Tensions are “running high” in America, according to Link US co-chair Charles Walter.
In May, carrier State Farm bowed to pressure from campaigners and pulled out of a partnership to distribute books designed to educate children on gender identity issues.
Read more: State Farm controversy – learning from a DE&I misfire
“We’re disappointed in State Farm for ending their partnership with GenderCool,” Walter told Insurance Business.
“That was a situation of putting profit over people, and leaning into unfounded fears. Link wholeheartedly stands with the transgender and the nonbinary community, it was very disheartening to hear another story about a big company putting profit over people.”
Across the US, nearly 240 anti-LGBT bills had been by filed March 20, 2022, a record number. This is according to an NBC report, which said that around half targeted transgender people.
Walter flagged Florida’s ‘Don’t say gay’ bill, and the upcoming Supreme Court Roe v Wade decision, as examples of legislation that are putting pressure on LGBTQ+ individuals.
Roe v Wade focuses on abortion access, but some campaigners have also cautioned that if it is repealed there may be wider ramifications for the LGBTQ+ community in some states.
When Disney publicly opposed the Florida bill, which forbids schools from instructing young children on gender identity and sexual orientation issues, it was reportedly threatened with losing its theme park’s self-governing status.
There are mounting fears that other companies may face challenges if they push back on legislation around DE&I issues.
“Executives in and out of insurance are running into challenges when it comes to navigating charged topics, which I’m concerned could have a top-down effect,” Walter said.
“Link USA is concerned that DE&I councils might be quieted, or LGBTQ individuals working in insurance might take pause from coming out or living authentically within the workplace.”
This could have a “damaging ripple effect” that could see qualified individuals exit the industry, according to Walter.
Network Link’s mission is to “help make the insurance industry the employer of choice for the LGBTQ community”.
This, as Walter said, may be a “lofty goal”, but the founders of the US fledgling network said they are confident that they can make an impact.
“Insurance is often referred to as an industry [made up] of a bunch of 50-year-old white men, very limited in its diversity,” said Link co-chair Chris Reilly.
Part of the mission will be changing perceptions of insurance to bring it into line with newer industries that don’t have that “legacy”.
Both co-chairs work at Amwins, and they said that from their insurance experiences in Los Angeles and New York there can be “great diversity” – but there are “other areas where that conservative, white businessman mentality still exists,” according to Reilly.
Link is concerned that LGBQT+ issues may be being left behind in insurance firms’ DE&I drives, as businesses focus on improving in other areas, such as representation and inclusion of women and ethnic minority staff.
McKinsey warned in 2020 that a growing business case for inclusion across sectors had not translated into “solid gains for the LGBTQ+ community within the workplace itself”, with trans employees and LGBTQ+ women in particular facing obstacles.
Reilly said: “We understand and we respect each company’s decision to take a responsible path to diversity, equality and inclusion, but hopefully Link USA will be able to help accelerate that change and help really let the LGBT community know that it is safe, that the industry is changing, that they should feel confident and comfortable in coming out in the workplace, that they will be supported.”
This progress, Reilly said, will come through a “change in mindset” from the top down.
“Sometimes you’ve got half the c-suite that is all in favor and the others that just are hard to change,” said Reilly.
“You’ve got managers at mid-level or senior-level positions that are hard to change [in terms of mindset] and it’s interesting from one office to another, even in one company, how it can be so different. It’s a work in progress.”
For Walter, who said he is concerned that enthusiasm for DE&I could “wane over the coming years”, there are tasks that insurance businesses should now be doing to “step up” their efforts.
The first is to make a pledge that DE&I extends to “all parts” of companies, including the c-suite. The second is to provide awareness education, through unconscious bias and automatic association training.
The third, is avoiding that “profit over people” mentality.
Grassroots organisation Link US currently has around a 240 strong member base, which is steadily growing, according to the co-chairs. The network is an offshoot of the more established UK version, which was formed in 2012.
It first launched in December, with its California chapter, and its New York City chapter, opened last month.
The network has ambitions to roll out in Chicago next, and then Dallas. People from Florida, San Francisco and Seattle have also expressed interest in helping build out the group, Reilly said.
The network intends to set up regional councils that can organise events within the regions. It will maintain a national board.
“It’s a big task, because there’s a lot of ground to cover in the United States versus the UK,” said Reilly.
Link also has plans to host online roundtables to share best practices with HR and DE&I professionals on what is and is not working for LGBTQ+ colleagues.
The current member split is roughly 70% members of the LGBTQ+ community and 30% allies.
“As we open up these in person chapters, we know the membership is going to grow,” Reilly said.
Reilly and Walter urged interested parties in the insurance community to get involved and sign up, which they can do through the network’s LinkedIn page.