Companies are only as strong as the people they employ — and organizations that support, empower and celebrate their employees are among the strongest. As more companies examine their policies around diversity and inclusion (D&I), it's important to understand why these terms are much more than checkboxes: they are pillars that support teams and offer a framework through which organizations can advance lasting change.
At Protective, we define diversity as "a collection of different identities, thinking and experiences that make a person who and what they are." We practice inclusion by adopting a company culture that embraces, respects, listens to and values all of our employees, allowing them to fully contribute and thrive. Simply put, our commitment to an inclusive culture is part of our DNA.
A study facilitated by Deloitte found that D&I contributes greatly to improved business performance. In fact, when surveyed employees felt that their companies were committed to and supportive of an innovative culture, they were six times more likely to be innovative and eight times more likely to achieve better business outcomes.
Though the impact that D&I can have on the workplace is clear, it can be difficult to know where to start, identify what opportunities might exist and who to solicit input from.
Prioritizing diversity and inclusion at Protective
As an HR professional for 13 years and a vice president and senior partner of Human Resources, Diversity and Inclusion Leader at Protective for seven, I can attest our journey to developing our thoughtful D&I strategy required a strong commitment, engagement and support from leadership. In a previous HR role, I was a one-person team handling affirmative action and diversity recruitment, but the company didn't have the support and resources that D&I work requires to succeed. Since leaving that role, I recognize the amount of intentional effort and hard work required for a strong, diverse and inclusive workplace.
A few years after I came to Protective, Rich Bielen came on board as CEO. One of the first things he committed to was advancing D&I — in both our workplace and in the communities where we live and work. Throughout our history, Protective has always been a values-driven culture, which includes doing the right thing, always. As part of this, we believe in valuing and embracing all types of difference, and over the past few years we have advanced a renewed and robust focus on D&I.
While we were dedicated to this space for quite some time, Rich's visible support provided the ability to focus on researching, strategizing and enacting meaningful D&I policies that were specific to our workplace culture.
A proactive step early on was forming the Diversity and Inclusion Advisory Committee, which leveraged employees from across the organization who were diverse in both background and experience. We wanted committee members that we could use as advocates to other members of their team, and who would welcome this appointment as a learning opportunity. Together, we worked on a three-year roadmap that proposed concrete goals that the organization could put into place, including a focus on current leadership, providing employees with inclusive and collaborative environments where they can thrive, and developing benchmarks for recruitment, development and retention of director-level positions and above.
Since forming the Advisory Committee in 2019, we have been able to achieve 80% of our original roadmap, all while offering quarterly updates and training to leadership so that they can understand why these actions should be prioritized. That's not to say that there haven't been setbacks — there are checks and balances that we have in place to make sure that we're not getting caught up in the minutiae, and there have been times that we've had to pivot or revisit a project to make sure that it's right for our company. We've come a long way, and the work is far from complete, but we are committed to this journey.
That said, there are many benefits to supporting and championing diversity and inclusion in the workplace — professionally, personally and morally.
Here are 5 benefits of D&I work for employees and their organizations to consider:
1. Achieving business objectives
A 2020 report by McKinsey found that ethnically and gender-diverse companies are likely to outperform competitors. We've found that by including diverse employees from all levels on the Advisory Committee, we're able to build agile and collaborative teams that are more likely to drive performance and business objectives.
2. Making an impact in your industry
A 2017 study from BCG found a relationship between corporate innovation and diverse teams — specifically, at companies with diverse management — team members were more comfortable speaking openly and developed innovative strategies that drove increased revenue and established industry leadership.
3. Attracting and retaining talent
A Yello and Harris Poll study found that 64% of job seekers consider diversity a major factor when considering companies. With millennials poised to become the majority of the workforce in 2025, their perspective matters and has reach. The Diversity and Inclusion Advisory Committee made the recruitment, development and retention of diverse candidates one of our tentpole efforts because we know how important it is for employees to feel welcomed, supported and valued at work.
4. Encouraging employee advocacy
Including employees in the decision-making and strategy processes that go into crafting effective D&I policies is essential. The Advisory Committee has made it a point to offer rotating seats at the table to any employee that expresses an interest in continuing this work and engaging with their peers. Not only does this model facilitate fresh perspectives but it allows people from different parts of our organization to advocate for themselves and their coworkers based on their real-world experience.
5. Creating inclusive communities
D&I are not just corporate buzzwords: They're a state of mind that we should be considering in all areas of our lives. Engaging with the community where your organization is based shows that the practices you put into place at work also extend to creating an inclusive environment and the continued allyship we should foster as neighbors and members of our communities.
Protective recognizes that we have a responsibility to do more through partnering and providing financial support to underserved and underrepresented communities. We are committed to being a steward of growth and opportunity.
Beyond the facts and figures, the work we do to champion diversity and inclusion allows us to understand and celebrate the differences in each other and form a community that seeks to understand those differences and is committed to challenging bias, together.
Martina Winston is Vice President and Senior HR Partner and Diversity and Inclusion Leader at Protective.