Last week, Goldman Sachs and MetLife announced that they plan to publicly disclose the gender and racial breakdowns of their staffs later this year.
The move is coming after some hounding by New York City’s public pension funds, which hold large stakes in MetLife and Goldman Sachs. The pension fund heads want the data, they say, because diversity leads to better company performance, which leads to better shareholder returns.
I applaud both MetLife and Goldman Sachs for agreeing to release their data. (Omnicom, a giant of the advertising world — an industry with its own diversity and gender issues; see, for example, “Mad Men” — refused.) But I had to wonder: what difference will it make?
It’s already well-known that the insurance industry is largely white and mostly male. While minorities and women have made a few inroads, they’re still the exception to the rule, novelties trotted out by companies when they want to prove that, ahem, actually, they don’t have a diversity problem. (If I ate pizza for every meal, every single day, except Tuesdays, would that mean I don’t have a pizza problem?)
It’s also hard to believe the data release will mean anything significant to shareholders. Most investors are able to get over, say, the fact that companies like BP and Exxon are generating huge returns by trampling our environment. I’m sure they’ll recover from the news that these historically white, male insurance and finance companies they’ve invested in are — gasp! — still white and male.
If the pension funds wanted the data to make a real impact, they’d insist that ages be disclosed as well. Don’t get me wrong. I’m a fan of equal employment opportunities. But the real white problem insurance companies have is that there’s too much of it on their executives’ heads.
We’ve written lots about the aging insurance workforce and the fact that young people just aren’t interested in the field today. Among the few who do enter the industry, most will fail. There’s a real chance that, if that doesn’t change, there won’t be anyone — female or male, white or otherwise — to take over for those insurance company execs once they retire.
There’s a bright side to this whole situation though. Because merely by stepping up recruiting efforts and mentoring programs for young people, the insurance companies will likely solve their diversity problems in the process. More women graduate from college these days than men, and campuses continue to become more racially and ethnically diverse.
If insurance companies do it right, they’ll wind up with not only an educated, young workforce to replace their aging one, but also a diverse mix of staffers better able to serve an increasingly heterogeneous America.
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