In this space in February, in a column titled "Gender Gap Still Too Wide," I talked, among other things, about a New York Times article adorned with cameo pictures of all 43 presidents of the United States identified only as "white male." I focused on the "male" side of that equation and decried the persistent gender gap in the insurance business.
I didn't get into it then, but the article under that graphic didn't just talk only about Hillary Clinton and the gender issue. It was also about the continuing racial divide in American life, about Barack Obama and the "white" side of that equation.
As is the case with women in our society, precious few blacks, Hispanics and Asians have risen to the very top. Take public life. There was Martin Luther King Jr., Adam Clayton Powell, Edward Brook, Shirley Chisholm and Barbara Jordan (both former congresswomen), U.S. Rep. Charlie Rangell, Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, Gen. Colin Powell and Bill Richardson, to name a few, who earned their way into prominent leadership roles. But none made it to the top.
In business, it's even starker. How many blacks, Asians and Hispanics do you find at major insurance industry gatherings? Few, I'm sure you would agree, despite the fact the latter two groups are the fastest growing in the United States. As with women, there's no arguing that their presence is greater than ever, but it's still woefully lacking. Why so?
Off the top of my head, I can only think of two foreign-born chief executives in the insurance business: India-born Ramani Ayer of The Hartford and Irish-born Ed Kelly of Liberty Mutual, who nonetheless falls into the "white male" category.
The National Insurance Industry Association, which has been around since 1973, aims to promote the advancement of minority professionals within the industry and to provide a forum for the exchange of ideas and information among those minorities. But few have even heard of it. Not to belittle it, but it's hardly a powerhouse group, and its members are hardly powerful players.
Hall of Fame baseball player Joe Morgan brought to our attention last season that the numbers of black ballplayers in the major leagues has fallen off drastically. Why so, we ask? Lack of interest? Poor scouting?
We could ask the same about minorities and the insurance business. Are blacks and Hispanics and Asians simply not drawn to it? Is the business doing a poor job of recruiting these people?
If it's the latter, it's all the more difficult to comprehend. Ask a group of insurance CEOs what their main concerns of the day are, and two of three will cite the competition for talent. Granted, these minority groups, in total, don't approximate the numbers of women in our society, but why are they so neglected?
Footnote: One of my colleagues, fellow Risk & Insurance® columnist Peter Rousmaniere, has this to add to some comments I made about Eliot Spitzer in my last column, which was really about Hank Greenberg.
"My reading of Spitzer is that he reads his cards well to determine when to up the bid and when to fold," Peter wrote me. "And I suspect he developed this risk management aptitude well before AIG fell into his range of fire. As for AIG's abuses in not paying state fees for workers' comp, Spitzer cut a comparatively modest deal, and some of the detail work seems to have been superficial."
A well-done piece. Thanks, Peter. Besides the substantive input, this proves we actually read one another's stuff. We can only hope others do too.
THOMAS J. SLATTERY is an independent insurance journalist and a regular contributor to this magazine. He is managing director of Slattery-Esterkamp Communications, Baldwin, N.Y.
April 1, 2007
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