Charles Watkins is the Chief Diversity Officer and Equity Partner at Kubicki Draper, a full-service law firm with over 200 attorneys serving clients in Florida, and the southern parts of Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi. In addition to his work with Kubicki, Mr. Watkins serves as the Treasurer of the National African American Insurance Association (NAAIA). He is currently securing funding for an endowed scholarship to help African Americans pursue careers in insurance.
In this episode, Charles explains how his firm is strengthening its talent pipeline by investing in Black college students.
Learn more about this guest:
e003. Talent Pipeline (Full Episode)
Full Episode Transcript
[00:00:46] Amy: Welcome to including you. I’m Amy C. Waninger and I’m here with Charles Watkins. He’s the chief diversity officer and equity partner at Kubicki Draper, a full-service law firm with
[00:01:00] over 200 attorneys serving clients in Florida and the Southern parts of Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi. In addition to his work with Kubicki, Mr. Watkins serves as the treasurer of the national African American insurance association or NAAIA. He is currently securing funding for an endowed scholarship to help African-Americans pursue careers in insurance. Mr. Watkins, welcome to including you.
[00:01:24] Charles: Thank you so much. I’m excited to be here and to just share ideas and thoughts with you.
[00:01:31] Amy: So I am thrilled to know that there is a law firm in Florida with 200 attorneys that has a chief diversity officer.
[00:01:41] Charles: I think by now there are more.
[00:01:43] Amy: A lot of times companies say we’re not really big enough to have a chief diversity officer. That’s for companies with thousands of employees.
And so I’m wondering if you can tell us a little bit about why was having this role important to your company and why are these initiatives important to your company?
[00:01:59] Charles: The
[00:02:00] best place to start is really with the fact that the culture at our company has always been an inclusive one.
I started at the company. I know it doesn’t look that way because I have this baby face. But 29 years ago, and I’ve been in the insurance industry for well over 35 years. And I was fortunate in that coming from the insurance industry, going into law, it came down to two firms and one firm was offering a significant, like more money than the firm that I’m at right now at that stage. But, you know what? I just didn’t feel comfortable with that culture. And that was 29 years ago and I felt there was a certain warmth, there was a certain inclusiveness I, there, they, even before I started working there, I could tell that they had
[00:03:00] plans for me, and what I should do and a pathway. So I chose this firm, even though I was getting a significantly less money. Good for me, lucky for me, I performed well, met their expectations and, by the end of that first year, I was able to make up the money that I lost. I’ve never really looked back at that, but I say that as a start because the firm has always been about what do you offer. How can you make yourself better and the firm better and they didn’t, they never cared about your race, your ethnicity, whether you’re a male or female, and I can tell you, 29 years ago, there were a lot less female attorneys in the insurance defense space, then there are now. I think back then the firm probably had maybe 35 or 38 lawyers maybe, and I think we were unique
[00:04:00] in this. Maybe we had six female attorneys, six, one that was a partner. Now I can tell you that the firm has 50 last time I checked something like 52% of the firm are women, of the attorneys in the firm are women 52%.and a number of them are equity partners like myself. So it’s always been. That culture and a number of years ago, as a firm, started to grow and get bigger and, we had more people coming to the firm. We recognized in order to keep our culture in order to keep what we like about this firm. We needed to establish a diversity committee and we needed to have somebody lead that, and that person was me.
So I became the chief. Diversity officer and you’ve put in place, several programs and several things to solidify what has always been in our ongoing culture.
[00:05:01] Amy: I love what you said about taking an offer that was less money because you thought the culture was going to be better and you saw yourself. You saw that they had a plan for you long-term you saw yourself working there long-term I think especially right now, when companies are really strapped for talent and they’re competing with employers that they’ve maybe not competed with in the past. And they may think in their minds, oh my gosh, talent’s getting so expensive.
But if you have the right culture in place, talent doesn’t have to be that expensive.
[00:05:38] Charles: Yeah, that’s true. Obviously money always plays a role in it, and that’s still, very important, but people want more things than just money. I had an individual who left our company or firm for a tremendous amount of money more. I’m part of the story
[00:06:00] here with in a diversity and inclusion, with diverse individuals and I use that term loosely because the way I look at it is that everybody is diverse.
Diversity and inclusion is about hearing and respecting all the voices. It’s not about excluding anybody, while they’re the majority is that they are not diverse. It’s not about that. It’s about everybody being at the table, but anyway, this individual left the firm a big national firm scooped him up, offered him a ton more money.
And a year later, the guy’s on the phone calling me and saying, Hey, Charles, if I wanted to come back, would you guys be interested? And I said, of course, but we’re not going to be able to match that salary. He says, don’t worry about that. I’ll put certain things in place and then we negotiated something that was good for him and good for us. But it’s a lot of times, it’s not just
[00:07:00] about how much money you can make. It’s about how you feel in your job. It’s about getting all the opportunities that everybody else will be allowed.
So you can plan your future. It’s a, it’s, there’s one word that really, ties up the whole diversity and inclusion and equity piece for me and it’s the word, famous song that Aretha Franklin sang years ago, R E S P E C T. It’s about respect, and if you think about just respecting every individual for what they can offer, and what they bring to the organization rather than looking at what the differences are and all that nonsense. Just what does John Brown offer? What does Mary Jane offer to the firm and what can we do for her or him to, enhance their careers? That’s all it really is. Everything else is just garbage in my mind.
[00:08:02] Amy: Now that you’re in this role, what are some of the things that you’re doing to make sure that these values are internalized and operationalized throughout the company?
[00:08:12] Charles: Sure. We could talk about that. We’ve done things like training programs on unconscious bias, we’re working on a new one that deals with microaggressions. We’re we’ve done because in the diversity piece you have to acquire people. So therefore, you have, sometimes you have to look at non-traditional hiring sources, right?
Not just go to the usual sources because there’s talent everywhere. That’s one thing that, that I think people are learning now that talent is not just in the Ivy league schools are, talent is everywhere, it’s just a matter of finding it unearthing it, choosing the right people for your organization because not everybody is
[00:09:00] the right, choice, but you want to have a diverse organization because, and this needs to be said more and more. I know it’s old, the statistics are old, organizations that have more diversity and certainly have diversity at the decision-making table, do better financially.
It, and the numbers are astounding. It’s like something like 35% better. If you’re in business, I would imagine you’re in business to make a profit. So there is no reason to not seek out talent that will help you grow your business and make more profit, especially as you’re looking forward in the 21st century and the world is changing and our country’s changing in terms of who the market is, are, and how you have to reach people and again, I want to emphasize, because I think a lot of
[00:10:00] people hear the word diversity and they just oh, that’s, that’s for, a people of a certain race.
Hey, sir, black and brown people are it’s for women or it’s for LGBTQ and those types of things. It’s for everybody, it’s about bringing everybody’s voices to the table so that when decisions are made, it’s a decision that brings more information not less there’s so much more I could talk about, but I know that your time is short,
[00:10:30] Amy: so I appreciate that and I think that I always say to my audiences, when I speak, nobody ever made a worst decision with more information.
Amy: Right. So the more information you have, the better decisions you’re able to make. And if you expand where you get your information, you will get different, more information instead of more of the same information, which is how too many people make their decisions. They look for consensus, they look for confirmation, they don’t look for dissent. They don’t look for different perspectives
[00:11:00] and stop and say, what am I missing?
[00:11:02] Charles: Yeah my, I learned a lot from my dad, but one of the things that he said to me that I always remember is he said, son, everybody knows something that you don’t know.
Even the guy in the gutter know something that you don’t know, so that means if you think about it, that means, at that point still more inclusiveness, right? That point still listening now doesn’t mean they’re going to accept everything you hear, but you should at least have the information so you can make a determination
[00:11:39] Amy: that’s right. Make your decisions on purpose. Yeah, I love that. Anything else you want to share with our listeners and viewers?
[00:11:47] Charles: Not at this time. There’s I, like I said, there’s just a ton of things and, with the firm and how we’re getting along and how we’re trying to include people and plans that we have for the future.
[00:12:00] Amy: What are you doing now?
[00:12:01] Charles: We did a survey recently because part of what you should do as an organization is measure your success, because, okay, you’ve working with HR and you’re now bringing in people who are different, you have programs to try to make people feel included. We’ve established some mentorship programs and things of that nature. So that people have an outlet other than, just their immediate supervisor, they can learn things and all those other things You have to have some understanding of, is this really working, right? You may think it’s working.
So you do a blind survey. And we had a significant number of people respond to the survey. Not everybody because I’m sure there are some people who figure it out. How blind is this survey? But we learned some things.
[00:13:00] Most of it was very positive. It was a confirmation that we were definitely going in the right direction, but we also learned some things, that were surprising to us and gave us pause to, to figure, okay, maybe we need some training in this area or training in that area.
As we go forward, but you always have to have a way of measuring your success and a blind survey, good old suggestion box that works, because sometimes you get great ideas. Sometimes you go, oh, okay. Trash. Yep. No, you get them, if you don’t have it, you don’t get them.
[00:13:42] Amy: Those perceptions are reality. So the person that submits them, and so you have to understand where that’s coming from.
[00:13:47] Charles: And then of course there’s also some team building things that we do. We created like a Spotify account where people can upload you know their music and, and it’s shared amongst the firm. And
[00:14:00] what that does is because we’re trying to have folks see that we’re much, we’re all much more alike than we’re different. Okay, and we try to have. Things like music. We can’t do food as much because of the whole COVID thing you can have people gather and all that, but we have music.
Probably later this year we’ll do something with recipes or something, but people, the more people do these things, we had a young picture contest and also I submitted a picture of myself when I was like 12 years old and, everybody has to guess who everybody is and all these things that’s build team and people begin to realize that, we’re not really that much different. There’s so much in life that we all share experiences that we
[00:15:00] share and experiences that make us more alike than different. Obviously, there are differences because of culture and upbringing and finances and all those things, but those things are external to who people are on the inside. Okay, so those are the, some of the things that we do to try to build team and so on.
[00:15:24] Amy: Thank you so much for sharing that with us. And I hope that the folks listening can take something away from this in terms of things that they can do in their own organizations to help push for progress and push for more inclusion and help get those.
Diverse viewpoints in the room when decisions are being made because of this is so important.
That’s great. And as you, as we’re talking about this and I’m thinking about there’s an equity component to this too, right? Because there’s, we don’t want people’s demographics to determine their outcomes and I think that’s probably what’s behind the
[00:16:00] scholarship work that you’re doing. If I may be so bold as to guess it motivations there, but also. This is such a passion of mine because my belief is as long as black and brown people are underrepresented in the insurance industry, black and brown communities will be under-insured and closing that gap is critical to building wealth and intergenerational wealth in those communities.
So this is a particular, so box for me, so I might get down off of it and let you talk but why the scholarship and why is your firm? So strongly behind what you’re doing with NAAIA and with these
[00:16:36] Charles: Okay. I think you’ve hit on some of the issues already. I think generally, not even just amongst black and brown communities, but certainly exacerbated in black and brown communities.
Most people have no real idea about insurance. When the, when they hear insurance, they think automobile insurance, they think life insurance, I think some guy knocking on your door trying to sell you something
[00:17:00] or, going to the corner store and getting some homeowners insurance or something like that. Insurance, is so broad, it touches on absolutely every aspect of life and certainly every aspect of business. Okay. And in a state like Florida, where I’m from insurance is really king down here and so critically important and you can see the under representation of black and brown people.
And moreover, what’s happening with two factors, the great resignation. And even before the great resignation, there were just a ton of positions going on field and needed within industry. So you know that to me, spells opportunity for black and brown kids to get involved within this industry because the opportunities
[00:18:00] are there, right? Whether it’s in, IT or marketing or all the various aspects of insurance, I could go on and on management and historically people don’t ever say, I want to grow up to be an insurance guy or an insurance girl that doesn’t happen. They go out and they get a fine arts degree. And then, they realize that’s going to give me a good living. And then somebody, they interview for insurance job on Indiana up there. When, what we looked at was the RMI program at Florida state and Florida state has a co-op program with Florida and find you right. Which is probably the top historically black college and university and the state of Florida. So what we thought was because our, my program is number one in the country. If we were able to link with them
[00:19:00] with the organization, that I’m a part of national African-American insurance association. The Florida chapter, we could have a triumvirate of the school, the association and industry. So that would create a pipeline of great talent into industry through the scholarship and the scholarship would involve, of course mentoring from Florida state, which they already have a great program as well as from NAAIA and internships with industry so that way industry could see from an early stage, all the lights went off in here. If you give me a second, I can turn it back on.
With the internships, then they get a chance to really evaluate the kids at an early stage to, make decisions who they want and because these kids are coming from a top program, they
[00:20:00] really have an opportunity to, ultimately possibly reach C-suites right. We’re trying to get $1 million so we can have a fully endowed program. And with co-ops with what’s called the cure program, we can get as much as six to eight scholarships a year.
In perpetuity as you can tell that would create a real pipeline and answer some of the questions that industry needs. All they would need. All an insurance company would need to do is put a four year commitment. $10,000 a year. So it’s a total of $40,000. Of course, if they want to get more, I would accept that.
But 25 companies, $40,000, million dollars and we’re off and running and that’s a scholarship program.
[00:20:56] Amy: That’s incredible. And so for people who are listening to this or who are watching this, who are
[00:21:00] outside of the insurance industry, there are a couple of things I want to explain.
First of all, RMI is risk management and insurance. That’s a major or a school within the school. There are fewer programs, fewer RMI programs. Now I believe nationwide than they’re used to. In colleges and universities, is that correct?
[00:21:18] Charles: I think so. And it’s never really been very popular. I know St John’s and the New York area has a pretty famous one and clearly Florida state does too.
I’m sure there are some in California, probably one in Texas. It’s not an MBA where you can just go to almost any university and sign up for that.
[00:21:36] Amy: Yup. And here in Indianapolis, where I live Butler university has an RMI program. They’re one of the few here in Indiana that do.
But I also want to get back to this concept or this idea that you had, where like insurance is in everything and if you’ve not worked in the industry, you’ve led me to another soapbox, Mr. Watkins. So, if you’re not, if you’ve never worked in the insurance industry
[00:22:00] I want you to imagine for a moment that there’s this invisible web that ties everything together that makes all economic investment possible.
That every dollar you spend has been touched by insurance a thousand times before you even spend it. And that’s what we’re talking about here. When we talk about this notion that. There are just not enough people coming into the industry if we don’t maintain, so I guess we’re passionate about this, but if we don’t maintain insurance as an industry, if we don’t have people doing this important work, then commerce can’t happen.
People can’t start businesses. People can’t build homes. People can’t buy cars. There are so many things that will be. It’s one of those things that as long as it’s working, you don’t notice it, but if it stops working, our entire economy gets very risky very quickly.
[00:22:52] Charles: If you think of 2008, when we came close to a financial collapse,
[00:23:00] It was what’s the beginning of what saved our industry was propping up AIG.
Right, which is with $80 billion, which, you know, because they were involved in ensuring, all those mortgage. I forget what they call them now but the bad mortgages basically, and, if AIG had gone down, then that was going to start the domino effect. Of essentially shutting down our entire economy.
So yes, you’re absolutely correct, Amy. And you can call me Charles, by the way.
[00:23:40] Amy: The other thing about this that’s so critical right now is that the baby boomers are starting to retire. The industry is very baby boomer heavy in terms of the people in the industry today and something like 30 to 40% of the industry is retirement eligible. So, we just don’t have enough
[00:24:00] people to be underwriters and to be actuaries and to be producers and to work in the industry, and you were talking about marketing and it and HR, anything you want to do as a career you can do in the insurance industry and people don’t think of it. Cause it’s not sexy.
Working in Hollywood is sexy or working in tech is sexy and, oh gosh, I we can talk about this part all day, but I love what you’re doing because it solves a couple of problems. One, it helps employers see talent that they might otherwise overlook because these young kids coming out of college, don’t look like the people that they expect to see coming into their insurance companies. First of all, the second thing is it actually helps young people see all of the opportunities that are available in the industry and then you’re really building that bridge of helping not only helping them see the bridge, but helping them get across it and have people waiting for them on the other side to guide them through.
[00:24:55] Charles: And it’s a win-win because you’re bringing in people into the organization
[00:25:00] that know about insurance, you’re not bringing in. And I’m not disparaging fine arts in any way or shape or form, but I’m just using it as an example. You’re not bringing in a fine arts person who has no concept of what insurance is, and you’re going to essentially use the next two years to teach them.
All about industry so that they can be beneficial to your corporate corporation. You have an intern they’re already studying risk management. They come in and they’re already, they’re good to go. Th they know what it’s about and they know what they want.
And you in industry has had an opportunity to evaluate them because there were your intern, so I think it’s a real, win-win it answers that question about getting talent when there’s a talent shortage and it also brings in people who are diverse, which there definitely is a shortage of that in, in the
[00:26:00] insurance industry as well. So yes, that’s why I’m I am, I’m gung ho and all in about this because I see this as a real win-win situation, and so does my and so does my firm because obviously, my, my firm, we’re an insurance defense firm and, most of our clients are big insurance companies. So, it certainly behooves us as a law firm to be in support of things that support industry and it’s look, this idea came to me and other colleagues who are in NAAIA, as a result of seeing all the craziness that took place in 2020 and we wanted to do something that was positive, something that moved the needle and created real opportunities, in the African-American community.
[00:26:59] Amy: I think it’s fantastic, and I hope you get every penny you look that you seek and more, this is an issue that needs to be solved and big right there, like big solutions to this problem for big reasons, and I think every step that we can take toward diversifying the industry and, creating that pipeline and, helping people secure really good middle-class jobs by the way, because that’s what the insurance industry offers for decades, the insurance industry has been a solid middle-class job.
[00:27:33] Charles: Yeah, and it also is recession proof for the most part, because, as long as you have a business, as long as you have, like we were saying every aspect of life and, you rely on your insurance for all different kinds of reasons which are recession proof. It just really is, when was the last time insurance companies lose money because of bad
[00:28:00] management or there can be certain they get involved with too much litigation, things of that nature, but it’s never because their economy is not,
[00:28:13] Amy: It’s never market isn’t there. There’s always a market for insurance. Sometimes it’s almost market. Sometimes it’s a soft market, right? Sometimes there’s too much competition and prices don’t go down to an unsustainable level. Everybody needs insurance. And the thing is you always either need insurance or more insurance.
Amy: You never don’t need any
[00:28:34] Charles: exactly. You’re correct. You’re correct.
[00:28:38] Amy: And we need people to do those jobs. We need people to help us keep investing and to help keep us safe and keep our families protected so that we can retain the wealth that we generate through our businesses and retain the wealth that we build through our homes and the things that we acquire. This is so important.
Charles, thank you so much for your time today. Thank you for
[00:29:00] sharing this important this important initiative with us and I’m going to just reiterate that Kubicki Draper is looking for 25 companies. That want to support the insurance industry and want to support young historically marginalized talent, young black students to get into this industry and how can people contact you if they want to contribute to this cause
[00:29:20] Charles: just by my email, really CW@KubickiDraper.com
[00:29:26] Amy: Okay. So we’ll make sure to put that in the notes and I sure hope that we are able to help you spread this message.
[00:29:31] Charles: Thank you for the opportunity.