The Future of Insurance Podcast – Omari Jahi Aarons

Executive Director & COO, NAAIA

Season 4, Episode 13, May 2, 2023

Guest Bio

Omari Jahi Aarons is a disruptive leader and transformation coach with over 15 years of experience in Corporate America at Fortune 150 companies. He is the Executive Director and COO of the National African American Insurance Association (NAAIA). NAAIA was organized to create a network among people of color and others employed in or affiliated with the insurance industry.

Omari has built infrastructures to support culture change efforts and originated roles. Omari’s work connects consumer demand with rising employee expectations for workplaces to be representative of the populations they serve and are embedded with the innovative mindsets needed to lead most effectively.

Omari has received numerous honors for his commitment to community building and civic engagement and demonstrated inclusive leadership. Insurance Business America honored Omari with their inaugural Leader of Change award in September 2020 and the Rising Star Award in October 2020. Omari was selected by the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce as a 2020 Ten Outstanding Young Leader and named a 2021 40 LGBTQ Leader Under 40 for North America by Business Equality Magazine.

Omari is a graduate of Xavier University in Cincinnati, OH, and is a Howard Thurman Fellow at Boston University School of Theology where he is pursuing his Master of Divinity in Global and Community Engagement. He is a Workhuman Certified Professional. 

Highlights from the Show

  • Omari Jahi Aarons started his professional career outside of insurance, working in operations, L&D and HR at Macy’s before coming to Insurance
  • He spent 5 years at Liberty Mutual before doing his own consulting work on DE&I
  • In June 2022, he joined the National African American Insurance Association (NAAIA) as the COO and Executive Director
  • NAAIA started 26 years ago, started by a Black agent in Cincinnati who saw a need for a supportive organization in the industry
  • By the end of 2019, they had grown to 1,000 members and 23 chapters across the country, and should pass 2,500 soon with new chapters joining, as well
  • NAAIA’s mission is to help diversify the industry through professional development, personal empowerment (e.g., mentoring and support) and access to talent opportunities
  • DE&I is a common topic today, but also something that’s frequently in the news as something getting pushback or being seen as agitating
    • The intention is the opposite, and about fostering togetherness rather than being a source of division
    • For Insurance, this is as much about talent as it is about our products and how they serve diverse populations, and the history of underserving them or operating in ways that hold those populations back
  • Looking at diversity numbers, we often mask the real issue because there are pockets with high diversity, but they tend to be in lower-paying, customer-facing roles rather than leadership roles
    • Omari has a simple question he asks to get at this: other than the security guard or support staff, when you look at your calendar for the week, how many people of color will be in those meetings?
  • Workplace engagement can be helped by
    • Having a work friend who knows the unwritten rules of the environment and can help you work through situations you’ve been in
    • Having a mentor, internally and externally, to give you guidance and challenge
  • NAAIA and Marsh & McLennan just released their assessment of progress on DE&I
    • They saw a number of initiatives proposed and implemented, however
    • They also saw that the work so far has not had material impact yet as the progress of diversity up through the ranks has not changed materially
    • Where it has, it was driven by having coaching and support within your organization
    • What we see is, generally, under-sponsorship, under-mentoring and under-recognized
      • People doing DE&I work or taking on stretch work to support the efforts aren’t recognized or rewarded for it, so the work doesn’t help them move forward
      • In some cases, it can hurt them as they may be seen to be distracted from their core deliverables
        • And yet, there is often an expectation that diverse employees have to take on the responsibility for these efforts
        • Omari talks about the cost of being ‘one of the only’, and how you’re expected to be involved in everything, which pulls you off your job-specific work, too
        • There are people who are willing to be the first, and that’s ok if the organization is willing to be honest about that, and support them in helping to change the picture
  •  Omari reminds people hoping to make change to ask, “What can I do?”
    • We all have the ability to make our environments more equitable and inclusive
    • Think about it 1 hour a day, and do something 1 hour a week
      • This creates micro moments that create change in aggregate
  • We all win when we’re more diverse – the data on that is clear – but we need to be specific about what that means and what we’re going to do about it

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Thank you to our sponsor

This episode is brought to you by The Future of Insurance Volume III. The Collaborators, part of the Future of Insurance thought leadership series ( from Bryan Falchuk.

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