Following International Women's Day, Clyde & Co partner Julie Hawkinson reflects on diversity in insurance and law and discusses why she is convinced that diversity is a business imperative for all industries, especially insurance, and the professional services firms that provide advice to clients facing a growing set of complex challenges.

Q. How is the commercial insurance industry doing from a diversity perspective?

Looking at the commercial insurance industry over the past year, companies are making encouraging progress on their journey to create more diverse cultures, but they still have some distance to go. The terms “diversity” and “inclusion,” while well intentioned, can lead people into thinking they’re mainly about quotas and top-down initiatives. The best environments are communities where people feel included and their voices are heard in solving problems and contributing ideas. Commercial insurance touches so many facets of business and society. When we look around, we see an increasingly mixed global community of people who differ by age, gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation and experience. All industries have opportunities to better reflect the clients they serve, and that is true of commercial insurance. That said, the insurance industry is making significant strides to bring in new faces, new voices and new perspectives.

Q. How does a diverse community make insurance claims departments better?

At their heart, claims are problems that policyholders need help to solve. Insurance often provides a financial solution, but in different lines, insurance is about more than money. Coverage in certain policies provides access to expert resources and advice that can assist in informing decisions that make organizations more effective in managing their exposure. A claims department where individuals with different backgrounds and ideas belong and are heard is more effective in solving problems as it is important to evaluate claims creatively and take into consideration different perspectives. In my mind, this is the key advantage of greater diversity, regardless of the business.

Q. Why is a legal team or law firm that places value on diversity important to clients?

Clyde & Co believes it’s important to address our clients’ ever-changing needs. Our firm is committed to creating a global community of professionals who provide diversity of thought, and we strive to structure teams in innovative ways to solve their problems. Sometimes it’s harder to see diversity in action at a law firm than at organizations where more team members are client facing. The quality of the advice and representation that clients receive, however, is a direct result of the make-up of the legal team. The magic is in how partners, senior counsel and associates connect across different offices and geographies and blend their experience to see things from different perspectives.

Q. Clyde & Co has strongly supported women’s advancement in insurance and risk management, and the firm in December was the lead sponsor of Business Insurance’s Women to Watch program. What are some of the main obstacles underrepresented groups face in attaining leadership roles?

Like the clients we serve, Clyde & Co is continuing our journey to become a more diverse firm. We know there is always room to improve, and we’re putting energy into that. We also are proud to support programs that recognize insurance industry organizations that are making a difference. One of the positive changes resulting from efforts to increase diversity is the increasing number of opportunities for women, and individuals from other lesser-represented groups to take on leadership roles. However, while the law has implemented certain protections designed to prohibit and prevent overt bias and discrimination in the workplace, we are cognizant that implicit and unconscious bias play a significant role in hindering advancement for many individuals. More companies, in insurance and other industries, recognize that professional development is one of the most important investments they can make in all their employees. I’m encouraged to see the number of mentoring programs, networks and employee resource groups that have formed to help individuals of many different backgrounds to build their confidence and careers.