Building a Diversity and Inclusion Strategy in Three Steps
By Shazia Hussain | Published August 10, 2020
With social injustice and systemic racism dominating hashtags and headlines, the topic of diversity has been pushed to the forefront for many companies, including Newfront. Although efforts to develop our Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) strategy began prior to the killing of George Floyd, the event that sparked national protests for social reform, we know the importance of having a strategy in place in times of crisis and always. We have formalized our D&I strategy in writing, which was shared with the team in June and will be added to our website soon. Below we’ve broken out 3 simplified steps explaining how we built our strategy from scratch.
Step 1 - Define what “diversity” and “inclusion” mean for us.
For our team at Newfront, diversity refers to our variety, our set of differences. Decades of compelling research has shown diverse teams make better decisions, innovate more, and produce more. Inclusion refers to a sense of belonging, a human need now more than ever. Fostering an inclusive culture allows our team to feel safe to share their opinions and bring their whole, authentic selves to work. We believe that diversity simply cannot exist without inclusion.
Step 2 - Engage the team
The next step to developing our strategy was sending a simple, two question survey to all employees asking:
What is the most important value as it relates to inclusion?
What is one thing Newfront could do to improve diversity and inclusion?
We wanted to make sure our statement and strategy was a reflection of the team’s values and opinions. What we found was quite interesting. The responses to question #1 were consistent, our team overwhelmingly felt that “respect” was key to inclusion. The answers to question #2 were surprisingly varied, with the answers spread across a spectrum. At Newfront, our team is a mixed bag of expertise, industries, experiences, and perspectives. So, how is Newfront doing in terms of diversity? Depends on who you ask.
Step 3 - Identify key building blocks tailored to the team’s unique needs
Because Newfront is a hybrid of insurance, tech, and brilliant operators, we knew our approach needed to be uniquely tailored just for us. We compared the survey results with our initial definitions for diversity and inclusion and decided that the building blocks for our D&I strategy would be: education, culture, and process.
Education is essential to getting the team aligned on a shared vocabulary. Culture is already such a huge asset and focus at Newfront, but we needed to re-examine it through the D&I lens to keep it relevant and impactful. As with all good business initiatives, they only take on life when they are stitched into the processes and policies of the company. Here is how each of those three concepts look in our org.
EDUCATION - We are focused on deepening our understanding of cultural differences and improving the way we communicate. We accomplish this through monthly workshops, a monthly D&I speaker series with leaders in the D&I field, and a group of D&I book clubs where we can safely learn together and foster discussions on these complex topics. By educating ourselves, we grow together both personally and professionally. Insurance is all about relationships and we hope to equip ourselves with the tools to nurture all relationships, in and out of the office. Our ambition is to replace, “I don’t agree with you,” with, “Can you help me understand that better?”
CULTURE - One of our brokers referred to walking into our office as, “a shot of adrenaline.” Anyone who has visited our office can understand that sentiment. As you walk in, you’ll be welcomed by a smile, assisted immediately and most likely greeted by every Newfronter you encounter. We really like to make sure everyone feels included. We’ve extended this approach to inclusion, which we see as making our own employees feel welcome every day. We’ve added D&I goals to our company objectives, and each executive is committing to their own D&I initiatives to fit their team and support the overall D&I vision. From adding a D&I speaker to our Broker Summit, to launching fireside chats with employees from underrepresented groups, our leaders are getting creative with their mission. We’ve also empowered our employees with the option to set time aside to work on D&I projects each week. D&I is not an extracurricular at Newfront, it’s essential to cultivating a safe, inspiring, and engaging work environment where we can do the best work of our careers.
PROCESS - One of our company values is “Question Dogma,” which was instrumental in the way we thought about D&I strategy. We questioned our current business practices, and asked how we could optimize for D&I. By doing so, we updated numerous company policies and practices, such as developing and implementing inclusive meeting practices, building D&I into our performance model, including Juneteenth as a company recognized holiday, adding D&I questions to our monthly culture survey, giving the team two days per year to engage in civic action, and more.
Creating a D&I statement and strategy may seem daunting, as there are so many components to consider - reviewing an entire company’s processes, optimizing handbooks and policies, and much more. We found the best way to form a strong, powerful strategy that transforms our company was to involve our team in the development. Our goal at Newfront is to develop common vocabulary around diversity and inclusion. The first step, in our opinion, is to get the conversation started, stay open minded, and get ready to get uncomfortable. Change can only happen by getting out of our comfort zone, and we plan to get very comfortable with being uncomfortable. We are excited for our D&I journey and what it will bring to the team and we know our strategy will continue evolving as we do.
Shazia is the People Generalist at Newfront, who joined back in September 2018 as the first person on our People team. Her educational background is in Industrial/Organizational Psychology and Ergonomics and comes with years of experience working with tech startups. She led Newfront's Diversity and Inclusion initiatives and continues focusing on developing different aspects of the organization. Shazia is committed to a people first approach, making sure employees feel heard, respected and valued.