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Volunteers Make Things Happen: Galvanizing Efforts to Advance Inclusion, Equity and Diversity

With 2020 coming to a close, the CAS celebrates the efforts of all its volunteers. In this issue, we train the spotlight on a committee that thrives on the spirit of collaboration: The Joint CAS/SOA Committee for Inclusion, Equity and Diversity.

As with the world at large, 2020 has been a watershed year for social consciousness within the actuarial field as a groundswell of advocates and allies are banded together now more than ever in pursuit of equality, equity and diversity within the profession.

Yet this culmination of tremendous dedication and volunteer efforts has been years in the making. Mallika Bender, FCAS, is devoted to leveling the playing field for underrepresented minorities in the actuarial profession. She became involved in the CAS Diversity Committee in 2015 and started leading it in 2017. In 2018, the CAS, SOA and the International Association of Black Actuaries (IABA) sponsored a joint groundbreaking study about diversity and inclusion that raised greater awareness of disparities in the actuarial field and the barriers impeding more Black, Latinx[1] and other minorities from entering the profession.

“The more and more we worked with the SOA, the more we realized that we should be working together officially because we were trying to solve the same problems,” Bender explains of the establishment of the Joint CAS/SOA Committee for Inclusion, Equity and Diversity (JCIED) in 2019. The JCIED combines three different committees across the CAS and the SOA and includes representatives of the CAS, SOA, IABA, Organization of Latino Actuaries (OLA), The Actuarial Foundation and the newly formed Sexuality and Gender Alliance of Actuaries (SAGAA). Taking on the role of co-chair of the JCIED, Bender works to amplify the combined work of committees and stakeholder organizations as well as galvanize fellow leaders in support of underrepresented minorities at various stages of entry into the field.

Breaking barriers to the profession

Bender’s own story epitomizes many of the prohibitive hurdles that work against infusing the actuarial field with greater diversity and illustrates her passion and willingness to devote so much of her time to the JCIED. “I am South Asian, and I had never heard of the profession,” she reflects. “I studied math and enjoyed it so during my senior year that I bought a book about careers for math majors and started looking at it alphabetically: accountants, actuaries ….” The practical outcomes and business applications of the profession appealed to Bender so she did not get much further into the book.

Her entry into the field began by taking her first actuarial exam. “If I passed, I’d try to become an actuary — if I didn’t, then I’d go do Teach for America.” Bender did pass and was able to start in an entry-level position in 2007. But, she was lucky because, at that time, it was still possible to find employment as an actuary by taking just one exam with no actuarial internships under her belt.

Being in the actuarial profession is highly lucrative … the wealth gap between white families and Black and Hispanic families is enormous — by a factor of 10 or more,” Bender notes. “I think that if we were to be adequately represented across these groups, it would be a big step towards narrowing that wealth gap in the United States and more broadly.

Today, that type of entry into the field is rare. Most positions require two to four exams and one or two internships to even be considered for a position in the profession. And despite more schools now offering actuarial science programs and the increased popularity of the actuary profession, underrepresented minorities still have been left behind as many students remain unaware of the field.

Raising awareness early

“When young people are just starting to think of their careers, they hear about professions through word of mouth, and that keeps us very homogenous,” echoes Rose Barrett, FCAS, who has been serving as the co-chair of the JCIED’s Career Encouragement Working Group. “One of the key barriers to entry, especially for underrepresented minorities, is awareness of the profession,” Barrett reiterates. “The reason why people become actuaries is because they know someone who is an actuary. If you don’t have someone in your network who is an actuary, you probably would never have heard of the field or so you’d never pursue what you’d need to become an actuary.”

One of the Career Encouragement Working Group’s most vital initiatives has been the annual High School Actuarial Day. Launched in 2018, the program initially began with two national events and then expanded in 2019. Because of the pandemic, the event was held virtually this year, enabling high school students to still meet each other, learn about the actuarial field and engage in a math and word problem competition. In addition to providing opportunities to network and study with others pursuing actuarial careers, the program assists with financial support for actuarial study materials and exam preparation, internships, college scholarships and actuarial exam fees.

Rethinking hiring practices

“Our work is so vital to support students early in the process,” emphasizes Regina Kintana, ACAS, who has stepped up to volunteer her time and expertise as the next co-chair of the JCIED’s Career Encouragement Working Group. “The way actuaries are built is that many believe, ‘Well, if you pass the exams, you can become an actuary,’ but I think many of my colleagues don’t consider the equity issue. If a student doesn’t have $250 to pay for each exam, that is a major barrier to advancing into the actuarial field.”

“Most people want to be comfortable at work and desire authenticity, especially after four years of college when you could be yourself and you didn’t have to hide your identity,” Gentile says. “If your company doesn’t want to support you from day one and asks that you put on a facade of someone you’re not, you don’t want to go back into the closet.”

Kintana offers insightful actions that companies, recruiters and hiring managers can take to ensure that the actuarial workforce is diverse:

  • Rethink your GPA requirements for new hires. If they are too high, then you are potentially eliminating students who have had to work during school.
  • Create graduate fellowship programs and admit career changers and recent grads to your internship programs. People from underrepresented groups often find out about the actuarial profession “late.” Rather than penalize them, instead create opportunities for this population.
  • Offer scholarships that include internships to underrepresented groups. Help students from these groups with tuition costs and give them an opportunity to gain real-world actuarial experience.
  • Reach out to the Organization of Latino Actuaries and International Association of Black Actuaries whenever you have early career job openings. OLA and IABA can refer great candidates for you to interview and hire. Sponsor key events that these organizations hold throughout the year.
  • Partner and network with organizations that support your target audience. For example, to increase your Latinx representation, sponsor the Association of Latino Professionals for America (ALPFA), a sister organization of OLA; attend their events and build relationships.

Narrowing the wealth gap

For all the good work happening, still Black, Latinx and other minorities each make up only 2% of all working actuaries. Alex Knights, FSA, an IABA member and another member of the JCIED’s Career Encouragement Working Group, points to the IABA’s recommendations for increasing the number of successful Black actuaries. These include:

  • Partnering with local middle and high schools that have a majority Black population to sponsor career days or shadowing opportunities.
  • Recruiting where diverse talent is and beyond traditional actuarial programs, particularly historically Black colleges and universities, known as HBCUs, and schools that IABA Scholarship recipients attend.
  • Focusing on acumen and demonstrated aptitude leadership potential rather than number of exams passed and traditional methods for evaluating leadership experience.

“Being in the actuarial profession is highly lucrative … one of the outside things I’ve learned more recently is that the wealth gap between white families and Black and Hispanic families is enormous — by a factor of 10 or more,” Bender notes. “I think that if we were to be adequately represented across these groups, it would be a big step towards narrowing that wealth gap in the United States and more broadly. That is something that we should be doing as a profession,” she says.

LGBTQ empowerment and inclusion

While groups like IABA and OLA are changing the way companies look at recruiting, others are focused on advancing LGBTQ workplace equality as well as personal identity and inclusion empowerment.

CAS members Matthew Gentile, FCAS, and Jake Akstins, ACAS, co-founded the Sexuality and Gender Alliance of Actuaries (SAGAA) with the support of the JCIED, which helped craft and amplify their groundbreaking session “LGBTQ+ Identities and Allyship.” The session drew a combined audience of nearly 500 people at the 2020 CAS Spring Meeting and follow-up webinar. Akstins and Gentile have been actively shoring up their volunteer-based organization by launching a LinkedIn page, hosting a virtual kickoff meeting and inviting key LGBTQIA+[2] leaders to sit on its board. With the goal of reaching a wider audience in the actuarial community, they wrote a Pride Month blog in the summer and continue to share content twice a week.

“We’re in the early stages but definitely making our way and focused on making an impact,” says Gentile, who met his co-chair while participating in diversity trainings when he and Akstins both worked at CNA.

“Our main mission for SAGAA is to create a safe space to facilitate connections between LGBTQIA+ actuaries and allies in order to engage in community-wide dialogue about LGBTQIA+ issues,” adds Akstins.

SAGAA stands upon three main pillars comprising its goals: (1) networking opportunities for its members and with allies; (2) professional development, which includes allyship training as well as a resume book and resources for LGBTQIA+ students that speak the language of actuaries by incorporating percentiles, stats and numbers; and (3) company education that includes sharing best practices to help make workplace culture more inclusive, such as adding pronouns to staff profiles and emails and interactive sessions with workplace scenarios to critique.

Akstins and Gentile are sensitive to workplace culture and point out a generational disparity regarding how younger employees view themselves in terms of feeling comfortable at work. “One of the things I hear all of the time is that many people will be retiring, and we need to get young people interested in the insurance industry. But very often insurance is not the first choice of a recent college graduate. They want to go work for Facebook or Amazon or one of the big names,” Gentile remarks. “There are significant reasons why people are attracted to companies that enjoy a certain vibe. Sometimes older, senior leaders don’t really understand why dress codes and the company culture are such important issues. But if I am someone who is non-binary, I don’t want to have to adhere to a gendered dress code. Those types of things really become a struggle and an issue for employees who identify outside the gender binary.”

Gentile points out that this conversation really needs to happen across the insurance industry. “Most people want to be comfortable at work and desire authenticity, especially after four years of college when you could be yourself and you didn’t have to hide your identity,” Gentile says. “If your company doesn’t want to support you from day one and asks that you put on a facade of someone you’re not, you don’t want to go back into the closet. It’s a huge deterrent to people and really inhibiting us from bringing in diverse talent.”

Bringing diversity to leadership

Another important subgroup of the JCIED concerns diversity in leadership. Co-led by Roosevelt Mosley, FCAS, the subgroup recently completed its major action plan around education and opportunity for members of underrepresented groups. The proposed 2020 SMART Goals are expected to be approved in the next month or so and include creating a library of leadership development materials focused on encouraging diversity; mentoring and supporting diverse leaders; coordinating partnership opportunities with the IABA, OLA and SAGAA; and implementing leadership orientation trainings and boot camps on the value of diversity and how to encourage more diversity on their committees.

“As an entire profession, the challenge will be gathering the information that we have and recognizing what we don’t have,” Bender says of the JCIED’s profession-wide dashboard tool under development. The tool will dynamically illustrate the diversity of leaders and membership as it changes over time. To that end, the JCIED hopes to track and compare advances to an industry benchmark. “Bringing that information together across both associations into a combined view will be a really interesting thing for people to refer to and track the effectiveness of our efforts,” concludes Bender.

What the future holds

As we approach 2021, there are ongoing opportunities for CAS members passionate about diversity, inclusion and equity to become involved. The recently formed CAS Diversity Impact Group offers high-impact, low-commitment opportunities as a micro-volunteering network for members to make a difference and stay in the know.

[1]  Lantinx is a gender neutral term.

[2]  A common abbreviation for lesbian, gay, bisexual, pansexual, transgender, genderqueer, queer, intersexed, agender, asexual and ally community.

Michele Lifshen (she/her/hers) is a writer and artist based in Arlington, Virginia.

Addressing Systemic Racism and Bias

Are there rating factors being affected by systemic racism that we have allowed to flow into our models?

The whole industry has begun to focus on this question over the last few months, from the regulators to insurance companies and, of course, actuaries. We hold ourselves to high standards when it comes to setting rates, but there is still the possibility that systemic racism has contributed to biased insurance outcomes. Actuaries have the unique combination of analytical skills, insurance industry knowledge and innovative thinking needed to evaluate the current situation and help develop solutions such that insurance works for everyone. We hope to see more activity on this in coming months.

— Mallika Bender, JCIED co-chair

Are gender identity models changing for LGBTQIA+ clientele?

The vast majority of insurance products still have built-in gender binary without an in-between identity choice for something other than male or female. Actuarial departments are leaps and bounds ahead of other areas within many companies in terms of inclusion, so we hope to be seeing a greater push for change across the industry.

— Matt Gentile and Jake Akstins,
SAGAA co-founders