e031. Insuring Equality with Elisa Stampf

Elisa Stampf (she/her) is the CEO & Co-Founder of Insure Equality, a non-profit tech company committed to creating cultural change within the insurance industry by amplifying the voices that are typically excluded or minimized. Insure Equality’s impact extends across 30+ states with pledge signers, storytellers, volunteers, etc. reaching close to 600 individuals.


#IncludingYouPodcast Interview with Elisa Stampf

Interview Transcript

[00:00:52] Amy: Welcome back to Including You. I’m your host, Amy C. Waninger. My guest today is Elisa Stampf. She’s the CEO and co-founder of Insure Equality. Insure Equality is a nonprofit tech company committed to creating cultural change within the insurance industry by amplifying the voices that are typically excluded or minimized.

[00:01:12] Amy: Insure equality has impacted across 30 or more states with pledge signers, storytellers, volunteers, and more reaching close to 600 individuals. This is a topic that I’m sure my listeners and viewers know is very near and dear to my heart, having worked in the insurance industry myself for over a decade.

[00:01:32] Amy: Alyssa, welcome to the show.

[00:01:34] Elisa: Thanks so much for ha having me, Amy. I’m so glad to be here.

[00:01:38] Amy: I am always excited to talk about insurance, probably a little bit to the annoyance of people around me because believe it or not a lot of people don’t like to talk about insurance.

[00:01:49] Elisa: When I first got into this space, it was a little over 10 years ago, I was so excited to be able to tell people, cuz you know, I’m a big kid now, I’m an adult.

[00:01:57] Elisa: This is what I do, and almost instantly the glaze that would come over their face and the conversation ender that it was saying that I worked in insurance. I know I, I have that feeling, I lived it Absolutely.

[00:02:09] Amy: We get to be two peas in a pod today talking about this topic, and I wanna start with, the insurance industry has a reputation for being pale sale, frail, and mail.

[00:02:22] Amy: And I’m not gonna say that reputation is completely undeserved, but I think that it’s unfortunate, because there is so much opportunity in the insurance industry for people to have really good careers, really solid middle class incomes with or without a degree. There is my favorite thing about the insurance industry, is that it is absolutely a part of everything, right?

[00:02:49] Amy: Insurance makes all economic investment possible, and insurance on its best day is there for people on their worst day, and I can’t think of a better industry to have been a part of, to be a part of, to want to serve, to want to expand opportunity within, than the insurance industry. But you and I both know that there are some problems in the industry in terms of who feels included and who gets to be heard and who gets those opportunities.

[00:03:18] Amy: Can you talk a little about that?

[00:03:21] Elisa: Yes, and we were talking beforehand, and you said that I was gonna have to shut you up about insurance. I think you’re gonna have to shut me up just as much because, I came into the industry after I fell in much like many of our stories in the industry, it’s not necessarily one that back in the day you just chose, it typically chooses you.

[00:03:40] Elisa: And I remember having the same feelings you did about it, oh my gosh, this industry is in everything. It’s like the mycelium, if you’re like a biologist, it’s like the mycelium under the force, it touches everything, and whether or not you’re a business owner, you still are interacting with insurance on a day-to-day basis.

[00:03:56] Elisa: I think for me it’s also, like you said it’s a great place to earn an income, it’s a wealth generating industry. You can be a business owner with no degree, I think for that reason, it stands apart from a lot of other industries. That being said, what we’ve found that reputation is that it typically halts you if you don’t look a specific way or act in the way that others do.

[00:04:23] Elisa: And it is unfortunate, because I think we’ve lost out on long-term innovation, I think we’ve lost out on perspective, and I think ultimately, and most unfortunately, we haven’t been serving our communities in the way that they deserve to be served, and I think by pulling into the conversation, not just our voices or people that look different from the stale male, pale, frail, we can also start to pull in the general public, because as you pointed out, so a definitely at the beginning, you can’t start a conversation with.

[00:04:56] Elisa: Let’s talk about insurance, it’s almost immediately gonna be over. That being said, I think it’s valuable to have people be excited about what is insurance? What can it do for me? and how can it change the landscape? It doesn’t just affect the economy, it affects everything that you do, it affects whether or not you are able to buy a home.

[00:05:16] Elisa: It affects whether or not you’re gonna be able to insure your car or go on that road trip. There’s trip insurance now that we’re grateful for, in the concurrence of a pandemic. So, we have to be mindful of the fact that because it has been a conversation ender, we haven’t done the best that we could do to move it forward, both from an innovation standpoint and from an inclusion standpoint.

[00:05:41] Amy: And I think you bring up a good point too, because not only does insurance touch everything, everyone needs it, and because the inside of the insurance industry is not representative of the outside of the insurance industry, there are entire communities, families, demographics, racial and ethnic populations that are underserved or unserved by the insurance industry.

[00:06:07] Amy: And when that happens, we’re talking about destroying family wealth, destroying businesses, losing intergenerational wealth, and so there’s this underpinning of, if people don’t feel comfortable in the space, right, they are less likely to pursue coverage, they’re less likely to understand their coverage, get the right coverage, ask or be asked the right questions to ensure that their coverage is accurate.

[00:06:35] Amy: I know I’ve talked to Precious Norman Walton about this and nauseum as well, right? That there’s just, when you don’t feel comfortable in a space, you don’t get the richness of the communication that you need to make a good informed decision, or you don’t go into the space at all, and what that means is, there are entire sections of cities that are under or uninsured.

[00:06:57] Amy: There are entire, communities that are under or uninsured, and when disaster happens, those communities can be left devastated. So, it’s not just a business problem that the insurance industry has, this is a moral obligation that the insurance industry has to really break up some of these barriers to entry for consumers, which requires us then to break down the barriers to entry for practitioners, for professionals, for producers in this space, so that those communities can be reached where they are.

[00:07:32] Elisa: Well said, and here I would also say that it goes beyond just including those voices. We have to start recognizing that both consumers and the people that seek to be here are stakeholders. We’ve been so focused on, I think, a shareholder mindset in this industry, by and large, I wouldn’t say that’s everybody, but, business also involves stakeholders.

[00:07:56] Elisa: And as we’ve both pointed out, it’s everybody, are we actually serving everybody in the best way that we can? And I’d like to say yes, but I know the answer is no. To your point, we’ve got, I would, as you were saying, underinsured, the back of my mind was screaming uninsured because it’s true. I think about all of the disasters we’ve had over the course of even just my lifetime and career, when I was entering college, Katrina hit.

[00:08:24] Elisa: I think about that as being a disaster. Think about the water situations in Detroit and now in Jackson, Mississippi. There are so many pieces that insurance could have either been there for or solved for, and that’s not even touching some of the other pieces, and by and large, it hasn’t been, or to your point, we’ve been, we haven’t been having the conversations that have been needed in these spaces so that we are ensuring it correctly or we are protecting it correctly.

[00:08:46] Elisa: There’s evidence of retaliation, redlining, et cetera, and all of these things need to be brought to the forefront so that we can start solving them together.

[00:09:01] Amy: And even things as simple as, credit scores impacting car insurance rates or zip codes for homes being used as proxies for race.

[00:09:10] Amy: These are things that matter, on the ground, and I also wanna point out that even people who don’t have insurable assets can still be claimants, and so they have to be aware that their constituencies or their share, their stakeholders are not just their shareholders, are not just their employees, or not just their customers, but also any potential claimant, which could literally be anyone in the world.

[00:09:36] Elisa: Yep. Absolutely, and I think there’s other outreaching effects that insurance has had on our economy on the way that we do business. When I was entering underwriting, the advent of the gig economy was really starting at that moment. We were having large conversations about it, and I know that insurance, whether or not directly, played a large role.

[00:09:58] Elisa: One of the great examples of this is we were working with accounts like Sears, okay, so they have trucks that would deliver refrigerators, stoves, dishwashers, et cetera, and then they would install that appliance in your home. The insurance cost on a fleet of vehicles is very high, the maintenance cost on a set of vehicles is very high.

[00:10:21] Elisa: Not to mention workers’ compensation and liability. If a business is looking at their line items and their bottom line, are they going, man, if we could just contract this out and not pay for the insurance on this, would it make sense for us to do, I think the other thing that comes to mind for me is workers’ comp, because it’s based off of payroll, and I think about the fact that we haven’t seen a minimum wage increase federally in a very long time.

[00:10:47] Elisa: So, whether or not insurance is a direct hand in all of these different pieces of the scene that we see before us, almost seems irrelevant because we do play a role and we have to take ownership in it, and we have to start having the conversations of whether or not we made that decision, we still take ownership.

[00:11:10] Amy: And it’s difficult, right to do that within the industry because dissent is often quashed, innovation is often quashed, people with differing perspectives are often told, not yet, not you, not now. We don’t talk about this because we don’t wanna drive people away from the industry, but this is a real thing that happens.

[00:11:27] Amy: People who ask questions are often sidelined. Even if the questions are very relevant and pertinent, right? The people who are the decision makers in the process often don’t like to be challenged on some of their working assumptions, and I know that this has happened to you.

[00:11:41] Amy: I know that it’s happened to a lot of our colleagues, right? that have asked good questions in this space, or have we thought about how the economy’s changing? Have we thought about, how the workforce is changing? Have we thought about how markets are changing and they’re not always ready for, or technology, right?

[00:11:56] Amy: They’re not always ready for those conversations, and insurance tends to be a late adopter on a lot of things when, I would love to see, I would love to see the property and casualty insurance space be the front runner in some of these conversations, right? Because they’re uniquely positioned to drive really positive social change by advocating for things that would benefit everyone, right?

[00:12:19] Amy: When we talk about, the positive and negative externalities in an economic system, right? Insurance is right at the forefront of all of that, but way too reactive in my mind. That was a long setup to ask, how can the industry change who gets heard, whose questions are answered, whose contributions are valued so that they can remain relevant?

[00:12:42] Amy: Because let’s face it, if the insurance industry goes away, so does economic investment, and we need this industry to be solid, sustainable, and valuable long into the future. These are things that, that people rely on, so how do we shore up the space for dissent and innovation in the insurance industry?

[00:13:05] Elisa: I think the short answer, and the one that might seem a bit cliche is that we underwrite our risk, Amy. I don’t think, to your point, we’re not looking far enough ahead. I think we’re solving short-term solutions from a reactive standpoint, and as a former underwriter, that is the worst thing that you can see when you’re looking at a risk, is somebody that’s being reactive to the things that are happening.

[00:13:29] Elisa: We as an industry have been facing large attrition and retention problems since, well before the pandemic there were full on articles written about it. We haven’t been working towards solving these problems because we’ve been so entrenched in the way things have always been done and the way that we think that they should go.

[00:13:46] Elisa: And I think part of that is being honest with ourselves, and for an industry that spends a lot of time talking about liability and fault, we need to let that go here and know that we’re a century’s old industry that has not gotten everything right, and instead of pointing fingers and saying it was this fault, or this fault, say this is now a problem.

[00:14:07] Elisa: It’s been a problem, what do we do to start fixing it? And the start of it, our conversations like these, not just external to the industry itself or external to certain companies, but part of the solution within each company. We do a lot of things individually in this industry because a lot of it feels like a very close kept company secret, but in the space of belonging, in the space of creating cultural change, this is the moment for the insurance industry to come together and say, we want more for us, for ourselves, for the future, not just of this industry, but the economy as a whole.

[00:14:48] Elisa:

[00:14:49] Amy: Yeah, and one of the ways to get that would be to make sure that people are being heard inside the companies, right? That different voices get amplified. And I know you’re doing some work in that space. Can you talk to us a little bit about what you’re doing, what you’re proposing as part of the solution to this problem?

[00:15:06] Elisa: Yeah, part of it is the tech that we’ve just created, Amy, and thank you for asking. It’s called Phoenix because there’s a lot of what feels burnt around us and we have to come together to rise above it. So, Phoenix is a platform that allows employees within the industry or that have left the industry to take a survey and weigh in on what the culture of that company that the survey they’re taking of feels like.

[00:15:32] Elisa: So, it’s not a judgment on whether or not they like the company or whether or not they like the leadership, but exactly how does it feel? And the reason that we went on this journey is to your point where you were saying, how do we start these conversations, especially when people that do speak up tend to be sidelined, right?

[00:15:50] Elisa: Or removed, it could be worse than just being sidelined, and I think the answer for us was, how do we create a space that involves anonymity, but true, and so we were very intentional in creating different components of culture that mattered to us and mattered to people that we talked with in the industry.

[00:16:08] Elisa: So, things like accountability, communication, inclusion, recognition, support, things, these were the topics that kept coming to mind, and so when people take the survey, what it does is it spells out where you fall on each of these different items, and it’s important not just for individuals, but for companies, too.

[00:16:30] Elisa: It’s not a judgment, what it does is it says, this is how it feels for your employees to be here or to have been here. So, it’s really a reflection of whether or not the values you’re communicating are really being felt, and that’s information that allows you to make change, because if people are too afraid to speak up, and we know that to be true based off of EOC claims, if people are afraid to speak up, you’ll never actually know what it is that you need to solve for.

[00:16:57] Elisa:

[00:16:57] Amy: Absolutely. A lot of times, we’ll say, people will say, leaders will say nobody told me there was a problem, and I’ve been doing a lot of work on this lately in, in my head space and in my client space as well, and typically it’s not true that nobody said, nobody told you there was a problem, right?

[00:17:12] Amy: But let’s just take that at face value. If nobody’s ever told you a pro, there’s a problem, one of two things is true, either there is no room for improvement anywhere in your organization, that’s number one, or they don’t trust how you’re going to handle that feedback, and so if you’re not getting feedback, if you’re not getting critical feedback about your organization from your employees, it’s either there’s no feedback to be given or they don’t think you’ll handle it well now, one of those things is more likely true than the other.

[00:17:45] Amy: And I’ll leave it, I’ll leave it the most to figure out which one that is, but, then I’ll also hear, and I did a whole a whole video on these a couple weeks ago, just the solo video. It’s not that nobody didn’t tell us, it’s not enough people told us, or the right people didn’t tell us, or the people who told us didn’t tell us in the right way.

[00:18:03] Amy: They were too emotional about it, or they were too close to it, or they didn’t give us data or, and so it’s not everybody else’s job to give you the feedback in the way that you need to hear it, it’s your job when you get the feedback to say, where’s the truth in this that I can act upon?

[00:18:20] Amy: What do I need to do? What do I need to investigate? And so, what you are doing, it sounds is giving people that place where they can anonymously provide that feedback. So, leaders can’t say, no one told us, and they can do it, people, more than one person can give the feedback, so they can’t say not enough people told us.

[00:18:41] Amy: And they’re getting that feedback in a variety of ways, quantitatively and qualitatively. So, they can’t say we didn’t get it in the right way, so now there’s some there’s less room to sidestep the feedback, right?

[00:18:55] Elisa: Correct. Correct, and something that was very intentional for us when we started our journey was to keep this just to insurance.

[00:19:02] Elisa: Because we know what it’s like to work in the space. It is a very unique field in a lot of ways, and so a lot of what you’ll see in that survey is geared towards insurance professionals because we ourselves have been in the industry and we know what it’s like to feel that way. It’s also why we added something called a Safe Haven question into the survey.

[00:19:21] Elisa: So, as you’re taking the survey, there’s a feather that sits next to certain questions, and that feather represents that that question will never be taken your individual answer and given to your employer, because retaliation in this industry is high and the fear of it is even higher. We talk to people in this industry all the time, people that don’t wanna be named, they just wanna talk about it.

[00:19:46] Elisa: They wanna be able to feel validated and, with a community of people, and there’s two themes that always pop up. One is, I really thought I was alone in this, and the second is always, I was too afraid to say something. So, we have a lot of work to do, even if you just look at EOC claims, by and large, nearly 65% are dismissed.

[00:20:12] Elisa: There’s 49% that have retaliation, 63% of people that do report are ultimately terminated. So, we need to be thinking about this as a whole, as an industry and say, are we actually not getting feedback or are people too afraid to give it to us? Just like you pointed out.

[00:20:33] Amy: And there’s another side to this too, it’s not just the employee feedback.

[00:20:35] Amy: You also have a pledge for CEOs, right? Can you talk a little bit about that and what that, what the intent is behind that and what that actually does?

[00:20:42] Elisa: Absolutely, and thank you for that. Yeah, that one was a big piece for us too because millennials and Gen Z, and they’re not the only groups, but this is the data that we’ve been looking at, care very much about putting their money with companies that share their values.

[00:21:01] Elisa: They also really care about working at those companies. It’s no longer enough for a large section of the population to just, put in an application at a job, get a paycheck, and go home. They want to feel connected to the work that they’re doing in a different type of way. So, for us, it wasn’t just about saying, Hey, let’s sign something and put it on the internet.

[00:21:26] Elisa: Let’s be intentional about it and what are the pain points that we feel, and so the pledge is really just four pieces. It’s allow people the space, the environment to feel safe coming forward, that’s number one, and for most of us, that should seem pretty easy. Number two is when someone does come forward, listen to them, hear them out and take an appropriate course of action.

[00:21:54] Elisa: Believe that individual, people don’t often try to out something that happened unless it was really bad, we really weigh that within ourselves. The third piece is to not force someone into confidentiality, now obviously there are different state-by-state rules, you can exchange confidentiality for payment, and then there’s also some specifically for trade secrets.

[00:22:19] Elisa: That’s not what we’re talking about, what we’re talking about is in a situation where someone comes forward, don’t make them stay silent about it, because the recurring theme is that somebody doesn’t feel like they can share and they never actually heal or move on from that experience, and that’s a problem by and large.

[00:22:36] Elisa: And then the last piece has a lot to do with the fact that this industry is a really large industry that has a lot of third parties in it. So, if you have partnerships with entities, that have caused harm to an individual within your organization, or you hear about it outside, you address it with this organization and they refuse to do anything about it and the relationship.

[00:23:00] Elisa: This was actually born out of something that I frequently experienced as a marketing rep, as I would go to and from different agencies. There was this very average conversation that seemed to happen that was just part of the culture, where a marketing rep would hand off an agency to you, and they would go, Hi Amy, don’t go into this room by yourself.

[00:23:23] Elisa: Don’t talk to, if you’re wearing a skirt, this is the person that you wanna talk to if you get all of the information that you need, and what we’re finding is people know that there are issues within organizations. We’ve just decided that it’s okay because we get X amount of dollar of revenue, or we’ve had the relationship for X amount of years.

[00:23:42] Elisa: And I think we’ve come to a point in our history where we have to say, is that enough anymore? So, what we’re saying is make it known not just to your employees, but the rest of the industry that you are committing internally and externally to making a change.

[00:24:03] Amy: I think that’s so important because when a company draws a line and says, this is a line we will not cross under any circumstances.

[00:24:12] Amy: It does send a clear message about what’s acceptable and what’s not, and if they cross that line with their dollars or their feet, then trust is broken in that moment, and I think companies need to, I think people, individuals need to be clear, but I think companies need to be very clear about what’s okay and what isn’t.

[00:24:32] Amy: And you don’t have to draw the line, in any particular place. But put one, somewhere, so people know what to expect and what they can count on, and insurance, the whole industry is based on a promise, right? When you buy an insurance policy, you’re buying a promise of how you’re going to be treated on your worst day.

[00:24:52] Amy: And I think it’s past time for the industry to treat their own employees that way, internally as well, that there’s a promise for how you’re going to be treated on your worst day, and are they going to have your back.

[00:25:05] Elisa: Perfectly said. I wouldn’t add a single word.

[00:25:07] Amy: Thank you, Elisa. I am so excited about the work that you’re doing in the industry.

[00:25:11] Amy: I know that there are a lot of folks who have signed onto this, who are giving feedback, who are getting involved, 600 plus volunteers and storytellers and pledge signers is quite the splash to make, and I know you’re just in your infancy in this process, where can people go to find more about Phoenix or about opportunities and accountability in the insurance?

[00:25:33] Elisa: There’s two websites I’ll give you, and they’re both.org. It’s insurequality.org, and there are two E’s in the very middle there, so I N S U R  E Q U A L I T Y.org, and then phoenixrise.org. Insure equality is where you can check out the pledge, you can check out, please donate. We are a 501 C 3 organization.

[00:25:54] Elisa: There’s other resources there, like a toolkit for leaders and then PhoenixRise.org is separate so that we can keep the rating site separate. But please go there, check out the companies that are currently rated so that you can see how that’s displayed, and if we don’t have your company, please ask us to add it.

[00:26:10] Amy: Excellent, Elisa Stampf, thank you so much. I’m so grateful for you and the work you’re doing and for your time today.

[00:26:16] Elisa: Likewise, Amy. Thank you so much.

[00:27:08] Amy: That’s it for this week’s episode of Including You. Join me next week when my guest will be Eric Thomas from Genesys.

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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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