Guest Editorial

Editor’s note: Cal Broker is honored to publish this open letter from insurance industry vet Tony Lee. The views expressed in the letter are Mr. Lee’s. We’re always happy to hear what you think. Please drop us a line:

Dear White Colleagues,

I write this letter to you not in anger but with love. I write it to contextualize and to help you  understand that our society is going through a structural change that will impact the wonderful industry we love so much. Things will never be like they were before.

Growing up in Berkeley and Oakland in the early 70’s; being on government assistance as a

child; attending Black Panther food drives; having a mother who is currently a progressive member of Congress and being the former CEO of the largest African American insurance agency in the nation, “Diversity and Inclusion” was not a foreign concept to me. The notion that we should have a diverse and inclusive society are ideas I grew up with. For 20 years I have been fighting–yelling, screaming, stomping my feet– for our industry to do better and not give lip service to the ideas of diversity and inclusiveness.

White Colleagues, I’m angry when I google “top black insurance executives” and my name appears first or second because I received the 2019 National African American Insurance Association Leadership award. I’m angry because I know the five or six black insurance broker c-suite executives. The ones I don’t know can be counted on one hand.

The sociopolitical place we see ourselves has taken over the national dialogue. I have had many uncomfortable conversations with white colleagues around the country, small one-man shops to large multinational publicly traded brokerage firms. Conversations begin something like this: “You doing okay, anything I can do?” My response has been that I am not okay, and you must realize this national conversation did not happen in a vacuum. These issues need to be put into context and you must understand that it is woven into the history of our nation.

White colleagues, these issues are  real. I  should  not  have  to  explain that  having  an African  American president did not cure economic injustice, it did not wipe away the economic impact of slavery and why we find ourselves here today.

Our brokerage/consulting family has come up woefully short in three key areas:

  1. Diversity of staffing
  2. Diversity of C-Suite leadership
  3. Inclusiveness of Minority Business Enterprise in the supply chain

Marsh  published  a  report   in September 2018 entitled, “The   Journey   of   African-American  Insurance Professionals”. Even though African Americans have been involved in the insurance industry since the “Late 17th Century” with as “many as 42 large, black owned insurance companies” existing in the 1920’s, the modern insurance industry has come up woefully short. Marsh states:

“It is generally acknowledged that there is a significant deficiency throughout the insurance industry in African-American leadership and other levels of employment. As the demographics of the US change, becoming more diverse in terms of race, ethnicity, socioeconomics, age, and gender, the insurance industry’s executive and management ranks — from insurers to agencies and beyond — are not reflective of those emerging trends.”

Society is more diverse yet  the industry we love is not. The insurance brokerage industry must  look      at staffing in a more holistic and societal lens. Unconscious bias is prevalent and bleeds into hiring practices. Educating our HR professionals and recruiters to recognize inherent bias allows us to begin to realize a broader tent in terms of what our workplace will look like.

If brokerage firms choose to not make diversity of staffing a priority in their

recruiting and hiring practices, diversity of leadership and management will never have the potential to grow and thrive.

Our industry suffers this inertia. We have seen progress with carriers, including recently deceased Bernard Tyson, former CEO of Kaiser, Ron Williams, former CEO of Aetna and WellPoint, current CEO of Kaiser Gregory Adams. All trailblazers, who have made an impact in their organizations.

Our brokerage community has very few c-suite representations, and fewer leadership roles, especially in the large multi-national firms.

This brings me to my last point. Once we have a diverse staff, a diverse and inclusive c-suite we must look at those Minority, Woman, and Veteran Owned businesses. Engaging these firms whether on a mentor basis or a supplier basis, is not only good business, but has economic impact far beyond our four walls. These companies will hire women, minorities, and veterans and can provide goods and services which allows them to participate in your enterprise economy. These businesses spend for our services. Some firms see the value and make great investments into Diversity and Inclusion. For over 10 years, Aon CEO Greg Case and his team led by Shelly Brown of Aon Diversity Solutions, have done extraordinary work in this area. Our industry should see the Aon model as an example of how to engage diverse business services.

Our open minded (and humble) Alera CEO Alan Levitz and I have had several pointed conversations. As uncomfortable as these conversations have been, it is a start inside my organization. Before the current social unrest, a group of women pointed out our leadership team lacked diversity of gender and ethnicity. Alan and team acknowledged this and put into place a working group. We were not going to solve the racial problems of the world (even our internal world). We needed an honest conversation about who we are as a company and who we really wanted to be. Brave women were willing to go to our CEO and point out this deficiency. Will things change? Will things be different? Will we be having this same conversation next year? I have no idea. I do know that the work  by Mr. Levitz and his executive team allowed our organization to be semi-prepared when our world blew up.

White colleagues, we manage risk every day. We protect and insure our communities every day. Open this tent, see the goodness and the value of engaging people that represent our great nation and society.

Forward together and with love,



Tony Lee

Managing Partner, Dickerson Insurance Services, An Alera Group Company