DE&I — A Journey, Not a Destination

Peer Practices
Written by Linda Luty

Jenny Guldseth


Allianz Life Insurance Company of North America

Cecilia Stanton Adams

Chief Diversity & Inclusion Officer

Allianz Life Insurance Company of North America

Fostering a culture that supports diversity, equity and inclusion within an organization does not come with a playbook, and finding the right formula for success takes a real commitment from executive leadership.

While a DE&I program had been in place for many years, in October 2019, Allianz Life announced they were bringing in Cecilia Stanton Adams to be their chief diversity and inclusion officer, reporting directly to their CEO, but working closely with the HR function. Stanton Adams has partnered with CHRO Jenny Guldseth to pave the way for a robust DE&I program designed to stand the test of time and make a positive impact on employees, customers and the community.

The appointment of a CDIO was the result of a collaborative effort among executive leadership, said Guldseth, “All of us from the executive leadership team thought we needed the subject matter expertise and the team to drive it. You've got to drive this throughout the organization, not just coming from one department. It has to be inclusive of community relations, supplier diversity and of HR, but it's also a companywide initiative, and so we were so pleased to hire a chief diversity and inclusion officer.”

Truth in Numbers — and Action

With equity and inclusion being difficult to measure, and very few organizations able to claim they have the “ideal” diversity statistics, making strides requires long-term commitment and transparency in progress.

Allianz has about 2,200 employees, most of which sit in Minneapolis. From a diversity perspective, 14% of the workforce and 10% of leadership are people of color.


There is work to be done. They are not afraid to admit it, and they are committed to taking action and being transparent.


In addition to installing a CDIO, Allianz also hired a consultant, Jenn Tardy, who specializes in training recruiters, hiring managers and HR business partners on how to think about diversity recruitment in different ways.

“It helped us to have conversations around what it would take for us to be comfortable and confident meeting with multicultural candidates and telling our story. She shared with us what it's like to be a person of color or an underrepresented person going through the candidate's experience. That was helpful, because when you're on the other end, you don't always realize how it feels to be that candidate,” said Stanton Adams.

“For example, women tend to not apply for a job if all of the statements in the job descriptions don't fit their background. Whereas, if a male applies, if the male sees it and thinks they can do just 10% of the job, they often apply,” she continued. 

Allianz uses data to ensure their talent pools are diverse. When a candidate pool shows a lack of diversity, they go back to the market to bring in more candidates. In addition to hiring a diversity sourcer to the team, they have also reviewed their interview guides to ensure consistent DE&I questions are in their interview guides. 

Giving Back

Supporting social justice causes is not historically typical for organizations, but Allianz is answering the call to make a meaningful stand and use their voice to make change towards racial justice and equity.

Based in Minneapolis, Allianz is also dedicated to giving back and improving their community through community rebuilding grants. In typical years, they would give about $2 million annually to local non-profit organizations, in addition to putting in hundreds of volunteer hours. This year was no different.

But recognizing that the senior community was especially impacted by COVID-19, Allianz donated an additional million dollars to organizations supporting senior services. 

This was all around the time George Floyd was murdered, and in response to the needs of the local community the company calls home, Allianz put together another million to support local nonprofits working for racial equity. These funds specifically went to organizations that support education for students of color, financial literacy and helping to rebuild underserved communities.

“One of the first things that was decided on, was the leadership team signing a letter in support of George Floyd's family for the arrest of the officer, and for justice to be served. We also made a commitment around racial equity, and to continue to do racial equity work. That was shared internally and posted externally on our website. There were several follow-up social media campaigns and messages that went out as well, to make everyone aware that this is where we stand and this is what is important to us, “said Stanton Adams.

Leading With Listening

The collective trauma of 2020 has caused organizations to take another look at how they are supporting the workforce. Listening sessions have proven to be an effective tool in identifying employee needs. In response to recent societal unrest, many organizations, including Allianz, have conducted these sessions to learn what employees were thinking and feeling.

“We're so thankful for the employees that decided to share, because it was a hard thing to do, and there were a lot of tears, from them and from participants. They shared everything from being a person of color and having experiences with violence and dealing with racism. I think that really made people realize we haven't really moved forward as much as we hoped and that people are still steeped in a lot of this systemic oppression that's happening,” said Stanton Adams.

According to Guldseth, these sessions were a powerful experience for allies: “We learned from hearing about these experiences. Because it's one thing to read about it, it's another to hear someone they know tell a story about their own lives and family, and then we also talk a lot about what things we can do as a result.”

This commitment to learning, listening and being a better ally comes from the top down and is fostered through creating an inclusive culture. Executive leadership at Allianz has also started a “book club,” reading chapters together and honing their skills about how to talk about race and foster allyship throughout the organization.

While not every organization is able to hire a chief diversity and inclusion officer, there are tangible actions that can be taken to further advance their efforts and commitment to diversity. According to Stanton Adams, it simply starts with assessing what you’re currently doing. Another piece of advice she has to offer is to look at recruiting from a holistic perspective.

“This isn't just about recruiters going out, finding candidates, bringing them in. It’s not a transaction, it's relationship building. That happens with the recruiters, the HR business partners, the hiring managers, the diversity and inclusion office, and even the employee resource group members, who help us spread the word. All of those folks need to understand what the goal is. It's not enough to say we want more diversity; we need to know specifically what we are trying to do,” she said.

Celebrating wins and tracking progress is also part of the journey, said Stanton Adams and Guldseth. Establishing, fostering and growing a diverse, inclusive and equitable community within the organization is not a quick fix. It is a journey, and celebrating wins when progress is made will fuel the fire to keep progressing and looking ahead.


Special thanks to Jenny Guldseth, Cecilia Stanton Adams and Allianz Life Insurance Company of North America.

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