e005. Execution Frameworks with Kira Kimball

Kira Kimball (she/her) serves as the national Chief Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Officer for Marsh McLennan Agency. Marsh McLennan Agency (MMA) provides business insurance, employee health & benefits, retirement, and private client insurance solutions to organizations and individuals seeking limitless possibilities. With nearly 9,000 colleagues and 160 offices across the United States and Canada, MMA is one of the largest brokerage operations in North America.

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In this episode, Kira shares the multi-layered framework MMA uses to execute on its DEI strategies.

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“Execution Frameworks” Full Episode

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[00:00:46] Amy: Welcome to including you. I’m Amy C. Waninger, with me today is Kira Kimball. Kira serves as the national chief diversity equity and inclusion officer for marsh McLennan agency,

[00:01:00] MMA provides business insurance, employee health and benefits, retirement and private client insurance solutions to organizations and individuals seeking limitless possibility with nearly 9,000 colleagues at 160 offices across the US and Canada, MMA is one of the largest brokerage operations in north America. Kira, welcome to including you.

[00:01:23] Kira: Thank you so much, Amy, for having me today.

[00:01:27] Amy: Now I am so excited. I liked it when I know somebody from a past life, I love to share that in my interviews with my audience, because I think it’s, I think it’s neat to know how people know each other, if they know each other, you and I actually met in the before times at a conference, a business insurance magazine did a diversity and inclusion conference in Chicago and you and I met there, correct?

[00:01:50] Kira: We did, several years ago, in fact and that was really Amy when MMA was just beginning our journey.

[00:01:57] Amy: Oh, that’s fantastic. And so, I know, cause I was at

[00:02:00] the conference, there were a lot of turbo boosters for people who were just getting started. There was a lot there about the business case for diversity and inclusion and why it’s important in the insurance industry, and for those who don’t know my background, I worked in insurance for about 12 years. So, this is something I’m very passionate about. It’s hard to get me to shut up about the insurance industry sometimes, but I noticed when I was doing some research for the show, Kira that your role is relatively new as the national chief DEI officer, and I’m wondering what was the impotence behind creating this role? That’s a big investment for a company to make what’s MMA looking to solve?

[00:02:35] Kira: It is a big investment, and I would say around 2018 or so our CEO, Dave S lit with MMA went through an unconscious bias workshop and it was really eye opening as it is for many of us who participate in that type of learning, and that really sparked his interest in terms of looking at the opportunity for marsh, McLennan agency, and so around that

[00:03:00] time, prior to me meeting you, Dave was excited to start a DNI council at the MMA enterprise level, and that’s really where we began this work, and I was fortunate enough to have a spot on that council and began leading and convening that group, and so for the past, three years until September we’ve been a volunteer group and we have really been inspired and empowered to do this work as a volunteer army, if you will, and in September, the leadership with an MMA said, this is important enough to our organization and frankly, as to our industry, that we really want to have a leadership role, have accountability for the strategy, the vision, and really the execution and the outcomes. So that’s how this position came to play. And so, I was put into this role and like I said in September, and my goal

[00:04:00] really is to help transform our organization. In the insurance industry, we are really the back backbone, if you will, of society, and I’ve been involved in so many changes within how business gets done and protected, and we also know it’s a great industry. It’s filled with vibrancy, it’s filled with innovation, great problem solving, and it’s a wonderful industry to be involved in. So, we need to get more people who represent different identities in our communities involved, and that really has everything to do with what we hope to transform in our organization.

[00:04:41] Amy: You brought up the notion of accountability, and I’m really glad you said that because I think a lot of times when you do have volunteer or grassroots volunteer efforts in big companies, especially, it’s very easy for them to be brushed aside. It’s very easy for them to for the progress to be very innermittent, and for them

[00:05:00] to wonder does anybody really value this work? and I think. The accountability piece is so crucial because just like any other initiative that we would have in a company of this size, if there was going to be a total quality initiative or a lean initiative or an ethics initiative, it wouldn’t be volunteer. There would be metrics around it. It would be, there would be accountability. People would be held to that. Can you tell us a little bit more about what you’re tracking and how you’re tracking it in terms of accountability for the organization?

[00:05:27] Kira: Right now, since we are early on our journey, when you know, a little over three years, looking at our culture is really critical because we know as we begin to really get intentional about diversifying our talent and having balanced, represented talent.

We’ve got to create that culture of inclusion and feelings of belonging or else, folks who represent different communities, they may not feel that they can be themselves here. So, we’ve worked really hard on culture. So, some of the ways that we

[00:06:00] measure that would be through engagement surveys and really understanding how our colleagues through many different lenses feel about coming to work at MMA.

Do they feel involved? Do they feel valued? So really trying to look from a cultural perspective first, making sure that each region has a DEI council. Standing up colleague resource groups and making sure that they’re accessible from all points of our geography. We have here’s a hard statistic, 87% of our colleagues, Amy have gone through an unconscious bias workshop, not through an LMS check the box, but actually a two hour peer to peer facilitated workshop, and now we’re switching our gears to allyship for our next round. So, our measurables right now have been more about how we ensuring we’ve got a framework for delivery, how are we making sure that our culture

[00:07:00] is sound for inclusion and belonging? and that’s probably where we started some of the more tactical things with regards to talent acquisition, as an example, making sure all of our talent acquisition folks are trained on unconscious bias, how it could can show up in the interview process or the offering process, if you will.

So those are some of the spaces as we are beginning our journey that we’re looking to make sure we have some good outcomes.

[00:07:31] Amy: Excellent. And you mentioned frameworks, and this is something that I find interesting about the work that you’re doing at marsh is, some companies have a very top-down approach to their DEI initiatives.

Some have a very grassroots approach, they’ll have homegrown employee resource groups, home grown business resource groups, and you do both, you tackle it from both directions, but then you also have this middle group that works in each

[00:08:00] region. Can you talk a little bit about the structure that you’re using to make sure that this work gets done company-wide? and how that’s helping you move through this process.

[00:08:08] Kira: Framework is critical. It’s one of the best practices, I think, to make sure that organizations have a solid way to deliver this work for the biggest impact. So certainly, our CEO and executive leadership are odd in, this is a conversation that our CEO has with regional leadership and making sure that DEI is on their agenda.

So that’s from the, and then in terms of driving this from a colleague direct perspective in each one of our regions across the US and Canada, we have a regional DEI council. So the MMA enterprise to United council sets forth vision and strategy, and it has been in place again for about three and a half years, and then each one of the regions is connected to one of those national

[00:09:00] leaders in the region. So, they can execute the strategy and the vision in a way that is meaningful for them because Amy, you and I know geographies are different, across the country in Canada and what might be a big goal in one region.

For example, the west might be different than in the upper Midwest. We’re where I sit in Sioux falls, South Dakota. So, we really want to empower the regions, and many of the regions actually have location, and in fact, Sioux falls and Fargo, they haven’t joined local DEI council. So really creating that framework where knowledge strategy tactics can be cascaded and it can also bubble up, and I’m a huge fan of the grassroots effort and really believe on colleague driven initiatives, and that’s really where a lot of the change can happen. But we know that our leaders are decision-makers, those who hold a lot of authority and power and

[00:10:00] resourcing, they need to be doing this work as well, so this both and framework is really critical for our success, and it’s also empowered a lot of individuals to get involved who are passionate, many of whom are underrepresented colleagues, and it gives them opportunities to own opportunities to develop more professional skills, create visibility, if you will, and really own changes and transformation in our organization, and that’s what gets me excited. So probably we have about 170 or so colleagues involved in our regional DEI councils and our colleague resource groups are part of this framework and structure as well.

[00:10:49] Amy: Can you talk a little bit about those colleague resource groups? Which ones do you have? what was your sequencing on those? and how did they contribute to your vision for DEI at marsh?

[00:10:56] Kira: Absolutely, with MMA, our colleague resource groups are centered

[00:11:00] on some important C’s culture, helping to build our culture, helping to educate about the CRGs culture. Commerce is an important part of this growing business, career, using CRGs is an opportunity for professional and career development if you will, community, how do we impact our community? Part of why MMA came together is because we are like-minded agencies that really believe we’re stewards in our community as well. So how can MMA from a DEI perspective impact our communities and finally communication. So those were the grounding ways that differentiate a CRG and from maybe just an employee group, a support group, if you will, or a book club.

So, the CRGs are very organic. They bubble up by colleague interests. My office is not going to say we’re going to start a CRG cause we really want to empower our team members.

[00:12:00] So our six-year G’s center around the LGBTQ plus community women, black and African-American, Latin X and then military families and veterans.

And we have chapters that are popping up in different markets, where we have colleagues again, based on colleague interests, passion and desire to center conversations on those six different CRGs. And then there’s always opportunity for a colleague to start another CRG. So again, these aren’t necessarily the CRGs that I said, we need to have these series.

They’re colleague driven, and then my office tries to help with some resourcing for them, but certainly their regional leaders are excited to support them as well, and each of our six year CRGS has an executive sponsor that, helps to elevate the conversation among leadership, create

[00:13:00] visibility, remove barriers, but those five C’s, Amy really center what we believe CRGs can accomplish, and they are big drivers of helping us educate, change our culture and think differently about our talent.

[00:13:18] Amy: Well, you mentioned at the beginning that you do you measure your success through employee engagement surveys, have you seen a change yet? Or are you starting to move the needle in the right direction on employee engagement and representation? Or is that something that you’re still you’re still waiting to see results from?

[00:13:32] Kira: I think we’re seeing some good movement around culture, as I indicated, that’s a place that we’ve started, and, that feeling of inclusion and belonging has been critical. And we were recently awarded a top workplace recognition, which is pretty exciting for us because that is all driven by colleagues completing the application. So

[00:14:00] that is probably a hallmark for us, a measurement for us to say our colleagues are excited about working here because they helped us get this recognition.

So, from a culture perspective, I think that is moving in a good direction. We know we have opportunities though, to start thinking differently about talent and talent are balanced talent, represented talent, and really Amy at all levels. It’s not simply about bringing in new talent that represents diverse communities, but making sure that all talent have access to rise and their careers and that career pathway is meaningful for them.

So that’s something that we’re rolling up our sleeves on and our talent team. It’s really getting intentional about career pathing and what those opportunities look like, and that’s so critical because you and I both know when we grow in our career, we grow in

[00:15:00] our wealth accumulation. We grow in our ability to say we grow in our ability to access that vacation or save for college, whatever that might be, and that’s really where social justice can happen in the workplace. That impacts our folks to go out into the communities and live a life that may define as thriving and successful.

[00:15:22] Amy: I love that because, I’ve often told young people don’t sleep on insurance as a career. Because the insurance industry has provided really good middle-class jobs for a hundred years or better.

Not always in the right way. I will say that, it’s not always been the most inclusive industry. It’s not always been the most accessible industry, but I think as we start to put a focus on culture industry-wide and within individual companies. I think there’s a lot of really great opportunity there for people to have careers of purpose careers with longevity, careers, with impact. There are very few industries that can have

[00:16:00] the same level of impact that the insurance industry can, and it’s there’s so much, there are so many people there who are purpose-driven, it’s not just a place to do great work that is

[00:16:14] Amy: to do your best work. It’s not just a place to do fun work, which I know people roll their eyes when I say, oh, insurance work is fun work, but really, marketing, IT, human resources. All of the backend stuff you can do and that you can do anywhere. You can do an insurance, but there’s some really cool stuff going on in insurance, right? With actuaries, with underwriting the producers and, the brokerages that are really making things happen for people who are trying to live out their dreams of home ownership, their dreams of owning and operating a business, the dreams of expanding a business or investing in commercial real estate, and so the more we can do that outreach from within the industry, the more we can grow our economies, but the more the insides of our organization

[00:17:00] look like the communities that we’re serving, the better able we’ll be to serve those communities as well.

[00:17:07] Kira: So agree on that. It is really critical for us to reflect in terms of our employee base, not just for MMA, but for the industry as a whole, that reflects our communities and reflects individuals who are wanting to start their own business, construction from whatever that might be.

So, it is really critical. And when we think about the changes in demographics, we think about the changes in buying power gen Ze’s, who are coming in and really, it’s table space stakes for them, for diversity, equity and inclusion and purpose, which you’ve talked a lot about. We need to do these things because it’s good for business, it’s good for our employer brand, but we also know it’s the right thing to do. So, there are multiple reasons to say yes to doing a work of DEI from the industry’s perspective, and your comments about

[00:18:00] what a great industry to get involved and to grow your life in a way that’s meaningful for you. For those individuals who want to be in production, the sky’s the limit in terms of opportunity that a person can create for themselves and us thinking differently again, as an industry about core talent is and taking more intentional paths to diversify that talent, that’s what’s really going to help us ignite this transformation, and also within diversity when I’m talking about unconscious bias and teach about it. When I say, if I hired a whole bunch of people were like me, we’d be great strategists, but we would be crappy at details, project management and timeline.

So, thinking about the value of diversity in organizations, it really next levels us for innovation, creative problem solving and solution generating, and as a business differentiator and with ESG now looming and

[00:19:00] the importance of doing that work diversity, equity and inclusion is part of that formula.

[00:19:07] Amy: Can you explain a little bit more about what ESG is, especially in the context of the insurance industry, because that’s a relatively new term that people may not be as familiar.

[00:19:15] Kira: Yeah, E environmental and compliance and thinking about our carbon footprint, social, how do we show up and into the space of diversity equity inclusion that is a lot of the S if you will, and G for governance, you know how our organizations is impacting, and how it is structured is really critical on how we make decisions and where our values might be. So, when we think of a new folks are probably more aware of corporate social responsibility, and that really goes hand in hand with ESG and sustainability, if you will and organizations who want to differentiate themselves from a business perspective and an employer perspective. These are things that organizations are starting to

[00:20:00] lean into. The other thing is Amy. When we think of partnering with businesses and our suppliers and our vendors and our centers of influence.

When businesses are seeking partners, some of their requests for proposals are including tell us a little bit about your DEI journey or your commitment to ESG. What does that look like? So, this type of corporate responsibility work and social impact work is becoming part of business and business questions that organizations are being asked.

[00:20:34] Amy: I think it’s really important for people to understand that the insurance industry, while perhaps lagging behind some of the other industries in these areas really is. I’ve seen a lot of initiatives coming out of different companies, large companies like MMA and some of the big carriers, smaller regional companies, even, small agencies and I know that there is a perception because I’ve worked in the industry for

[00:21:00] so long. I know there’s a perception about what insurance is and what it looks like, and I’m not going to say that’s all false. It’s not all false but there is movement in this area and it is a great place. A great place to work, a great place to have an impact.

But also, there’s real opportunity for people who want to make change and who wants to leave their mark on an industry to step in and say, look, here’s what I’m seeing elsewhere, here’s what is happening in the market outside of insurance, here’s, what’s happening in tech and in banking and in philanthropy and higher education, right?

Because the thing about insurance is it touches all those other things. If the players in the industry don’t keep up on what’s going on outside the industry, then they won’t have market share anymore, basically. So, for those who are thinking about career changes, it’s a great way to get in and say, look, I’ve got all this experience in another industry, and here’s how it might serve might serve the insurance industry, but also just really give you a place to, to have a real

[00:22:00] impact economically, socially, globally, as well as within your company.

[00:22:04] Kira: I love, you, you can get to the heart of why I’m in this work, because it is for impact. It is for change making and not just in our organization, but we really want to lead, and to your point, other industries are doing this work, and when we work with our clients, it’s not unusual for some of our service teams or production teams, consultants, working with that client to talk about our DEI journey and to ask them what their journey looks like and to exchange best practices or pitfalls to avoid.

So, we are really starting to have more of these conversations with our clients, for the exact thing that you’re talking about, because other industries are doing this work, the associated general contractors comes to mind. And from a national level, they have something called a culture of care, which has everything to do with a diversity equity and inclusion and

[00:23:00] creating a psychological safety and making sure that.

When we think about women in that industry, there’s great opportunity there. And how can I make sure that I can show up as a woman who can drive that forklift or manage that job site and learning from different industries can be really helpful. I’m with you. I want to make an impact and that allows us to.

Impact our communities, for positive change for all people, and I, that’s why I’m here in this industry because of what you’re talking about. We touch all different organizations and businesses, and if we can lead from the front and have these conversations with our clients, and I’m always so honored when I get pulled into a conversation to learn from them or to share our best practices and just inspire folks to do this.

[00:23:51] Amy: So what’s next for MMA, now that you’re in your role, you’ve been in your role about coming up on a year now my sense of time is all screwed up because of COVID

[00:24:00] and square years, the calendar doesn’t make sense to me anymore, but you’ve been in the role almost a year, and you’ve had the CRG set up for a while You’ve had the DEI council what’s next for MMA in this?

[00:24:11] Kira: My hope is really now that we’ve done a good job with setting up our culture. We’ve gotten affirmation in so many spaces from colleagues around inclusion that we can really get purposeful about thinking differently about talent. So, some new partnerships that we have who are helping us be better, we’d be the national African American insurance association.

The association for professional insurance women. We have women in our organization, but are they elevated to decision-making and resource wheeling positions? The link of USA is a new organization in our industry and you can follow them on LinkedIn that centers the LGBTQ plus community, and one of my colleagues in our Southeast region is just establishing an Asian American insurance network.

[00:25:00] So, these are some places where we need to get intentional again, to meet different talent, because if we go the same paths and I think of myself as a leader, when I’m recruiting or have recruited, I’ve had to learn different pathways, Amy, in order to expand my network in my reach, if you will.

So that’s what I’d like us really take an intentional and have some I’ve asked the regions to consider partnerships in their regions. That might make sense for them. If it is a chapter of the national African American insurance association, or maybe its inroads or the crystal Ray net, which are amazing organizations across the United States that work with underrepresented high school students or college students to introduce them to our industry.

So that’s really my call to action for our leaders is to get intentional about developing different networks and attracting different talent.

[00:26:00] Amy: I love that you say networks because as that’s where my work started, was trying to get people to diversify their networks, and so they can see their industries, see their companies, see their own work from multiple perspectives, identify barriers that exist for others that don’t exist for them and then start to make change.

Kara, thank you so much for joining me today on including you. I’m so glad that we got a chance to reconnect and I look forward to what’s next at marsh.

[00:26:26] Kira: Thanks so much for the conversation today, Amy.

[00:27:19] Amy: That’s it for this week’s episode of including you join me next week when my guest will be evilest Crespo from Reed Smith, we’ll be talking about modeling transparency in the legal industry.

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Amy C. Waninger Author Bio

Amy C. Waninger is the Founder & CEO of Lead at Any Level, where she improves employee engagement and retention for companies that promote from within. Amy offers assessments, advisory services, and training on essential skills for inclusive leaders. She is the author of eight books. Learn more at www.LeadAtAnyLevel.com

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