Exploring Differences

Diversity and inclusion are more than buzzwords Olga T. Jacobs

Diversity and inclusion are not buzzwords. They are calls to action—action to build a foundation in our workplace from which we can create the best solutions to the complex business and societal problems that actuaries are tasked to solve. Science—yes, science—shows that building teams of individuals who are diverse—and accepted for their diversity—is how you build the better mousetrap.

Diversity is more than gender, skin color and sexual orientation. Being diverse is in how we think, act and process information to come to our conclusions. As a white, straight woman, I may think and act differently than someone who isn’t a mirror image of me. But it’s more than our gender, sexual orientation and the color of our skin that make us think differently. We also think differently due to whether we were raised in urban or rural settings, lived on the East Coast or West Coast, went to private or public school, played hockey or played the piano, vacationed at Cape Cod every year or never took a family vacation, or whether we can trace our American roots back to the Mayflower or just last year.

How do we get there? With curiosity, compassion and courage. As humans, we tend to gravitate to those who are like us … look like us, grew up in similar environments and had similar life experiences. But is that how we grow? I think we need to be curious about those who do not look like us, grew up differently and had different experiences, rather than quickly dismiss these individuals because we don’t see or feel an immediate connection. We need to show compassion and respect for our differences.

At some point in our lives, we have all felt different. My earliest memory of being treated differently due to gender happened in the second grade. The principal only selected boys to help with room set-ups. I was excluded simply because I was a girl. Being raised by a single mom whose fourth language was English gave me far too many painful moments­ to witness gender and ethnic discrimination. And, oh, if I only had a nickel for every time someone asked me (even during job interviews): “What are you? What kind of name is Olga? Where are you from? Do you know you have an accent?”

We must be courageous and stand up for diversity and inclusion, even if—and especially if—you are the only voice. Demand that those who are different are not treated differently. As Jimmy Carter said, “If you fear making anyone mad, then you will ultimately probe for the lowest common denominator of human achievement.” The path will make some mad; the path is not short. But with curiosity, compassion and courage, we will achieve.

I hope you enjoy this issue of The Actuary.

Olga T. Jacobs, FSA, MAAA, is vice president, UnitedHealthcare Employer & Individual Actuarial Pricing Strategy & Operations. Jacobs is also a member of the SOA Inclusion and Diversity Committee and a former elected SOA Board member.