Lifting Diverse Voices

Dec 2, 2022

[IMPACT+: This series features IMPACT posts that take a longer look at vital topics. A version of this article appeared on LinkedIn.]

I had the privilege of sharing the stage with leading women in the insurance industry at the 2022 Annual Conference of the International Association of Insurance Supervisors

Let us take a moment to recognize all the progress that has been made since this distinguished panel started our careers. At the time I started, a breakout session on women’s issues would have constituted three to four of us in a corner of the main ballroom, talking to ourselves. At the IAIS conference, we had a room of 100 or more that included women and men, all paying close attention. 

All the panelists have attained top leadership positions. That means we have the influence – and responsibility – to help our organizations evolve and lift all voices regardless of race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or gender. 

There is still much progress to be made, but sometimes I find sharing tangible examples can be helpful for those who are looking to take some steps in their own organizations. 

One example is a program that we created at ACLI called the Forum for Fearless Conversations. The Forum was first convened after our country watched the horrible image of George Floyd being murdered. We were all in shock, and members of the ACLI team suggested we have a courageous conversation via Zoom where interested staff could share their reactions and grapple with their emotions. 

This evolved into monthly, now quarterly, gatherings to have difficult conversations about race and social injustices. A special committee of ACLI staff from all functions and professional experience levels plans the topics and helps set up the discussions, sometimes with the help of an outside subject matter expert. Participation from the whole organization is voluntary. All views are encouraged. No judgment is passed.   

Over two years later, the Forum is flourishing, and diversity continues to be a top priority. In May 2021, the Forum focused on women and minorities when Virginia Ali, co-founder of the historic Ben’s Chili Bowl in Washington D.C. spoke to staff about her family’s journey. As a small business owner, Mrs. Ali has deep ties to the community. Through her partnership with her husband, they started their historic business with $5,000 in 1958. Ben’s is still an iconic institution in D.C. that is famous all over the country, frequented by locals as well as celebrities and former presidents. More than 60 years later, it’s still going strong. How amazing it was for the Forum to celebrate the power of strong female leadership.

These meetings continue to provide a unique opportunity for staff to share experiences, ideas and discuss positive solutions related to diversity, equity, and inclusion. We have maintained a 64 percent ACLI employee voluntary participation rate. It has become a critical program to reinforce that all views matter. I believe this carries over to our work and encourages all members of a team working on ACLI’s priorities to share their ideas.  

The diversity of opinions leads to stronger outcomes. The Forum is one of numerous ways ACLI works to advance understanding. And it’s how those of us who have the standing that comes with earned leadership positions can use our influence to foster cultures of belonging and inclusivity.

Susan K. Neely

Susan K. Neely is the President and CEO of the American Council of Life Insurers (ACLI), the nation’s leading trade association determined to help families live better lives by achieving financial security and certainty. As president and CEO, Neely drives public policy and advocacy on behalf of ACLI’s member companies that represent 93 percent of industry assets and serve 90 million families.