Nationwide Is on Employees’ Side

Nationwide Mutual Insurance Co.’s commitment to diversity and inclusion is critical to its growth. The company serves a diverse customer base in various markets across the country. Its vision of success is a place where associates’ voices are valued, they know the company’s motto, “Nationwide Is on Your Side,” firsthand and internalize it to meet customers’ needs.

As part of Nationwide’s long-term approach to achieving business goals and strengthening its competitive edge, the company instituted a multi-faceted strategy for diversity and inclusion. Central to this strategy, it created formal associate resource groups (ARGs) to enhance its corporate culture by building an environment that leverages associates’ skills, knowledge and diverse perspectives. The ARGs have enabled the company to grow business, attract and retain talent, and enhance the positive impact it makes in communities.

Launched in 2008, Nationwide’s ARGs bring together associates who share an affiliation or interest in a particular demographic, including generation, military service, race, gender, sexual orientation and physical ability. Today, the company has 19 ARGs, with more than 2,500 associates across the country.

Associates such as Angela Davis, director of performance improvement and training, can attest to the benefits of participating in ARGs. Davis has been a member of the AWARE (African American Women Active and Ready to Exceed) ARG since 2008 and serves as a group leader in the Columbus, Ohio, office. She said being a member of the group has aided her career development because she has been exposed to people she likely would not have met otherwise.

“I’ve had the opportunity to engage in conversations with senior leaders at Nationwide about how they advanced their careers, lessons they learned along the way and their keys to success. These conversations have helped me as I’ve progressed through the organization. I’ve been able to learn from members of AWARE who are in the executive ranks at Nationwide and incorporate advice from them into my daily role and responsibilities as well as share them with others I mentor.”

Purpose and Governance

Nationwide launched its ARGs to align formation, performance and operating guidelines around strategies that span five areas of focus: workplace, workforce, marketplace, supplier and community. In partnership with a group of 27 associates from across the company, including ARG members, Nationwide’s office of diversity and inclusion led the effort to develop governance guidelines for ARGs with help from a cross-functional team from associate relations, human resources and general counsel.

The group identified a three-pronged purpose for all of the company’s ARGs: personal/professional development and networking, community/brand support and business growth.

Each ARG has an executive sponsor who is a member of Nationwide’s senior management team, with most reporting to the CEO. This structure has been critical to ARG success. Executive sponsors provide leadership insights and ideas into plans and programs. The sponsors also serve as advocates for resource requests, share successes among their peers and gain personal development through immersion into this cultural component.

Measurable Outcomes, Meaningful Impact

Grow the business: Nationwide’s ARGs help drive business for the company. In 2011, ARGs hosted nearly two dozen activities that collectively generated more than 7,000 sales leads for new customers, which occur when customers and associates interact and the former indicate they would like to be contacted to discuss their insurance and financial needs. ARGs also have generated potential customer leads by partnering with business units to promote Nationwide externally.

For example, the Pride ARG, in partnership with Nationwide’s internal distribution storefront, known as “On Your Side Centers,” launched a campaign during gay pride month in 2011 to promote Nationwide nationally. In a one-weekend period, the group generated more than 1,800 sales leads in nine cities across five states as associates personally engaged with people in the community. During June 2011, the group initiated the effort at Nationwide’s Columbus, Ohio, corporate headquarters by having the pride rainbow light up one of the company’s 20-story towers, then participated in a local parade and invited members of the community to join and wear Nationwide T-shirts. The parades were repeated across the country, each time generating sales leads for new customers.

On the recruiting front, ARGs support Nationwide’s bottom line by partnering with recruiters to identify talent through external sources. In 2011, the Chinese ARG established a partnership with The Ohio State University Fisher College of Business, and the Ujima ARG has established a partnership with Arizona State University. Both partnerships focus on informing students about career opportunities at the company. Further, members from the National Latino Alliance attended the National Council of La Raza, National Hispanic MBA and National Black MBA Association conferences to participate in job fairs.?

Personal and professional development: ARGs, which are optional, support associates’ personal and professional development by providing junior members with mentoring from senior members, skill development opportunities through company-sponsored training, lunch and learns, and more. Last year, the AWARE ARG hosted a national teleconference in which members invited senior leaders to share their professional experiences and insights. Such teleconferences contribute to associates’ professional development by allowing them to apply lessons learned and best practices on how to advance their careers from company leaders.

Externally, ARGs support Nationwide’s broader commitment to inclusiveness by providing input to make the company’s products and services more inclusive, attractive and competitive. For instance, the Pride ARG created a presentation to share with an executive sponsor that highlighted opportunities for Nationwide to make insurance policy design changes that would be more inclusive for the gay community. Nationwide subsequently implemented changes to its family coverage that include broader categories of how families are defined.

Community support: ARGs support Nationwide’s community efforts by partnering with internal areas to participate in festivals, parades and ceremonies as well as identifying volunteer activities for the company to pursue. The Pride ARG, National Latino Alliance, National Network of Black Associates, Military ARG and Asian Network Group each provide support to Nationwide sponsorships by volunteering and participating in dozens of festivals and parades. Last year, Military ARG members were part of a 15-member associate-led team that escorted World War II veterans on a company-sponsored Honor Flight to the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C.

Each year ARGs participate in team volunteer events at food pantries, schools and colleges. ARGs within the National Latino Alliance and National Network of Black Associates, for instance, provide support to families through food and toy drives, adopting a family or Santa letter writing campaigns. The World Class Admins collect used clothing to donate. The Latino Leadership Network volunteers for a major annual West Coast youth soccer tournament, providing food and time to support the event.

Nationwide has received recognition from third-party organizations including Human Rights Campaign’s Best Places to Work for GLBT Equality for eight consecutive years, The Ohio State University’s Fisher College of Business in 2010 and others for creating ARG sustainability. Further, its ARGs are seen as a best practice by other companies and organizations that have sought guidance for launching their own ARGs. For example, this year, Nationwide is helping the Ohio attorney general’s office to formulate its ARG approach.

Looking ahead to the end of 2012, the company’s focus areas include:

• Building Nationwide’s diversity and inclusion reputation to attract and retain leaders, associates and agents.

• Engaging associates through ARGs and business unit councils to support growth and provide development and networking opportunities.

• Increasing diversity in the leadership pipeline.

• Equipping leaders and associates to support an inclusive workplace.

• Promoting advocacy for all.

The ARGs continue to evolve, and the company is developing an ARG leadership development program which will be rolled out the second half of 2012. The program will help ARG leaders hone their leadership skills, allowing ARGs to be a direct pipeline for senior management.

Candice R. Barnhardt is vice president and chief diversity officer and William D. Edmonds is associate vice president of diversity and inclusion for Nationwide. They can be reached at editor@diversity-executive.com.