Some of you may recognize that headline as a line from the Will Ferrell comedy “Anchorman.” In the scene, Ferrell’s character, Ron Burgundy, when asked what “diversity” is, responds, “Well, I could be wrong, but I believe diversity is an old, old wooden ship that was used during the Civil War era.”
The movie centers around a male-dominated news station in the ’70s. Burgundy’s response was merely illustrating his ignorance toward women in the workforce. At that time, diversity could have well been an old, old wooden ship.
But things have changed, and changed for the better. It would be safe to say, whether it’s embraced or not, that just about everyone in the workforce today – thankfully – knows what diversity is. And many companies are aware of the benefits, especially New York Life Insurance.
For the fourth year in a row, the company has been named one of 2014’s Best Companies for Multicultural Women by Working Mother magazine – an honor that recognizes the 25 U.S. corporations that create and use best practices in hiring, retaining and promoting women of color.
New York Life honors and encourages diversity through hiring practices and initiatives. In fact, in 2011, multicultural women represented 20 percent of the company’s 9,153 employees and 10 percent of senior managers. And that same year, 75 percent of the managers at New York Life received training that helped them to better address diversity issues. The company also hosts the Executive Women Officers Summit with a mission to explore ways to “accelerate the advancement of female executive officers, from increasing the availability of events that foster collaboration between women in different functions to adopting techniques that make for better management of their careers,” according to the company’s website.
New York Life isn’t the only company within the insurance industry to share the diversity accolades. Allstate, AXA Equitable, State Farm and WellPoint all landed a spot on the top 25 list. For AXA, women fill more than 40 percent of all positions at the officer level and above. And at WellPoint, diverse women compromise 25 percent of the company’s workforce and many hold influential positions (six are vice presidents).
In the broader business spectrum, women of color have gained prominence across most other industries, including finance, hospitality, communications and retail. And improvements were made over last year. Multicultural women represent 9 percent of executives who report directly to the CEO, compared to 5 percent last year. Further, multicultural women make up 12 percent of the top 25 companies’ top earners (defined as those among the top 20 percent of earners at the company). Last year, the number was 10 percent.
But is there really great meaning to these awards, or is their announcement just a reminder that we still have so far to go? Success in diversity will be defined by the day we no longer have to celebrate such milestones, but instead, consider them part of the norm. Even so, receiving an award as one of the “Best Companies for Multicultural Women” is still an honor, especially in the male-dominated industry of insurance. One day, however, I foresee simply a “Best Company” award, honoring employee benefits, pay and a challenging work environment, regardless of gender or race. The issue of diversity in the workforce would be just as antiquated as that old, old wooden ship.