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False Positives: Avoiding Pitfalls in Your Diversity Hiring

A deep dive into barriers to recruiting black entry-level talent

There is a misperception that diversity initiatives are unnecessary in the actuarial profession. As the thinking goes, we are a pure meritocracy, where a blind examination system ensures that talent is the only barrier to entry. However, the recent spotlight on diversity has made it clear that we are not immune to diversity challenges, particularly around ethnicity. One need only look at the CAS membership trends1 to illustrate the issue.

On the following page, Figure 1 breaks down the proportion of CAS members by ethnicity and year. Each bar represents a year, and the proportion of each ethnicity for that year’s membership is indicated by different colors. The chart shows that from 2015 to 2018, the proportion of members who identify as white has increased from about 66% in 2015, to about 72% in 2018. During that time, membership has grown from just under 7,000 to over 8,300. In other words, we have become less diverse.

Some may argue that the membership statistics do not necessarily reflect strides made in the entry-level pipeline, where most diversity efforts are concentrated. In order to adequately assess the channel for entry-level hires, we would need to consider company hiring trends. This data is not available, but the closest proxy available is information about Exam P candidates.

In Figure 2 on the following page, the proportion of candidates who identify with each ethnicity are graphed by year. From 2012 to 2014, data provided by the SOA is used. Thereafter, the SOA ceased providing data to the CAS, therefore the numbers are compiled from self-reported CAS candidate data. As such, there is a lag between exam sitting and reporting in the post-2014 numbers. Despite this, the trend shows that the majority of students who take exams identify themselves as white or Asian. Admittedly, the trend also shows a slight increase in the proportion of non-white, non-Asian exam takers. But is a slight increase good enough?

With this in mind, it is a good time for your organization to evaluate whether your diversity strategy is aligned with best practices. The answers to the following three questions can help your organization determine if its diversity strategies are as effective as they could be.

  1. Do you focus on achievement or acumen?

There is a glut of actuarial entry-level talent. For every open position, most organizations typically receive dozens of resumes. The abundant supply has led many companies to use exams passed as the minimum threshold for resume review. Actuarial HR departments are routinely advised to seek only candidates with at least one and often two or more exams passed. As Figure 2 shows, however, this threshold is effectively limiting candidates to almost exclusively those who identify as white or Asian. Even if the exam pass rate for minority candidates were 100%, we would still expect that almost 90% of candidates who qualify using exam-only thresholds would be white or Asian. This gap in black and Hispanic/Latinx candidates taking exams was the subject of research conducted by the International Association of Black Actuaries (IABA), the CAS, the SOA and The Actuarial Foundation. Aimed at examining barriers to entry for black and Hispanic/Latinx candidates, the research found that lack of awareness was one of the main reasons we do not see more minority candidates in the pipeline.

 

 

So rather than the issue being that minority candidates are not passing exams or do not possess the necessary skills, the concern is that black and Hispanic/Latinx candidates do not find out about the profession until well after their white and Asian counterparts have started taking exams.

For this reason, your organization might consider creating metrics that are geared towards identifying acumen and potential, rather than relying solely on exam progress for selecting candidates. After all, exam progress is not a foolproof way of ensuring that you hire a successful candidate. Many candidates fly through the exam process, but they do not necessarily make the best workers. Similarly, many candidates struggle to pass exams but are very effective actuarial workers.

What can your organization do to combat the “exams passed” bias?

Some companies have adopted a two-pronged threshold, where instead of relying just on exams, the selection criteria can be exams and a combination of grade point average, course work and major field of study. This would ensure candidates still have the adequate background to handle actuarial work, while also relaxing the exam requirement.

  1. Where are you looking for talent?

The “feeder school” phenomenon is alive and well in all industries, the actuarial profession included. Organizations typically have schools where they do the bulk of their recruiting, based on alumni concentration or prior favorable experiences. Using only feeder schools, however, actually creates concentration risk and could derail your diversity strategy. Black students often do not attend the schools from which organizations are used to recruiting — another effect of the late awareness. This is illustrated in Figure 3.

In Figure 3, we see the divergence between the most common schools for CAS members versus those for IABA scholarship recipients.3 Specifically, the CAS Membership chart shows the top schools for CAS members, with those in orange indicating schools that are also highly represented in IABA membership. Only the University of Wisconsin and Ohio State University appear on both lists. Waterloo and Laval, the two largest feeder schools for CAS membership, have fewer than five black CAS members among their alumni. This statistic may seem alarming, but it may be more indicative of a lower percentage of black students attending those Canadian universities. Figure 3’s silver lining could be that IABA scholarships are bringing more awareness of the actuarial profession to the schools that are not the usual feeder schools for future actuaries.

On the IABA chart, we see that the majority of IABA scholarship winners (Unique) come from schools where they are the only IABA scholarship recipients and, often the sole black actuarial candidates. This indicates that diverse candidates often do not attend actuarial schools and may even discover the profession while attending a school that does not have any actuarial presence at all. In order to find such candidates, organizations will have to venture out of the comfort zone of actuarial feeder schools. This can be done in a variety of ways, one of which is sending representatives to the IABA Annual Meeting (more on this later), where a career fair affords sponsorship companies the opportunity to recruit candidates.

  1. How does your company provide support?

Most companies will naturally focus on backing initiatives that have a direct, causal relationship with advancing their diversity representation. With a landscape where less than 1% of our profession is black, however, it makes sense for organizations to consider supporting the general pipeline in addition to hiring trends. For example, what representation does your company have at the IABA Annual Meeting? As mentioned previously, the meeting is a unique opportunity to recruit top diverse talent. But there are many other benefits to having a presence at the meetings. Anecdotal evidence suggests many organizations are struggling with retention of black actuaries. The “Barriers to Entry” research suggests that lacking a support system could result in higher attrition rates for black and Hispanic/Latinx candidates. One way to provide the support system that your diverse candidates need is to get involved in the IABA Annual Meeting, scheduled for July 30 through August 1 in Philadelphia.

Figure 3’s silver lining could be that IABA scholarships are bringing more awareness of the actuarial profession to the schools that are not the usual feeder schools for future actuaries.

 

In addition to its annual meeting, IABA has many programs that seek to increase the number of black actuaries. These include the scholarship and boot camp programs that have had a meaningful impact on exam progress for black candidates, as shown in Figure 4 on the following page.

The boxplots show IABA members who were awarded scholarships or
selected for boot camp participation (marked by “Yes” on the Treatment
scale) versus those who were not (marked by “No” on the Treatment
scale).

Figure 4 represents the results of an assessment that IABA made of the scholarship and boot camp programs covering 2012-2017. Completed in July 2019, the evaluation compares the number of exams passed by IABA Scholarship recipients or Boot Camp attendees or both (Treatment Yes) with those who did not participate in either program (Treatment No). Scholarship recipients and boot camp attendees passed a significantly higher number of exams than those who did not participate in the programs (median of three exams versus one, respectively).

It is impossible to know if those who were part of the programs would have passed as many exams without participating. The control group, however, was chosen to have as many similar characteristics to the programs’ participants as possible (gender, school, residency), such that the two groups are roughly comparable.

If your organization is willing to support the scholarship program, you may have access to talent with a high likelihood for success — another finding of the study was that 75% of scholarship recipients end up achieving at least an ACAS or ASA during their careers. Note that access to scholarship recipients and boot camp participants is available to companies who join IABA’s Corporate Advisory Council (CAC), a funding group made up of corporate sponsors that counsels IABA with ideas, strategies and feedback. CAC also helps other member corporations develop strategies to retain, develop and advance their minority talent.

Visa sponsorship is yet another consideration. There is no denying that diverse talent often requires employment sponsorship. For some organizations, this is a no-go area because of company-wide restrictions. For others, a case-by-case evaluation is made. Others still have sponsorship-blind recruitment. Regardless of where on this spectrum an organization falls, it is important to consider the impact that a company’s stance on visa sponsorship will have on its diversity recruiting goals.

Not a Needle-in-the-Haystack Proposition

The process of recruiting diverse talent can seem daunting, but it is really quite simple. Make some strategic moves in your recruitment methods and you can find yourself making strides towards achieving your diversity goals. If enough organizations employ these approaches, we can become a profession that better reflects the society in which we operate.

For more information on IABA and quick links to its 2019 Annual Meeting sessions, visit https://www.blackactuaries.org/mpage/2019AnnualMeeting.


Kudakwashe F. Chibanda, FCAS, is director, data science for The Hartford in New York City. She currently serves on the CAS Board of Directors.


1 Data compiled from CAS Annual Reports.

2 Data compiled from statistics provided to the CAS by the SOA for the period up to and including 2014. Subsequently, candidates self-report data to the CAS, usually when seeking to take the Course on Professionalism or attain membership.

3 Figures for Top 10 CAS Members were provided by the CAS Office. Those for Top 10 Schools for IABA Scholarship recipients were compiled from the detailed list of scholarship recipients since 2000, https://cdn.ymaws.com/www.blackactuaries.org/resource/resmgr/docs/programs&events/scholarships/iaba_scholars.pdf. Repeat recipients  were only counted once.

4 Taken from the Assessment of IABA’s Scholarship & Boot Camp Programs: An Empirical Analysis.

Portrait of an IABA Scholarship Recipient

Efua Mantey differs from many International Association of Black Actuaries (IABA) members in that she had heard about actuarial science prior to applying to colleges. Further distinguishing her from many of her IABA peers, she was fortunate to have a parent who was familiar with the profession — someone who could answer her myriad questions.  Drawn to how the actuarial profession applies mathematical principles to solve real-life problems, Mantey set out on her path to become a credentialed actuary.

Originally from the West African nation of Ghana, she describes her fellow Ghanaians as hospitable and loving. Mantey, whose first name means Friday in Fante, one of the many local Ghanaian languages, loves cooking and singing and spending quality time with her family and 17-month-old daughter. Ghana’s warm climate, rarely getting colder than 70 Fahrenheit, differs considerably from her current home in Boston, Massachusetts, where she has worked at Liberty Mutual Insurance in predictive modeling for the past seven years. She is currently a senior actuarial analyst.

She stumbled upon the IABA when researching scholarships as she prepared to enter graduate school at Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana. Winning the IABA Scholarship in 2012 allowed her to attend the IABA Annual Meeting for the first time. The experience afforded her the opportunity to meet and interact with other people in the same field.

“The connections I made at my first IABA Annual Meeting and subsequent meetings have served as a strong support base that has cheered me on when I passed difficult actuarial exams,” said Mantey. Her connections “cried with me when I had to retake exams and encouraged me through challenging work experiences,” she explained. Mantey feels the network that IABA provided helped build a crucial foundation of support. “It’s very easy to feel like the only black actuary at work, so it’s nice to connect with other people just like me.”

Although it’s been several years since Mantey received the IABA Scholarship, she continues to attend IABA Annual Meetings. She earned her ACAS designation in 2017 and has been serving as a volunteer with IABA since her scholarship award. She has since shifted from leader of the IABA Newsletter Committee to her current role as co-leader of the IABA Boston City Affiliate.

 

Get Involved with OLA!

The Organization of Latino Actuaries (OLA) is looking for volunteers who can help Latinx actuarial candidates make their way through the job search process. OLA candidates are eager to connect with actuaries and actuarial students, and they are grateful for any help you can provide.

This year the organization launches the OLA Academy, a webinar series on the various aspects of searching for actuarial jobs. OLA needs volunteers to review resumes and conduct mock interviews. Volunteers will be matched with two participants a month from March to August, based on volunteers’ availability. Those available for only a month or two are also encouraged to sign up.

OLA’s mission is to increase the number of Latinx actuaries by promoting the profession, providing guidance, mentorship and networking opportunities. To volunteer for the OLA Academy, submit an online form at https://form.jotform.com/200536962658160.  Questions can be sent to LatinoActuaries@gmail.com.