At our Better Together conference on November 5, 2020, Ngozi Nnaji and Michele Adams hosted the webinar, Being An Ally Empowers Everyone. Michele Adams, Walmart, and Ngozi Nnaji, Principle Managing Partner, Ako Insurance Consulting, dove deep into what allyship looks like.
Ngozi, unlike most people in the industry, started her career intentionally going into the insurance industry. Her Nigerian father of 3 daughter paved her initial path by stating she would take on being an actuary as a profession. He handpicked each of his daughters’ careers to ensure they would know what they were doing for the rest of their lives so they would never need to be dependent on another.
With 25 years in the industry under her belt, Ngozi knows much more than a thing or two when it comes to understanding the ins and outs of the industry. “I have two degrees in insurance, so I am very passionate about this industry”, said Ngozi.
“How did you get here?”
Initially, Ngozi did not mean to get so involved in this important issue. About four or five years ago, she joined the African American Association. At that point, she was in middle management and hoped that joining this organization would boost her resume therefore gaining her a promotion. Once she became a member and got involved with the organization, she realized it was a topic she was passionate about.
Being a member made her take a look back on her experiences and think about the footprint she wanted to leave on the industry. Ngozi was asked, “What have you done? What’s your legacy? Where have you been helpful to others?”, and she didn’t have an answer. Ngozi said that these thought provoking questions, “Forced me to access what I would do for the next 20 years.”
Now, Ngozi is the Principle Managing Partner at Ako Insurance. Ako Insurance is a recruiting and consulting firm that focuses on bringing Black and Brown talent into the industry. The emphasis goes beyond recruiting and dives into retention to increase diversification within the insurance industry.
Recruiting and Retention
“What do we do when the talent is in our ranks?” and “What do we do after we get them there?” are two questions Ngozi addressed. Recruiting is just one part of the equation. Companies don’t want to only get diversity through the door, they need to be able to keep them there.
Michele asked, “Why do talented people leave organizations?” This comes from a sense of not belonging. Maybe the feeling comes from not seeing others in similar positions that look like them or maybe it comes from the company not investing in them as they should for their professional development.
“Companies, you know, think too hard about it”, Ngozi said. People are looking for support once they are brought onto a team. It can be as simple as a quick phone call or email letting them know of connections they can make to feel included. “What connections are we hoping these individuals make when they come on board?” is a question companies should be asking themselves after they recruit. Finding organizations that are niche to someone’s culture is a simple solution that is not done enough. Simple solutions will help make people feel a part of a culture that cares for them.
An Evolution Rather Than A Destination
Diversity, inclusion, and allyship are all evolutions. In our world’s climate, everyone is on a different journey to really understanding what all three mean. This can be based upon what culture you were born into and what culture you are a part of today. “My allyship might not look like your allyship”, said Ngzoi. For example, color consciousness was in Ngozi’s journey from before she could talk. It was always a known thing in her household whereas some people were raised color blind. Michele thought she “got it” until she went through 16 hours of the Racial Equity Institute. Going through that program gave her a completely different outlook and realized she didn’t know has much as she thought. Everyone must give themselves and others the grace to take their journey. “The more we experience, the more our perspectives will change”, said Ngozi.
“The Trilogy” is a concept that Ngozi created which is that mentorship and sponsorship cannot be without first having allyship.
Recognizing “I have power I have privilege and that other party does not and I need to put my power and privilege in action so that these individuals who are suppressed can be seen can be heard and you know be dealt with justly.”
An ally can be someone below you, at the same level, or above you. It doesn’t come in one shape or form. A simple act done by anyone, at any level, is just as important than one at a grand scale. Individualized and person “It can be very individualized and personalized”, said Ngozi.
The Perspective of a Black Woman
Many Black people are frustrated in the fact that they are now being asked for the solutions. Things that are so obvious to one community is not to others who have not shared the same experiences. “Ok yes I am frustrated, but yes they are asking and they’re being genuine about it and want to know”, said Ngozi. Know that when answers are needed to a solution, a safe space for a Black community is needed to have their own conversations and outlet.
Leave the Competition in 2020
Everyone is trying to accomplish the same goals. All companies in the industry are attempting to bring people together to create more equality within the workspace. Many times, companies and people in the industry want to create their own space so that their “name” is attached. Ngozi highlighted that so many companies already have created great resources for this. Rather than competing with companies, join together with companies to create even better opportunities for equality.
Blog by: Melina Ressler, Intern, Alliance of Women in Workers’ Compensation