08/23/2017 16:20 EDT | Updated 11/22/2017 16:34 EST

Lessons From My Father

Diverse knowledge sets are critical to address an increasingly complex business environment.

Thanks to my civil rights activist/business executive father, I learned early on about the value of diversity and inclusion. Through his civil rights actions, my dad demonstrated that doing what is good for business and doing what is good for society are the same thing. It’s not an “either/or.” It’s an “and.” My dad’s positive example influenced my leadership style and my belief in the value of diversity and inclusion for society and for business. And, as one of eight children – all very different – I learned the value of diverse perspectives.

Fast forward to my role as president and CEO at CSAA Insurance Group. Diversity & Inclusion is a core value for us. We take pride in our efforts: regional diversity councils and many employee resource groups; a bi-annual diversity summit; unconscious bias and other diversity training; a supplier diversity program; multi-year recognition by the Human Rights Campaign with a Corporate Equality Index Award; and more. We are doing lots of things that are good for the workplace, the workforce and the market. It’s important work, and it’s never done.   

We have been updating our underlying core systems and are feeling very good about the capabilities we’ve created to better serve our customers. We want to wrap those capabilities in a diverse and inclusive culture that centers on customers and accelerates our ability to execute on our core business, while innovating our future in a dynamic market. Drawing on diverse knowledge, competencies and experience is critical to our ability to spot opportunities, identify risks and, in myriad other ways, address an increasingly complex business environment. So, Diversity and Inclusion isn’t a separate thing or program at CSAA Insurance Group. It’s embedded in everything we do and in who we are. It’s my personal lens for making business and talent decisions.

As a company that provides AAA-branded insurance to AAA members in 23 states and the District of Columbia, we have a very diverse customer base. Gaining real insight into the needs of our customers – who they are and what really matters to them – allows us to find more and better ways to meet their specific needs.

In addition to a customer focus and increasing representation of women and people of color at all levels, we are focused on ensuring that we create an environment in which people feel free to bring their “whole selves” to work and where they can express their diverse views, ideas and even failures freely. Setting the example sometimes means putting yourself on the line. I’ve tried to share my own shortcomings, mistakes and vulnerabilities, and what I continue to work on, to help others see that it’s valuable to talk about things that didn’t go exactly as planned if others can benefit from our experience.

The hard part for us as leaders – and I suspect it will continue to be a challenge – is setting the kind of example my dad set for me. Keeping diversity and inclusion at the heart of our decisions reminds me daily to ask myself if I’m showing up in a way that encourages the right culture, for business and for society.

In this series, CEO Action for Diversity and Inclusion™ signatory CEOs share their dedication to acting for workplace diversity and inclusion to make impactful changes that benefit both business and society. Follow along with #CEOAction and learn more at