IBC: What inspired you to co-found Ebony Women Insurance Network (EWIN) group, and what is its mission?
Shirley Chisholm: I had been in the industry for over 20 years and would attend industry events and conferences, which lacked representation of visible minorities; most often I was the only one of color in the boardroom. That did not reflect the population of the offices, and I wanted to understand why there was a lack of visible representation of minorities at the table. I reached out to a friend who was a manager with an insurance company for her advice and experience. She agreed that it was an issue that she had recognized for years but did not know how to resolve. We met over coffee and concluded that our next steps would be to meet on a monthly basis and invite as many persons we knew to join us for a conversation. That first meeting was four persons; the next was eight, and within months we had a thriving network of over 60 women. Word got around, and that was the genesis of Ebony Women Insurance Network. EWIN was designed as a safe place for conversations, sharing experiences, advice and to provide personal and professional development, mentorship, coaching and networking opportunities. It should be noted that during this time we found out that there were other robust ‘cultural’ insurance networking groups in existence.
IBC: What have been the major shortcomings within the industry when it comes to diversity and inclusion?
SC: Diversity and inclusion (D&I) is a broad term interpreted in many different ways by the industry. What I have seen is that big international companies with locations in the United States are 20-30 years ahead of Canada, because they have had to comply with laws and rules of D&I in the US. In general, the industry did not embrace that there was a D&I issue because as Canadians, we wear the flag of a multicultural society. The insurance industry has been slow out of the gate and has proceeded cautiously seeking to embrace the least disruptive tenets of D&I, which are most often tied to socio-economic factors. At some point in the future, there needs to be a strategic de-tangling of D&I with metrics for adherence holistically.
IBC: How can the insurance industry better support its women and minorities?
SC: There needs to be broad industry awareness. There should be career advancement opportunities that are open, transparent and consistent. There is the issue of “cultural sensitivity” training [that addresses differences], such as visible minorities who often do not self-promote, which puts them at a disadvantage. One simple example is something not taught in a classroom, we refer to them as the “unwritten rules”: In one of our EWIN meetings, a manager advised “when you work on a file, make sure you copy your supervisor so that they see what you’re doing as a way of self-promotion.” Culturally, this is not commonly a familiar position. There are opportunities to provide networking, coaching, mentorship and sponsorship.
IBC: What can the industry do to better attract and recruit women and minorities?
SC: The Insurance Institute and the IBAO are some of the organizations involved in advertising campaigns along with recruiting initiatives and career fairs to promote awareness of the industry. I participate in the Career Ambassador Program with the Insurance Institute and find it very effective going into schools and other career fairs to promote opportunities in the industry. Just by virtue of me being there, people are interested in what I do because I might look different from whom they are used to seeing. That being said, I think where we need to have diversity is in leadership so that people can see themselves [in those shoes].
Also, I think why the complexion of the industry has been the same for a long time is because you tend to recruit people who look like you. It’s an unconscious bias, and we have to be cognizant of that. But, I have seen an overall change in the complexion of the industry within the past five years. While we have done more to recruit visible minorities, we are still far from where it should be.