IICF's diversity-focused mentoring alliance helps break barriers in insurance

Now in its second year, the industry-wide program continues to grow

IICF's diversity-focused mentoring alliance helps break barriers in insurance

Insurance News

By Gia Snape

Mentorships are an enriching part of career development in insurance and people from diverse backgrounds can especially benefit from the support and guidance of allies.

To help more insurance professionals from underrepresented communities rise in their fields, the Insurance Industry Charitable Foundation (IICF) has launched a mentoring alliance that aims to provide the next generation of talent with clear career paths forward and opportunities for growth.

The six-month program ran on a pilot last year with 10 mentor and mentee pairings. This year, 19 pairings have joined the alliance.

“We wanted to create an industry-wide networking alliance to mentor what we consider emerging leaders from underrepresented communities,” said Barbara Reilly (pictured), chair of the IDEA council’s talent subcommittee and senior vice president at Amwins.

Mentorship with a focus on diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I)

Mentees in the IICF’s alliance are typically five to 10 years into their insurance career and have assumed or are preparing to assume leadership roles. They might also be individuals who feel stalled in their careers and don’t know how to get past hurdles.

Each cohort starts in the fall and finishes in April. Mentor/mentee pairings are asked to meet at least once a month, whether remotely or face-to-face.

The program is national, meaning mentors and mentees don’t have to be in the same cities or states, though they are often in the same time zones, Reilly said. Group check-ins and meetings are also held remotely.

“The remote aspect of it is critical because you can get more people involved,” Reilly said.

Mentors and mentees don’t necessarily come from the same insurance backgrounds. However, the DE&I focus was a top priority.

“We want to improve the diversity within the insurance industry, and we also want to remove any barriers to growth and development within our industry,” Reilly said. “We want to support, prepare, and empower insurance leaders, especially those from underrepresented communities.”

Another feature that differentiates the IICF’s program is that mentees are matched with mentors outside their organization, an intentional decision made by the subcommittee.

“That’s something we felt was super important because we wanted to create that safe space for the mentee, where they feel that they can share and not worry that what they're saying will get back to their company,” she said.

To prevent poaching, the IICF asks participants to review a Code of Ethics statement during onboarding meetings.

Fostering empathy and inclusivity in insurance mentorships

One of the most common themes that emerged from the participants’ feedback was a feeling of empathy.

“Our first goal, when we're pairing, is to try to pair people from similar backgrounds and cultures,” Reilly said. “Some of our mentees have said, ‘I love having a mentor who looks like me,’ because then not only can they talk about the insurance industry and their careers, but also the hurdles they experience based on their race and culture.

“They can talk to somebody who understands and has already done it.”

Because of a dearth of diversity in senior insurance industry positions, Reilly said they were initially worried they might have trouble finding diverse mentors.

“So far, we've been really lucky,” she told Insurance Business. “But to prepare for that, we also said that we would look at mentors who are allies and whose career backgrounds don’t necessarily match completely.”

Bringing insurance careers ‘full circle’

Finally, Reilly stressed the importance of mentorship in a “non-traditional” career path like insurance.

“You don't typically go to college and major in insurance. Some universities carry risk management programmes now, which is great, but most people in the insurance industry fell into it or knew somebody who was in it,” said Reilly, who, as part of the talent subcommittee, helped create the mentoring alliance, chaired by Intact’s Carmen Duarte at the time.

“Since insurance is not a typical, traditional career path, the learning curve is steep. But because of that, there's so much to learn in an incredibly dynamic field. Having somebody to mentor you brings it all together and takes it full circle,” Reilly said.

“It’s important to have someone in your court, someone who you trust and whose guidance and opinions you value. Someone who wants to not only see you succeed but to thrive. And mentors fill that role.”

Does your insurance company have a mentoring program? Share your experiences with mentoring below.

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