As the country’s population grows more diverse, large corporations know they must have a workforce that reflects that diversity. In an effort to meet that goal, insurance carriers, like Prudential and MetLife, are going back to college to scout and hire qualified candidates.
Since 2007, Prudential has partnered with Hampton University in Hampton, Va., on a business case competition. From that collaboration, Prudential has made eight hires from the university since 2008, according to Toni McDaniel, director of diversity recruiting for Prudential in Newark.
The firm has also launched an actuarial program in conjunction with Atlanta’s Spelman College. "We’re really excited about that because it’s a field where you don’t find many diverse individuals," McDaniel says. (Both Hampton and Spelman, a women’s college, are considered HBCUs, or historically black colleges and universities.)
In its college recruitment efforts, Prudential has shifted its approach a bit. Instead of targeting juniors and seniors for internships (and possible full-time future employment), it wants to tap students earlier in their college careers.
"We are actually starting to bring them onboard as freshman and sophomores," McDaniel says. "We want to get Prudential out there to younger, diverse individuals so when it does come time for them to accept a full-time position they will consider us."
Likewise, MetLife takes the college route in recruitment. Michael Vietri, executive vice president, individual distribution, for MetLife in New York City, says the firm has partnered with the American College to produce an annual Conference for African-American Financial Professionals, now in its sixth year.
"Six years ago, we had about 45 or 50 people there. This year we had close to 400," Vietri says.
Similar to Prudential, MetLife runs an internship program with the American College as well as Clark Atlanta University, a historically black college in Atlanta.
Beyond college campuses, Prudential and MetLife employ a multi-pronged approach to building a diverse workforce. Both have partnered with African-American professional organizations, such as the National Association of Black Accountants and the National Black MBA Association.
Prudential is present at job fairs and has used social media in its recruitment efforts as well.
MetLife, according to Vietri, also works closely with the Urban League and other community-based organizations. "As a company, that gives us an honest recruiting advantage," he says.
When there are job openings, Prudential requires that interviewees for the position include at least one person of color and one woman. The effort has paid off: Today, 12.4 percent of the company’s captive distribution sales force is African American compared to 7.7 percent in 2006. Except for a slight dip in 2009 when the recession curtailed hiring, the number has seen a steady increase every year.
Once hired, there are six in-house business resource groups to mentor individuals within the company, one of which is Prudential’s Black Leadership Forum, its largest employee support unit with more than 800 members. The group also aids in multicultural marketing efforts.
Such endeavors also assist in bringing candidates into the fold. Recently, one prospective hire was invited to the Black Leadership Forum Symposium. "It’s a big event, and many executives come from throughout the company," McDaniel Says. "This individual was invited to participate and after doing so the individual accepted the position." In addition, she adds that the company has made several hires as a result of its attendance at the national conference of the National Association of Black Accountants.
However, simply hiring from a diverse pool is not enough, Vietri says. Candidates must meet certain benchmarks so that they will prosper once in the company.
"We don’t compromise standards regardless of what color or ethnic background you come from," Vietri says. "We want everybody that comes in to be successful. When we turn over agents we hurt our clients, and we hurt the financials."
Yet the industry as a whole lags in having African-Americans in management positions. Last year, the GAO released a study on minority representation in the management ranks of the financial services industry. Between 2005 and 2008, African-Americans made up about 6.3 percent of the workforce in management positions, while white men and women held more than 80 percent of those jobs in the same period. In 2008, the percentage of African-Americans in senior level management positions stood at 2.8 percent, compared to 64 percent for white males.
Why it matters
Having a diverse workforce simply makes good business sense, McDaniel says. "We realize that having diverse representation will help us in the business that we do," she says. "It’s really important that we focus on building an organization that mirrors our community. So when we think about business, diversity truly contributes to the bottom line."
Vietri further notes that income levels in diverse communities are on the rise. Yet African-Americans, he points out, lack life insurance coverage.
"Like all markets we have the aging of African-Americans," Vietri relates. "With the wealth accumulation that they’ve developed from the worksite and their pensions, we’re now seeing more of them talking about transitioning that to income. So they’re going through the financial planning process."
Personnel within companies like MetLife that advise them must reflect the diverse markets they serve, Vietri adds. If not, the consequences could be dire.
"If you don’t get your leadership to recognize that you need to recruit from a diverse marketplace and represent the face of buyers, the way they think, and have products that they’re interested in and advisors who they have an affinity for and have a relationship with, then you’ll be out of business," he states.