Q&A: State Farm's Next Steps On Diversity & Inclusion | WGLT

Q&A: State Farm's Next Steps On Diversity & Inclusion

Nov 18, 2020

In Part 2 of their interview, State Farm senior vice president Annette Martinez talks to WGLT's Ryan Denham about the company's recent moves on diversity and inclusion. That includes the appointment of State Farm's first chief diversity officer over the summer.

Part 1 of the interview focused on recruitment and retention efforts within the company.

The following has been lightly edited for clarity and brevity.

WGLT: In June you appointed Victor Terry as State Farm’s first chief diversity officer. Why? 

State Farm Senior Vice President Annette Martinez, who oversees areas such as human resources and diversity and inclusion.

Martinez: We’re really proud of our journey on diversity and inclusion work. I had the privilege of starting the diversity initiatives for State Farm in 2002. From that time, we’ve launched employee resource groups, which a lot of organizations do. We've had kind of this evolution of building our metrics, looking at development opportunities, building different support systems for associates, recruiting. So all the things you would think about in traditional D&I work.

We knew that as more companies were going to this Chief Diversity Officer concept, we knew that there was an opportunity for us to name somebody in particular. And this year just seemed like the right year. There are a lot of things that came together, as we were thinking about what happened in society and how as an organization, we stood up and said, 'We can't stay silent to the inequities that are clearly happening.'

And so we've had this long history of really positive work around D&I. This just felt like the right year for us to say, ‘We’re gonna take another step,’ and the Chief Diversity Officer role gives us a chance to say, ‘We're all in, we're committed, we're going to continue this work.’ And Victor's done a fabulous job, just jumping in, and has some really good plans for moving forward as well.

We had talked about the role earlier on. I had served in that capacity in a lot of ways, but to really name somebody and have somebody that is focused on this work day in day out, we think it's just really positive stuff. So it was just right timing in our minds.

How do you craft a position like that, so that he’s set up for success? There’s been a lot of reporting about corporate diversity officers being brought on, given the shiny new title, but not having the power to change culture. What’s your approach?

So from the very beginning, what was wonderful about our diversity initiatives is, we always reported up through the CEO. And at the time, I actually reported to the chief operating officer. And so we've always had very high level support from our executives, CEO and our highest level leaders. That has never changed. And I think that is one of the very key things that will help Victor in the role of CDO is that really having that pipeline and guidance from them.

So for us, I think it's a continuation. He wasn't coming in to rescue the organization. He wasn't coming in to start something brand new. But we do understand that with D&I, this work never ends. And we certainly saw that this year. And so as he thinks about the future, he just put together what we're calling a Governance Council. And so that's a group of 10 high senior executives in the organization that are going to help with the future strategy for the work. He's looking at how to have even more robust metrics. And we're talking a lot about transparency and conversations that we're having with our associates. Really open dialogue with our associates. So I think it's a continuation of the work, but a really nice time to kind of just say, let's take it to the next level.

I feel like he's really coming in a very positive time. A lot of the other companies you mentioned, their chief diversity officer is starting from the ground level. And (Terry) doesn't have to do that. So that's why I just am very confident in where we're moving.

Where do you see the biggest room for improvement on diversity and inclusion at that State Farm right now?

Something we’ve really focused on this year, which I really felt had been the area that we could work on the most … we've had a series of what we’re calling ‘Conversations Worth Having.’ Just really honest conversations within an organization about race relations, inequities, things that we're seeing in the world around us. That had probably been a hesitation for us. It can be a volatile topic for some people. And it has just been incredibly powerful this year.

The first session, we had around 4,500 participants that listened in. We were really just having honest conversations with people who have experienced racism, or who have had to manage their children through these types of issues, or personally had issues. The next session that we did had double that (number of) participants.

So just really having these honest conversations about things that perhaps sometimes (at workplaces) it's hard for people to have the conversation. And we've gotten such positive feedback around it. ‘It just feels that I can be honest with who I am and my experiences and that somebody else is listening to them too.’ So I think that's starting kind of this new trend moving forward, and I think it was our biggest opportunity to really start taking it to the next level.

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