This post focuses on the fourth tenet of the Pledge: We commit to removing relationships and cutting contracts with companies that perpetuate harm.
The Pledge – We commit to:
- Cultivating an open and inclusive culture for employees to feel comfortable coming forward when an incident occurs.
- Believing the person coming forward, investigating the incident, and taking appropriate disciplinary action based on the findings.
- Not forcing or mandating silence or confidentiality for the person coming forward.
- Removing relationships and cutting contracts with companies that perpetuate harm.
Why is this tenet important?
This tenet is all about walking the talk and living into your culture authentically. All the work you completed to this point is moot if you allow other companies to treat your employees in a harmful or careless manner. When this behavior goes unchecked employee engagement can sink. It sends the message that the bottom line is more important than your employees’ sense of safety.
Consider the following examples that are commonplace in our industry:
- An agent calls into an underwriting supervisor’s office and requests a male underwriter specifically. While he is currently assigned a female underwriter, the underwriting supervisor allows the switch. The reasoning? The agent throws a fit every time something does not go their way. It is easier to comply. The damage? The female underwriter now feels as if she is lesser than her male counterparts. She is not in the wrong, or lesser, but her confidence decreases. This incident is detrimental because she potentially misses opportunities to learn and advance her skill and possibly her career.
- A marketing representative is getting a new agency in their territory and is co-traveling with the previous rep. Before they enter, the current marketing rep familiar with the agency gives the new person the survival tactics for the agency. “Do not go into this office; he will make weird comments about your outfit. Talk to her if you want the info on risks. You only have to go in once a quarter. Our boss knows that if something bad happens, they will move the agency from your territory.” These simple remarks are a normal part of the job, but they indicate that carrier staff knows that there are problematic people within certain partnerships. Instead of addressing it, they work around it. The reasoning? The agency produces x amount of premium a month, or the relationship is x years long. Until situations like these change, the marketing rep is knowingly walking into an office that could be uncomfortable at best, traumatizing at worst. The damage? The employee knows and understands that she is less important than the relationship with the agency. The cycle continues.
- An agency is aware that one of their vendors acts harmfully towards women due to a previous incident but does not make the vendor aware. While they do not reward the vendor with business, they choose not to address the harmful acts. The reasoning? If they do not reward that vendor with business, that vendor will eventually cancel their contract, and they will not have to do anything about it. The damage? The company whose employee continues to act harmfully may not know about the behavior and cannot address or reprimand the employee. Additionally, the agency knows about the person and could place an employee in a hostile situation.
There are potential resolutions to each of the above scenarios. It is possible in that first example that the agent calls in, requests the change in underwriter, and the supervisor contends that the switch is not allowed – the company assigns underwriters, and they cannot switch them. If the underwriter is uncomfortable, another conversation occurs with the agent. If nothing untoward happened in the past and there are no hard feelings, then business continues per usual.
Third-party harassment can and does happen at work. Companies should have policies to protect and inform employees of harassment from customers, clients, or vendors. While your company may not be able to prevent every situation, if a problem could occur, or an entity is know to perpetuate harm, it is the company’s responsibility to ensure that the employee is not working in a hostile work environment. While it may seem like moving the agent to a new underwriter, informing and prepping the marketing rep, and not rewarding the vendor with business are ways to skirt harm and avoid conflict, these acts add up and contribute to the larger culture. The insurance industry has a poor reputation. While much of that is customer satisfaction, if you ask outside companies what they think of insurance, you may hear references to “the old boy’s club” or “living in the 1950s”.
We are not asking you to end a relationship every time an incident occurs. We invite you to consider when there is a known entity perpetrating harm, address that company with the complaint, let them resolve the issue, and if it becomes a pattern with no action taken on the other company’s part – underwrite your risk.