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Northwestern Mutual Sponsored Series

Building a Better Tomorrow, Today

How Northwestern Mutual’s Decade-Long Business Case for DEI Challenges the Industry Status Quo

By Gary E. Frank
coworkers in a meeting - diversity and inclusion D&I

Recently there has been a troubling downturn in diversity, equity, and inclusion roles and programs as companies begin to divest from these efforts due to looming market trends following the sharp increase in similar programs in 2020. However, there are companies that continue to accelerate their diversity efforts despite the current landscape. Financial services company Northwestern Mutual saw the importance of DEI long before corporations pledged to make it a priority in 2020 — launching the first iteration of its companywide diversity and inclusion (D&I) roadmap over a decade ago.

“There is so much data available to demonstrate that the companies that are more diverse perform far better than the companies that are not,” Grady Crosby, vice president of enterprise Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) at Northwestern Mutual, told TriplePundit. “For us, having a diverse and inclusive culture is a business imperative. It’s foundational to what we do.”

Northwestern Mutual’s D&I roadmap seeks to ensure that diversity, equity and inclusion are woven throughout the company’s operations as a pillar under its wider ESG and social impact work. That includes representation, recruitment and retention of every kind of talent, as well as philanthropic strategies, socio-economic investments, employee resource groups, external supplier relationships, and more, Crosby said. The company has since reached the third stage of its roadmap in which it’s looking to become a “recognized leader” in diversity and inclusion. That means having a positive impact in communities, influencing the marketplace and creating a world-class culture of belonging for its people.

“As an insurer for 166-years, Northwestern Mutual is known for delivering on very long-term promises and being there when people need us most,” Crosby said. “To deliver on those promises, we need to make sure our employees can thrive in the organization and that they’re in an environment where they can continue to advance in their careers and contribute to our company and community in an equitable and meaningful way.”

That also requires the company to look toward the communities outside its doors, he added. For the last 10 years, Northwestern Mutual has been working on social justice initiatives through its neighborhood revitalization work. In 2021, the company announced a $100 million impact investing fund to deliver on the company’s commitment to address inequality and the racial wealth gap in the U.S. 

The fund directs investments to communities of color both locally in the Milwaukee, WI area, home of the company’s headquarters, and nationally. The investments focus on physical and social infrastructure, healthy and sustainable neighborhoods, and access to capital for individuals and businesses. To date, 45 businesses have benefited from the investment fund, and another 63 are expected to receive support in 2023.

“Although we are in the early stages of our investments, we know these investments will have a long-term, tangible impact on job creation, wealth creation, expanded access to services such as healthcare, eliminating food deserts and building affordable housing, for example,” Crosby explained. “All of that information is going to continue to be aggregated over the life of these investments so, as these investments mature, we’ll be able to report out even more real impact data, which we’re really excited about.”

The idea for the fund originated from the company’s Sustained Action for Racial Equity (SARE) task force, which is headed by chairman, president and CEO John Schlifske. Schlifske’s direct involvement reflects a commitment to diversity and inclusion that starts at the top.

“Leadership is key to the long-term success and flow-down adoption of your D&I strategy across all levels of the organization — they need to message it, show up to the events, lead the meetings, demand to see the data each month, hold leaders accountable, and drive the results over the goal line year after year,” said Amy Hanneman, vice president of diversity and inclusion at Northwestern Mutual. “Our CEO and senior leadership are committed to this long-term, as evidenced by D&I being front and center in our goals and how we invest in our people and communities.”

Northwestern Mutual’s website includes a 2020 statement on its commitment to “diversity and addressing racism” signed by senior leadership, as well as members of the SARE task force, employee resource groups, field advisory groups and other stakeholders.

“We are a stronger company because of the value we place on inclusivity and the behaviors we exhibit to advance it,” the statement reads. “We know we have work to do and we are committed to continuously getting better, not only because it is the right thing to do, but also because it is the promise we make to our people and to our clients. It is clear that inclusivity and equity are neither uniformly respected nor applied to all people across the communities in which we live and work, and that racism continues to divide our country. This is not a political
issue — this is a human issue. As such, we cannot and will not be silent in the face of such injustice.”

Putting those words into action means staying humble and listening to both employees and communities, said Hanneman. “Our people know what’s going on and what needs to be addressed,” Hanneman told us. “When your people feel heard, and more important feel like what matters to them matters to the company — everybody wins.” 

Northwestern Mutual’s success in encouraging the development of an inclusive internal culture also stands to benefit the business long-term in the form of attracting and retaining talent. “Inclusion drives better everything — better attraction and retention of our people, a stronger, legitimate brand that represents the diversity of our clients — all of this impacts our bottom line,” Hanneman said. “It’s no coincidence that our most profitable years have also been our most diverse, where we’ve had our highest numbers of women and people of color in our history, especially in leadership roles. That’s how we’ve gotten here and we’ll stay here by focusing on the power of our inclusive culture, our people, and the people we serve.” 

This article series is sponsored by Northwestern Mutual and produced by the TriplePundit editorial team.

Image credit: Kampus Production/Pexels

Gary E. Frank headshot

Gary E. Frank is a writer with more than 30 years of experience encompassing journalism, marketing, media relations, speech writing, university communications and corporate communications. 

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