The Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center dangles like a giant glass prism on the banks of the Potomac River across from Alexandria Va. in National Harbor Maryland. National Harbor, just south of Washington D.C., seems to be the perfect home for the behemoth; the yet to be finished waterfront development, consisting of convention centers, hotels, shopping and restaurants seems to be being built almost exclusively for conferences such as GAMA International’s LAMP, in the same utilitarian fashion that Brasilia was constructed to be Brazil’s national capital.
GAMA International supports the professional development of field leaders in the insurance and financial services industries. LAMP, GAMA’s annual conference, gives field leaders a chance to gather with peers and attend educational sessions on field management trends and techniques.
Walking into the Gaylord can even tilt someone from the New York metropolitan area’s head back and chin up in awe of its sheer size. With its 19 story, ascending glass atrium with over 2,000 guest rooms and over 470,000 square feet of meeting space, the place can envelop you.
However, it was not the Gaylord that was the most interesting aspect of walking into the conference but rather the wide array of people that the conference was comprised of. In a feature article that I wrote in October of last year entitled Color Blind, I looked into the different diversity programs that insurance companies were offering to foster synergy in the ever-changing demographic of the country. What I found was that many companies were involved in diversity programs to both broaden the scope of their workforce and to reach out to different groups.
That insurance companies were involved in diversity programs was not a surprise. Hell, at this point in our evolving recognition of the importance of variegation I would not be surprised if diversity programs had diversity programs. I was even less surprised that companies would be willing to talk to the press in order to tout their diversity credentials. What did surprise me was the mosaic of people throughout the industry that were gathered for the conference.
In what has often been derided as an “old white man’s game” the industry seems to have organized some new players. Though the contingent of older white men was on the field as well as on the bench, they were in no way outnumbering the rest. Mind you, this was not some carefully calibrated event designed to show a member of the press how the game has changed. It was not a meeting of the National Association of Insurance Women or a conference for the National African-American Insurance Association or any other similar group for that matter. This was an authentic meeting of professionals to talk about leadership and the issues facing the industry. The conference attendees served as a tangible sample of who comprises the industry and a sharp barometer of how things have changed.
My eyes had already debunked the “white man’s game” section of the myth and it was fully extinguished with the overwhelming presence of an excited and eager youth. Leaders of Today and Tomorrow (LoTT), a GAMA coined demographic that pertains to people in their first five years of management or under the age of 40 were there in huge numbers. Youth was quite visible at the conference everywhere I looked. The amount of young men and women (a lot of them millennials) admittedly, caught me off guard. It could have been the group’s youthful enthusiasm or sheer volume, but they stood out more than any other group that I saw at the conference.
After my Color Blind article I was still skeptical as to whether or not this was the high tide that would usher the sea change into the industry. I was well aware that change was going to and had to take place but I was cynical as to whether enough energy was devoted to it with balance sheets diminishing and regulatory overhauls bobbing on the water. I could have met with dozens of other companies, I could have flipped through pages and pages of diversity outreach literature from communications departments industry wide; I am not sure that would have relieved my skepticism. What I witnessed first-hand at the LAMP conference was an organic and seemingly seamless change that has without question been helped by diversity programs but is no way due to them. The “old white man’s game” seems to be over.