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How Business Leaders Can Foster Diversity in Corporations


Dennis Ontaneda

Vice President, Latino Markets at Combined Insurance

Why do you feel it’s important for large corporations to focus on diversity and inclusion initiatives for both employees and consumers?  

Diversity and inclusion initiatives are important because people thrive in environments where they feel accepted, challenged, motivated and inspired. Research shows that employees who are engaged are more likely to be high performers. At any level, diversity and inclusion fosters engagement and ongoing development to further enhance the goals of your business.

Diversity doesn’t just focus on Hispanics or African-Americans; it focuses on holistic goals of how to ensure all of your employees are successful, regardless of their background, gender, or sexual orientation. What has worked at Combined Insurance is that those who are successful pin their success on the sole fact that they are diverse. Diverse professionals understand the needs of an ever-changing and growing market. They can also identify with customers who have gone through similar life events or obstacles themselves.

What are three steps executives should take when looking to build their diversity internally?

1. Listen to Your ‘On the Ground’ Employees:

Those who work with your customers, external stakeholders, and business partners, know what it takes to build a diverse workforce. Talk to the people who are passionate about creating an inclusive environment and ensure they are on board with the company’s goals and plans. These are the people who will eventually serve as ambassadors for your initiatives that matter most. They are also more likely to identify the leadership who will assist in building out your diversity program or help draw others to assist in the process. And most importantly, these employees will advocate for your efforts in the long run. Listening first, then acting works best when you’re starting from ground zero.

2. Set Goals Across the Organization

From experience, I know that when you set a goal that’s known to the company, you are likely to be held accountable. It’s a risk, but with great reward. Setting goals and having a clear business objective is an essential foundation to build an internal foundation. When it comes to building diversity, public knowledge means that people will know about it and want to contribute to those goals. Bring in teams and individuals who you know will serve as advocates internally, bridging those gaps between building and executing.

3. Look For Avenues to Promote Your Diversity Program:

Don’t be shy about your program. Diversity and inclusion is a topic that resonates with many working individuals. And when attracting new talent and retaining the talent you have, promoting your inclusive environment will only benefit you as you begin to notice a shift the culture. Promote your diversity program among groups who will help take it to the next level. Have an executive champion or sponsor who can promote the initiative. Ensure your employees are on board and can talk about it in meetings and socials. Weave your messages and plans into impactful communications. Working all of these avenues will help spread the message. Most importantly, use external resources to tie your organization to those who are setting the foundation for diversity and inclusion programs.

How do you feel consumer response differs when the employee is bilingual?

Combined Insurance currently employs hundreds of sales professionals across the largest Spanish-speaking areas in the country.  As we continue to serve the Latino market, we see firsthand how speaking in the language they prefer instantly garners trust. In the Latino community, trust is an important factor for a growing business. Even with advances in technology and the many ways we communicate today, word-of-mouth still dominates in terms of both reputation and how we share our experiences.

The consumer, from what we see, appreciates the accuracy in the way an agent can explain the benefits of an insurance policy in Spanish. With millions of Latinos now insured more than ever before, it is our responsibility to accurately and effectively educate the community.

When do you foresee the biggest shift in diversity in the insurance industry happening?

It’s happening now. Companies, especially insurance companies, recognize that baby boomers won’t be dominant in our workforce for much longer. Now, we are looking for ways to attract millennials, women and multicultural professionals to join the industry. We have seen the impact of this at Chubb, our parent company. Their diversity program is one that we admire and embrace at Combined Insurance. Between their multiple Employee Resource Groups and active steps towards an inclusive environment, we see how they their culture represents a shift that we can all embrace and implement in our own organization. As Combined Insurance is a top military friendly employer by G.I. Jobs Magazine and recently announced plans to hire 500 Spanish-speaking agents, I would say we are contributing to the shift in creating a diverse workforce, specifically in the insurance industry.

How did you come into your own role as a diversity leader in insurance sales?

In my twenty years at Combined Insurance, I have not only seen the industry grow and evolve, I have seen how Combined Insurance has shifted priorities to best serve the markets that are a great fit for our company – whether that be from a hiring perspective or consumer perspective. I began in insurance sales and without having planned it that way, most of my customers ended up being Latino customers and to this day have many of those policyholders under my name. I’ve come full circle and now get to witness others do the same.

It’s a gratifying experience, knowing that we have a grander vision to find and help underinsured, vulnerable people and improve their financial stability with our products, while also seeing our Latino sales professionals achieve personal, professional and financial goals because of a career path that we have offered them. Now, my role has shifted in mentoring and leading diverse teams to recognize that their work and culture collectively, will help them meet their goals.

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