Meet Zurich North America's Diversity & Inclusion Director
February 21, 2020
Lauren Young sees a path from diversity and inclusion to innovation. It’s paved by a culture where many perspectives are sought, heard and valued.
In 2018, Lauren Young joined the marketing insights team at Zurich North America, then moved into Human Resources to become a Business Partner for Zurich’s U.S. Commercial Insurance Group. Today she is in her dream job as Zurich’s Director of Diversity & Inclusion. She is passionate about the power of diverse perspectives, when shared in an inclusive environment, to drive innovation and business outcomes. Research from Boston Consulting Group and McKinsey & Company, among others, backs that up. Young shared some of her perspective and priorities in a Q&A.Q: How would you describe your new role?
A: Exciting! It’s such an exciting time for Zurich because I see how engaged our managers and our leadership team are in terms of inclusivity at all levels of the organization. We hear all the time in the insurance industry that we’re risk-averse. Being averse to risk can actually backfire and keep us in the same space where we have been. In order to create that path forward with room to grow, we need to engage new ideas and perspectives and opinions. Our leadership wants to make the workplace better for everyone, and I see that there’s the willingness to try new things.
Q: Goldman Sachs CEO David Solomon recently said the firm wouldn’t take a company public if it has no diverse members on its board of directors. California-based public companies with all-male boards face a fine. What are other reasons diversity and inclusion are critical to business success?
A: I’m writing an entire dissertation on the reasons; I’m working to finish my doctorate from the University of Southern California. Diversity and inclusion are important because industries and individuals don’t sit still. We’re constantly moving and progressing, and our mindset needs to be able to progress and change with the needs of our customers and the wants of employees. If you’re not attracting the right talent, you can’t necessarily attract the right business. Suppliers and customers want diversity and if you don’t have it, that can affect your profitability.
Q: How have your experiences led you to this role?
A: Being a black woman, there are things that I experience every day, good and bad, that other people may not see through their different lenses. These experiences shape who I am and allow me to advocate for other individuals who may be experiencing similar things that others may not be able to see or experience. I have had the experience of being “the only” — the only woman, the only person of color, the only millennial managing a team — even being someone who’s in school while working full time. I pull from all those experiences in how I approach projects and frame challenges, bring in solutions and work with groups, making sure everyone feels heard and engaged and part of the team. Being in groups where people not only want to hear your voice, but they want to act on your idea and implement it, or they want to know how they can support you in that, is meaningful. I have experienced that at Zurich and I want to foster it for others.
Q: You started in a marketing role in 2018 at Zurich and you’ve had a rapid progression. Tell me about this.
A: This is a testament to our Employee Resource Groups and mentorship at Zurich. I had worked for large corporations, and I’m very familiar with ERGs and have led them. When I started — the same day Kathleen Savio became our CEO — I attended a leadership panel discussion sponsored by one of Zurich’s ERGs, the Women’s Innovation Network (WIN). One of the women on the panel, a senior manager, said she’d love to mentor more women. She had made a number of quick jumps at Zurich. So I left the discussion three minutes after she finished talking and went to my computer and emailed her. I told her, “I’ve been working 15 years in marketing, and I’m looking to move into organizational development.” I had been clear with my managers from the start about this. She and I had a conversation. She talked with me about the importance of completing the Individual Development Plan (which is optional), and listing the development goals that you’ve completed throughout the year toward your larger goal. That way, when opportunities come up, you have had it in your IDP very early on and have a history of the work you’ve done toward that goal. That paints a picture that you’re serious about it. I owe a lot to her as one of my mentors.
Q: What are your goals in your new role?
A: Goals — so many goals. But my vision for D&I is simple: to make diversity and inclusion a verb and not just a noun. If you think of diversity and inclusion as only something that’s represented by a person or a place or an ERG, it can become really difficult to incorporate diverse and inclusive behaviors into our everyday life and work. I would like D&I to be not just an HR thing. I would like it to be not just a “thing.” It’s an action that should shape our behaviors. It’s important to put yourself in situations where you can learn more from people who are not just like you, so that you are having conversations and innovate. We may be used to doing things one way, but we should also be able to consider other ways; having alternative voices come in to shape perspectives that will help us be profitable, build a sustainable business and prepare for the future.
Q: You have a master's degree in organizational psychology and you’re completing a Doctor of Education in organizational change and leadership, both from the University of Southern California. You also hold the SHRM-CP certification. How important are your educational experiences in setting you up for this role?
A: Education is one of my personal values. I don’t believe you have to have an advanced degree in a certain topic to be able to do this job or go into this field. I do believe in lifelong learning, and Zurich provides a wealth of resources to support continuous learning across every role here. Organizational development, specifically, is something I wanted to study more intensively. The doctoral program I went into is specially targeted to individuals who are going for a doctorate but not necessarily to teach at universities. It’s for people who want to go into organizations and help solve for challenges. All of the long days and long nights are definitely worth it for this work I have the opportunity to do now.