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Colonial Life believes diversity initiatives benefit entire company

Human Resources
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There are lots of reasons why Colonial Life decided to concentrate on promoting and increasing diversity.

The most important reason also is the simplest, said company diversity and inclusion consultant Beth Ruffin.

“It’s the right thing to do as a company,” Ruffin said. “We’re diverse, and so it’s the right thing to make sure that we are attending to needs of all our employees.”

A year ago, Ruffin said, Timothy Arnold, CEO of the Columbia-based insurance company that sells disability, accident, life, cancer, critical illness and hospital plans in 49 states, challenged the company’s human resources department to take a closer look at diversity and inclusion issues.

“And they were willing to put the resources behind it,” she said.

Those resources include an array of employee resource groups focused on areas of action, such as recruiting and education and awareness, and on specific groups, such as veterans, women in leadership, ethnic minorities, disabled workers and LGBTQIA (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex and asexual) individuals.

“Employees are our largest asset. That’s why it’s important,” Ruffin said. “But also, as a company, it’s important to us because it helps us to be more competitive in the marketplace. As we think about interacting with our customers or with future employees, that’s one of the things they want to know: How inclusive is your environment?”

The National Diversity Council works to establish state and regional councils promoting partnerships, advocacy and education across the country.

“The business case for diversity and inclusion grows stronger as each day passes,” said Dennis Kennedy, who founded the organization in 2008, on its website. “Local impact is what we want to achieve. … UItimately, our goal is to advocate for diversity as a business imperative to increase our chances to innovate and create sustainable wealth for our communities.”

The National Diversity Council offers a certification program, a resource toolkit and coaching and community programs and sponsors conferences and events.

Last year, Fortune magazine and research and consulting firm A Great Place to Work released its list of the 50 Best Workplaces for Diversity. Texas Health Resources topped the rankings, which also featured companies such as Delta, Marriott, Aflac and Nationwide.

The Arlington, Texas-based hospital system has a workforce that is 77% female and 41% minority, offers English as a second language classes and provides benefits to same-sex partners, according to the rankings. The rankings also found that 64% of Marriott’s 100,525 employees are black, Latino or other ethnic minorities, as are 15% of its executives.

At Colonial Life, a data group gathers the numbers that influence the company’s diversity policies. The company did not have specific percentages of female or minority employees available.

“Diversity is a fact. That’s really about the numbers,” Ruffin said. “But when you talk about inclusion, that’s a feeling. That’s a behavior. That’s a culture shift. Do your people feel included? Do they feel like they can be their whole selves when they walk in the door? Our focus is really on that inclusion part. You can increase diversity. You can bring in diverse people. But if your culture’s not ready to accept them, if they don’t have that voice at the table, then you’re going to lose them.”

To that end, Colonial Life hosted a Women in Leadership panel in August featuring Pam Lackey, president of AT&T South Carolina, United Way of the Midlands CEO Sarah Fawcett and Lt. Col. Yvette Brown, the highest-ranking woman at Fort Jackson. The women discussed the challenges they faced as leaders in traditionally male-dominated industries.

Ruffin said the event was inspiring and spawned the idea for a book club going forward to address how to promote healthy professional relationships among women in corporate America.

The company also works with local veterans, both in recruitment and through programs that help them transition into the corporate workforce by polishing their resumes or educating them about benefits.

Last month, Colonial Life also sponsored a float at the Famously Hot S.C. Pride Festival for the first time. 

The organization recently implemented a transgender policy, with toolkits for managers and employees, covering topics such as communication and health-plan coverage. The company also made modifications to its restrooms and fitness center locker rooms.

“We’ve also updated our charitable giving policy,” Ruffin said. “We won’t give to any organizations that discriminate against that population.”

Such actions will benefit Colonial Life by providing a deeper understanding of its customer base and its community, which in turn will make it more competitive in the marketplace, Ruffin said.

“It will also help us know how to build our products or know how to interact and know how to market to different groups of people,” she said. “We want to reflect what our communities look like.”

That goal also means the company must make a concerted effort to attract and empower employees who reflect that community.

“You think about recruiting. Are we going to diverse schools, or are we always going to the same schools to recruit?” Ruffin said. “You think about promotions. Are we giving the same type of employee opportunities for promotion, or is that diverse?

“Once you get people in the door, you want to make sure that they’re having the same opportunities to grow and develop their careers, that they’re being promoted, that as we look from entry-level employee up to the highest C-suite employees, do we have representation along that way?”

Ruffin said the diversity initiatives have benefitted from support from senior leadership and buy-in from employees.

“As an organization, we have taken a stand. We are going to be an inclusive culture and an inclusive environment,” she said. “And it’s the right thing to do. There’s a business case, but it’s really about the human case, the human reason for it.”

Contact Melinda Waldrop at 803-726-7542.

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