Please, it’s going to make you better at what you do.

MargaretOh, I’m smiling ear to ear and I’m saying amen to that because we do have to be comfortable being uncomfortable. We do have to give ourselves permission to reimagine and that’s where candor comes in and that’s where nimbleness comes in. And you know what? We do have to push ourselves out of our comfort zone, every single one of us every single day.

SarahGreat, thank you all. So, and we keep saying diversity and this podcast is about DEI&B, which we’ve all referenced, so I’m going to open this up beyond just the D for diversity and dive into more of the other letters of this acronym. Put another way, this acronym encompasses so many important letters, diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging. And if I’m being honest, belonging is newer to me, but it resonates a great deal. As Laura said before, we all want that seat at the table and further the opportunity to thrive while at the table, if it’s that opportunity to thrive, it really brings us together and makes the belonging true. So I think Laura has already touched upon this, but I want to, piggybacking off of the common misconceptions of diversity, often diversity may mean to some that their piece of the pie is shrinking. And Grace has also touched upon this earlier as well, but can you talk to me maybe Laura first about what equity means to you? I know it means getting comfortable with the uncomfortable, but can we talk more about what equity means?

LauraWell, and that’s a great question because it seems so simple, right? What is equity? It was interesting something became clear to me recently and, Gia, you might have a chuckle at this. We had an intern in our office this summer and he’s a great intern and I was talking to him about what are you doing to get to know your job as an intern, right?  It’s to get to know others in the industry. And I started introducing him to other people in the industry and I was opening all these doors for him. And I thought, wait a minute, I should be opening doors equitably, right?  I should be helping minorities or others because they need that fair chance to have doors opened for them. They don’t even know those doors are out there. 

Laura: And I did reach out to the local university and I need to, in an equitable manner, give any groups at the university an opportunity to connect with us. I need to be fair, right? But that’s an area of focus as far as let’s think about the minorities. And like I said, let’s just be fair about this. What do you think about that, Gia? 

GiaYeah, no, that was awesome. It was great that you caught yourself doing that and were aware of that. Yeah, the way that I’ve had equity in terms of DEI described to me is like meeting people in the middle because if you consider where we all started, everyone starts at very different places, right? And there’s a lot of factors that affect where those places are so, I don’t know, kind of just what you said, reaching out to people who might not have the opportunities that others do, or if you have like two interns, one who has had five internships before this at a ton of major companies and the other one, this is their first internship and they’ve been working to make money every summer for their jobs, they’re going to be at different places. 

Gia: So just being aware of those differences in every setting, not just in  a corporate setting, and being willing to you get uncomfortable and meet people where they are, even if it’s like very different from where you’re familiar with is I think the biggest part of equity, to make sure that everyone gets the same place even if some people might need a little bit more help getting there.

SarahWell said. So we’ve seen the societal benefits of diversity, that’s why we’re all here. We’re big proponents and supporters. So, diversity brings in new ideas and experiences, and we can all learn from each other because of that. It drives innovation and it helps to understand and respect another person’s way of being that isn’t our own. So, Grace let’s get into the data, what empirical evidence is there that’s out there that it relates to the investment industry?

GraceWell, there is a study done by McKinsey in 2019 that compares bottom quartile performing companies compared to top quartile performing companies. And those with more gender diversity were 25% more likely to perform better while those with more cultural and ethnic diversity are 36% more likely to perform better. And so the same kind of report the Knight Foundation found a similar finding in the E&F space in that funds in the top quartile, there were diverse managers were overrepresented in those top performing quartile. So different studies prove that top performing companies and funds have the same thing in common and that is diversity.

SarahI love it and I’ve read that McKinsey study and there’s plethora of great detail and data to support why diversity is something that everyone should be turning to and focused on and building in. And so on that front, we’ve all read studies and I recently saw a Harvard Business Review Study of Black women where 46% of the women felt that their ideas were not heard or recognized and we’ve touched upon this earlier. And we’ve seen those studies where different demographics and groups cited the executive presence and meetings where they felt they have to conform to their traditional white male standards. We want to get rid of this feeling of having to conform and be able to bring our authentic selves to work and I know certainly I feel I can do that in my day job, but I realize that is something I do not take for granted. And so Margaret, can you talk to me about how we can explore intentional behaviors to foster that real change and accelerate it because now is the time to do it. Let’s talk about impact over intentions.

MargaretAbsolutely, Sarah, and I believe in that and I think that’s where it starts believing that it can happen. The change does happen and not with a broad brush, but on a grassroots level, it’s that one experience at a time. It’s that one higher at a time. It’s taking that pause to say this isn’t right, we can do better. So I’ll start out saying optics do matter and so if we think about optics and we think about words, we think about visuals as we’re moving forward, that is a great, tangible place to start. So we all create position profiles to outline that proverbial wishlist of what we’re looking for in talent. My wish and my ask for all of us is that we reimagine that position profile, that we look critically at the words that we use at the requirements that we are listing in a very pragmatic, very myopic way and open it up and welcome in instead of screening out.

Margaret: Sometimes that means going outside of industry for talent, that sometimes means looking at someone who is going to reach up into a position. They can’t check the box on all ton of those requirements, but maybe can check the box on three or four or five and has the opportunity to grow and expand and lift. This is where we make a change. We make the change in an actionable way. We use words in that position profile that welcome in instead of, when I, as a woman, read those words. I don’t feel welcomed. I don’t feel like I can fit into the culture. And we use words that draw in, welcome in, that demonstrate empathy and respect and courage. And wouldn’t it be nice to read a position profile where we said your voice is welcome at the table. You are welcome. This is an organization that not only supports DEI&B, that we live it, and here’s how we do it.

Margaret: So these are some ways in the position profile and let’s move to the actual review of a resume or of a LinkedIn bio. Having that same openness in tone and in action to say, instead of, “This will never work.” “Yeah, this could work. Let’s find a way to make this work because he’s fabulous.” And look at the perspective that he will bring from another industry or she will bring from another role. Why not? You mentioned actuaries and I’ve been a big believer over the years that actuaries can do anything. You know what? We all can do anything. We all have transferable skills and abilities and why not make that leap? And it’s not a quantum leap. So I’ve always been a believer of go to the good, believe, it’s a can do approach, and there could be a little heresy in what I’m saying and that’s okay because that’s where we start to make the change.

Margaret: Think about the interview teams that we put together. Are they diverse? Are they inclusive? Do they represent the culture and the impact of the organization? How do we welcome that person, whether it’s to the screen or in person? Do we sit them in a room for eight hours and never offer them a sandwich or a cup of coffee or water? Trust me, that’s happened. You can’t do that. We show grace and we show hospitality, we show humanness, and we laugh a little bit together, that’s what this is all about. It’s bringing humanity back into these processes, these journeys that we’ve created, and finding fresh ways to make the change happen. And I’ll pause there to give you all a chance to react, but I hope, Sarah, that gives us some real, tangible ways to just make those small changes because those small changes turn into the quantum change that we’re looking for.

SarahNo, I love it. And I invite others to chime in, but I can imagine not trying to diminish it at all, but I thought it was amazing, the welcome in instead of screening out, that should be a magnet or a banner on everybody’s computer just as a reminder, if we all needed it. I love it. Anybody else want to chime in? Grace?

GraceI just wanted to say that that resonated with me because I have to say as a minority woman, having worked in the industry for over a decade and being a single mother at a very young age, I’ve experienced challenges and barriers that the industry has created, which has nothing to do whatsoever with one’s ability, talent, or qualification. So addressing these challenges and barriers are incredibly important for the future of our industry. 

GiaJust adding on to that, that also resonated with me. Something that..I worked in orientation at Loyola this summer, and something that was repeated to us multiple times was calling people in instead of calling them out. And so if they were to say something or not be aware of something  education versus being like “You are bad for saying that!” was a lot more productive for everyone, especially the students that we were working with. And just like on a team level, I think the best ways to change culture is just by asking people.  We had check-ins every couple of weeks and one question that we would be asked was, “Do you feel that your identities are welcome here? And if they’re not, how can we do something about that?”

Gia: Luckily, I don’t think that ever became a problem on our team, but just having that opportunity where superiors did ask us that really opened that conversation up, no matter if you were employed by the university full time or if you were just a summer orientation leader, so obviously that’s a small example, but it is something that can be – on any size team – something that can be really helpful and make everyone feel more welcome and like they’re heard in that space.

Laura: All I was going to add was, great stories and I totally agree that that welcome in versus screen out, that’s a great bumper sticker or something like that so that needs to be repeated.

SarahI love it. So changing gears a bit, if I can, bias, bias is something we’ve all discussed, we’ve studied for ourselves, encountered in some way, whether it be our own organizations or schools or our own personal experiences, or just trainings, trying to figure out what our own unconscious bias may be. And some people I have come upon claim that they are not biased. And I wonder how can that be? Each of our own experiences make us who we are and they’re inevitably are blind spots and we’re biased in some way. I’m actually reading a book right now where the author talks about how white people will never get rid of their biases and I’m still sitting on that and thinking that through as a white woman. So, maybe Gia and Laura, talk to me more about how we can minimize and avoid various forms of unconscious bias, or on the same vein, do you have specific examples you have seen in order to be successful and overcome stereotypes? 

GiaI could take that one first. I think that first acknowledging, like you just said, that everyone has biases that we are raised with and around for so long is really important. And just starting with good DEI training in the beginning of any kind of work situation, I think can really address it really properly and give people ways to think about it differently. But I think that just trying to eliminate any potential for bias is really good. An example of something that we did was that we were completely supposed to use genderless language at work this summer, which is like not something I realize I used all the time. I call everyone guys, like in a group of people, especially when there’s like a large group of new students, you’re trying to get them to feel welcome, but I realize that not everyone would want to be referred as that.

Gia: So just saying, “Hey y’all.” “Hey, everyone,” was much more inclusive in that way. We also, if we didn’t know a student’s preferred pronouns or how they identified, we used they/them until we knew. So even if someone had a name that you might associate with a set of pronouns or gender, we would say “they” until we knew, and I know that did make a large impact because students told us it did. And I didn’t think it would. I went in thinking it wouldn’t. So it was definitely just small things like that that are easy to do, it just requires like a little bit of thinking and owning your mistakes when you do it. So I think that those small amounts of bias that we all have, that are just in our language, can be really, really powerful in that way.

LauraGia, a great story. And you stole what I was going to talk about.I totally agree with you. I use guys. I say that all the time, but I work with, I’ve been in this industry 30 years, right? And I work with a lot of guys. We’ve got a couple of other people on the staff that are women and when we start that email is it you all? What is that term because it’s just right there. How can we…I do, Sarah, I believe your book is correct that we all have biases. And we just, I think just even being aware, just talking about them. I have a friend of mine. I said, “Well, who do you think delivers your mail?” And we all think it’s the mailman, right? Why is it a man?  Your Roomba, how many named their Roomba a woman, right? Men do housework, right? 

Laura: I’m just talking about small changes and maybe I’m speaking more to the older generation in terms of even the pronouns as well. We’re still kind of getting used to them, in terms of they and them. So there’s a lot of work to do. And to me, bias is huge and it needs to happen. It’s, yeah, like you said, we’ve all got a lot of work to do here.

MargaretAnd I wanted to add in something that I should have mentioned is exactly what you two talked about, removing he/she, from a position profile, that is so easy to do and just go to they and use they. So I’ve challenged myself to use they. Instead of saying, I used to think I was so enlightened saying she/he.  No, I just say they now. And there’s humility, I think, and a humbleness with all of this that we all know we’re going to make mistakes and we need to challenge ourselves, but I think we also need to be gentle. So when we do make a mistake, we just pick ourselves up and we try again. 

Margaret: So I’m from the Midwest as well, but I have been blessed to have a Southern mama. So I always said, y’all. I never said you guys, just like I never said garbage and I always said trash, or I said soda instead of pop. And that was the blessing of my Southern mother, which is wonderful. So I’m a big proponent of, “Hey, everybody.” “Hi, y’all.” And I think that genderless language, it is welcoming and it’s one easy thing that we can all do. And it does take some consciousness. It also takes a little bit of personal vulnerability to say, “I’m going to try to do this and it may feel a little bit awkward, but I’m going to do it anyway because it’s the right thing to do.”

GraceSo I have a funny story about y’all. We just moved from San Francisco to Austin and my son who’s 17. I asked him, I was like, “Did you start saying y’all instead of you guys?” And he’s like, “Yeah, because y’all is just faster. It’s just one word.” So, I’m starting to use you all because of that or maybe everyone should just moved to Texas and they’ll start using y’all.

SarahEfficiencies too. If for nothing else, yeah. So this group represents some amazing fabulous organizations that are tackling diversity across the insurance and asset management industry. I want to invite everybody to talk to me more about the organizations near and dear to your hearts and why there is a need for each one. If you want to think about it in this way, what gap or need are you each seeking to fill in the asset management and insurance industry? Who wants to go first? Grace.

GraceSo I created TIDE just last year prior to COVID. And when we first started, there were many asset owners that were like, “Hey grace, there are a lot of organizations already tackling diversity, why do you need to launch a new one?” And so we felt that while each group needs their own voice, because they face different challenges, there needs to be a united front for broader diversity issues. It’s hard enough to be a minority and even harder if we’re further divided. And so our goal is to break down these silos and be like the United Nations for diversity.

MargaretThat is so wonderful, Grace. And I’m going to welcome you to All Intent. All Intent is a group that we created at the end of 2020 and we created this for the insurance industry as a place of welcome and belonging for all of the entities that are supporting DEI&B. And All Intent is there as a resource, as a facilitator, as a place for landing and shelter, so we can learn and amplify each other. So we would love to welcome your new group to All Intent and learn from you. In addition to All Intent, I have to put in a very shameless plug for Dive In, the global celebration for diversity, equity, and inclusion and insurance. And this event has been going on for seven years, founded by our beloved Dame Inga Beale who believed early on and used her platform and her courageous and passionate voice for change and for good.

Margaret: And it really is a celebration, it’s free, it’s open to all, happening September 21st to 23rd, we’ll get you information, but please join us and you will have some experiences with fabulous speakers. We are doing some fun things like LGBTQ Bingo, really, really great enlightening learning moments for us on this journey. I’m also involved with Million Women Mentors STEMconnector because we know, yes, investment, STEM, actuarial, STEM, underwriting, STEM, analytics, STEM. We have so many great avenues for talent and welcoming talent into the insurance sector and we desperately need a technology in STEM. So that’s another group. And then last but not least, ISC Group, the global networking and education group for female leaders at all levels in insurance. So we’ve got a lot of people under this wonderful, welcoming tent and together we amplify each other and we lift each other up.

Sarah: Fantastic. I was taking notes, Margaret, and all of the pieces you had there. So I was seriously writing about the opportunities for women to network. The gap I would like to see close would be women on boards and getting women into the boardroom, making the decisions, and strategically moving the industry forward. Right now I’m not seeing that diversity in a lot of insurance company boards, and it’s not just one woman on that board just to say you have a woman on the board having a clear…women and also I should be mindful of minorities as well. So what is the industry doing to seek out and find women and minorities that could serve on boards?

MargaretIt’s a great point. And I think that the industry is moving in that direction. And I’ll mention some of the advocacy work and education work that ISC Group is doing. We have  subgroups and committees for women who are interested in board readiness, who are being mentored and networked in to board opportunities. This is where the grassroots comes in, this is where the education comes in. It does happen one woman at a time. It happens when I get an email and says, “You know what, Margaret, tell everybody you know that I’ve got a Bermuda board that is looking for this type of talent and we have to have a woman who could do this.” And you know what? We don’t just have one. We have 1, 2, 3, 10, and those women are lifting each other up. They’re not competing for that seat. They’re evangelizing so one of us can get that seat. 

Margaret: This is what’s happening. This is what’s happening now. And the great thing formally is executive search firms around the world have a call to action and a cry for action at the enterprise level. Boards want diversity. They want diversity of thought. They want gender diversity. They want people of color. They want different perspectives. That is out there loud and clear. So you’ve got the formal channels, you’ve got the informal channels, and there are many great organizations like women on boards who are educating and holding seminars, the NACD, for those of you interested in really developing a board career or an advocation as a director, you can start out and get membership while you’re on a non-profit board. The only specification to get an NACD membership is to serve on a non-profit board.

Margaret: And I say start there. Start with the non-profit. Start with your passion and your purpose point and get some experience. Serve on the audit committee. Serve on the non-gov committee. Chair the board. That’s going to propel you into the boardroom because you’ve learned governance. You’ve lived it. You know what it’s like? Every non-profit has a P&L. So I am a big believer. And when I started saying this years ago, people said, “Oh, non-profit experience doesn’t matter.” And I think that my theory that it does matter has really proven out. So that’s just a few ideas.

SarahAwesome. And Laura, I know you’re focused on the gap, but I would think with your comment about women on boards, we’ve done a couple events with IWIN so that was near and dear to my heart being in Des Moines and some insurance companies, offices, and having board members from their organization talking about how to become board ready. So there’s so many different organizations that are focused on that and it’s great to hear. So maybe to wrap it up with a lightning round, maybe make it a little lighter, and we’ve gotten to know everybody here a little bit, but let’s bring a little personal touch to the panelists today. So for everyone, and maybe I’ll start with Gia first, and go Laura, Grace, and Margaret in that order, what advice would you give someone graduating from college? So Gia, this might be more aspirational because I know you haven’t graduated from college yet, but I would love to hear from you first. 

GiaYeah, I might be a little under qualified for this question, but I would say just something that I’ve really been trying to do is just going out of my comfort zone as much as possible. I didn’t think I would be working for Insurance AUM at the beginning of the pandemic and here I am now and so things like that. But also just if someone’s offering to go, “Hey, do you want to come to this concert with me?” And you have no idea what type of music it is, you’ve never heard that of that person before, things like that, just go and you might have a great time and it leads to different opportunities that you never realized would come up. So doing any kind of unexpected out of your comfort zone thing, that you feel okay with, I think is definitely just the best advice during college and after it, probably, I think.

LauraGia, that’s great advice. And I would say network, network, network, and approach that person across the room even if you think they’re on a pedestal. I introduced myself to Terri Vaughn who’s an amazing woman and she’s on boards and she’s an actuary. She was the commissioner for the state of Iowa. And I was so scared. She’s my idol. And we’ve become best friends. So, do that, reach out, get to know people, LinkedIn, go for it.

GraceMy advice would be to stay true to yourself, be authentic, and genuine. Everyone could see right through things or people that aren’t real, but people gravitate to those who are true and authentic, so as simple as that, be true and authentic.

MargaretAnd I would add my advice would be to step into your power now. Don’t wait. Don’t wait until you’re ready. Don’t wait until you think that you know more or you are more experienced. You’re ready now. Be the CEO of you today. Don’t wait to be asked, just step into your power.

SarahAll really good advice. I’m sure we’re all frantically taking down each other’s advice like how can I look back and take advantage of that now? So something a little more fun, I’m open to whatever medium you want, what was your favorite book, podcast, Netflix show, that you’ve listened to, read, or watched over quarantine over of these past 18 months? I’m looking at my book stack and I think the one that’s completed was The Vanishing Half. I don’t know if anybody else has read that. Margaret, let’s start with you. We’ll go back around the opposite way.

MargaretI’m thinking about 14 and COVID and you know what came to my mind first and I’ll just say that, I have become a student of yoga. I love yoga. I love reading about it. There’s a fascinating book called The OM Factor and it’s bringing yoga practice into your work, into your life, and integrating it. So I would say The Arm Factor and the practice of yoga.

GraceI recently finished The Key Man. It’s about the blow up of Abraaj, the Middle East private equity fund and it was like a Netflix show. It was a page turner. So, I enjoyed that.

LauraThat sounds fantastic. I’ll have to get that book. Yeah, it’s hard nailing that down. I had a really great book called Women Rowing North. It’s a good book about looking at life, which I think COVID has really taught us to reset and think about what is happening around us and that life is short. One other one that’s really more of a fun podcast, Dana Carvey. Dana Carvey is alive and well. He started doing podcasts out of his bedroom and he’s hilarious and so if you need something just completely just having fun, check him out.

GiaOver quarantine and, even less quarantine more so this summer, I have become a true crime junkie. I don’t know when that happened, but I feel like I’ve run through Netflix’s entire catalog of true crime at this point. And there’s a really popular podcast that is really nice. I think they’re really respectful to victims of crimes and also their families. It’s called My Favorite Murder. I think it’s like the top one, but it’s these two women and the first half hour it’s just them like catching up on their lives, which is really nice because you do get to know them a little bit before they talk about really well researched crime of all different types and so definitely something to check out if you’re into that.

SarahTrue crime is something I’ve taken up as well, so I’ll have to check that out. Well, Gia, Grace, Laura, Margaret, thank you all for participating today. I took away so much myself so I certainly hope our audience did as well. Thank you to Lindsay and Insurance AUM Journal for supporting diversity and raising this for your wide audience. We hope you took something away from today’s contributors and look forward to seeing what change and impact you can have with your own organizations in the insurance industry. Look forward to seeing you soon.


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