Canadian Underwriter

Diversity, equity and inclusion: Asking the ‘uncomfortable’ questions

October 22, 2021   by Greg Meckbach

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If you think it’s a challenge to improve diversity at your brokerage, you should also view it as an opportunity, Ontario brokers heard Wednesday at the Insurance Brokers Association of Ontario convention.

Many brokerages are family-operated, Gore Mutual chief people officer Sonia Boyle observed Wednesday during a panel at the IBAO Annual Convention.

As a result, Boyle suggested, diversity may not be as easy to achieve because sometimes those brokerages do not expand beyond the family members who control the brokerages.

Boyle was moderating a panel called A Business Case for DEI (Diversity, Equity and Inclusion). Boyle asked a panelist for advice on what family-owned brokerages can do to support diversity initiatives.

“That is one challenge that I think every organization will tell you that they are facing,” said Dahabo Ahmed-Omer, executive director for BlackNorth Initiative, which was formed in 2020 by Canadian Council of Business Leaders Against Anti-Black Systemic Racism.

Ahmed-Omer offered examples of different reasons, depending on an organization, as to why they are not more diverse.

“‘There are no vacancies. We can’t find Black talent. We are not too sure the expertise is there.’ There are so many ‘why nots,’ but I think there is only reason why you should: The opportunities are so much greater when you do,” Ahmed-Omer said.

“It’s incredible when you are able to look at the state that your businesses are in right now and say, ‘Where am I trying to go? What is this business doing? Who is it serving?’ And when you are able to answer those questions in an equitable way and you are able to ask yourselves the questions that are going to be really difficult to answer and are going to make you uncomfortable, but ultimately are going to get you to that path of fairness then you will start to see opportunities. These challenges have to be turned into opportunities.”

One of those opportunities could be the skills sets from international students, suggested Nicole Abraham-Burrell, broker relations director at Mississauga-based carrier Unica Insurance.

Brokerages seeking to improve their inclusiveness could look for new employees at career fairs, Abraham-Burrell suggested, adding Ontario brokers are “very lucky” that the University of Toronto is so culturally diverse.

“They are able to take the most international students, spread amongst all three of their campuses and also you can attract the talent, the different business knowledge and the different experience that can come from those international students. So I cannot stress enough that the technology is here to reach this new talent.”

The third panelist, Keri Fraser, was asked whether brokerages in rural communities should be thinking about DEI differently from brokerages in large cities.

“Diversity is everywhere. We are not always going to see diversity but it does not mean diversity does not exist. We don’t always see mental illness or sexual orientation or gender identity or economic background,” said Fraser, chief people officer at Westland Insurance Group.

“Those are in every community and people care just as much in rural communities just as much as they do in urban centres.”