Kathleen Navarro is Vice President and Chief Diversity Officer at New York Life Insurance Company, responsible for leading the company’s diversity and inclusion strategy, which includes talent recruitment, development and retention; and internal and external communications on diversity and inclusion. Ms. Navarro also works closely with New York Life’s department managers and the company’s seven employee resource groups to align diversity initiatives with business strategies and goals.
Diversity Best Practices had the opportunity to speak with Ms. Navarro about her current role as Chief Diversity Officer and some of the opportunities and challenges for diversity and inclusion at New York Life.
What was your career path leading to diversity and inclusion?
I’ve worked at New York Life more than 20 years and I’ve been very fortunate to have a diverse career working in a variety of finance, strategy, and operations roles spanning Insurance, Investments, and Corporate Departments.
During this time, I was involved with strategic planning to increase the company’s presence in the women’s and Hispanic markets, both top priorities for the company. Prior to becoming Chief Diversity Officer, I oversaw the Product Compliance and Operations Division of the Life and Long Term Care Department where I implemented a knowledge management program and was responsible for employee engagement and communication efforts.
I also led The Women’s Initiative at New York Life, our employee resource group for women, from 2012-2014. The group’s mission is to help women take their place at the corporate table through a three-prong approach – Be Confident. Be Connected. Be Committed. The focus is to help members develop personally and professionally (be confident), extend people’s networks (be connected), and pay it forward (be committed).
Moving into the Chief Diversity Officer role is a wonderful next step that ties together my experiences on the business side, work with our cultural markets initiatives, and knowledge gained through leading an employee resource group.
Tell us about the way the role of CDO is structured at NY Life.
The Office of Diversity & Inclusion is a four person team that is supported by diversity & inclusion partners in each business area. We work closely with each department to identify appropriate tactics and strategies to drive diversity and inclusion. We do this with the assistance of the respective diversity & inclusion partners and the human resources business partners.
We also partner very closely with talent acquisition during our recruiting efforts to help create a potential pipeline of external candidates, as well as talent development to raise awareness about inclusion and to make sure employees can show up as themselves in the workplace.
What is something you are most proud of since you started in D&I?
Being the co-lead of The Women’s Initiative at New York Life has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my career.
The group’s robust programming revolves around the three tenets (Be Confident. Be Connected. Be Committed) and is a mix of development programs; mentoring; volunteering activities; networking events; external and internal speakers; panel discussions; educational offerings; and activities with external partners.
Members benefit in various ways including assuming leadership roles, improving presentation skills, peer mentoring, coaching college students, connecting with peers and senior leaders across the organization, in addition to honing and refining skill sets. The ERG gives members an opportunity to take on challenges they may not be exposed to in their day job.
The past three years, membership has grown 10-fold to more than 1,000 members across 16 sites. Anecdotally, we receive feedback from members who thank us for giving them the courage to go after a new role in the company, who have developed a strong relationship with someone they wouldn’t have otherwise met, and we’ve seen personal growth in our members from speaking up at meetings to taking on a leadership role for The Women’s Initiative.
What do you see as NY Life’s biggest strength when it comes to building a diverse and inclusive workplace for all employees?
At New York Life, diversity is top of mind for the company and everyone is encouraged to bring their own perspectives to the table – whether it’s cultural background, generational beliefs, or personal style. We seek out diversity of thought, opinion, background, and experiences. We don’t have a one-size-fits-all approach.
Our seven Employee Resource Groups (ERG) are our most visible culture carriers and help champion the conversation around diversity and inclusion. We have very committed teams running these groups and they drive programming around networking, development, and mentoring. They provide an opportunity for someone to take on a leadership role outside their day job and really show what they are made of. The ERGs are a valuable resource and their efforts contribute to employee engagement across the company.
What is it about D&I that you are most passionate about?
Being Chief Diversity Officer provides a unique opportunity to be impactful at both the company level and at a personal, individual employee level. The Office of Diversity & Inclusion shapes the company in positive ways, helps educate and raise awareness about the importance of diversity and inclusion, and develops programs that make a difference for individuals at all levels of New York Life.
What is on the horizon for D&I at NY Life?
I am fortunate that my predecessors laid a very strong foundation for the Office of Diversity and Inclusion.
I’d like to build upon that foundation by continuing to work on unconscious bias, inclusion, and further embedding diversity into the business. I’m also excited to be working with our seven Employee Resource Groups (ERGs). I hope to expand their efforts around building allies and help each group plan a strategy to link closer to our businesses.
I also want to connect with more people across all locations of New York Life to hear what’s on their minds.
What is the greatest challenge currently facing NY Life regarding diversity and inclusion and how is the organization addressing it?
There is a low level of attrition at New York Life, which leads to limited opportunities to hire diverse talent. The Office of Diversity & Inclusion works closely with Talent Acquisition to identify a diverse talent pool when opportunities do arise. We also work closely with Talent Development to develop diverse talent and build a strong internal pipeline.