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Multiculturalism: Lorie Valle-Yanez on driving diversity initiatives into business benefits

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Lorie Valle-Yanez is Head of Diversity and Inclusion at MassMutual. Since joining MassMutual in 2008, she has developed a diversity and inclusion platform to help the company solve challenges, grow in new markets, and instill innovation in a conservative industry. In partnership with the executive team, Lorie designed MassMutual’s first diversity and inclusion strategy, focused on Leadership, Marketplace & Distribution, and Workforce & Workplace. She later led its diversity and inclusion refresh to accelerate results, helping MassMutual increase the diversity of its customers, employees, financial advisors and suppliers, as well as driving forward a protocol that measures diversity and inclusion results as part of company performance. Most importantly, under Valle-Yanez’s leadership, inclusion has become central to MassMutual's culture and critical leadership competency.

Valle-Yanez believes her diversity training began at birth as a first-generation American, raised in Hawaii – where multiculturalism and inclusion are a way of life – by parents from the Philippines and Nicaragua. She prides herself on an ability to translate the "do the right thing" impulse that often drives diversity initiatives into real business benefits, measured by metrics and propelled by clear roadmaps. She has worked among the country's top thought leaders for diversity and inclusion, contributing as an expert panelist to the Global Diversity & Inclusion Benchmarks (GDIB) and as a former member of the Diversity Collegium to advance the field of diversity and inclusion. Lorie graduated from the University of San Francisco with a B.S. in Organizational Behavior.

Lorie, you were raised in Hawaii where inclusion and belonging are a way of life. What does diversity hiring mean to you?

When I talk about diversity hiring at MassMutual, it means we value people for who they are and celebrate all diversity in our hiring efforts and practices. We believe different perspectives deliver the best outcomes, and an inclusive environment that welcomes those also encourages our people to bring their best ideas to the table.

Our interview panels for candidates are also guided by the practice of diversity; we pull in talent from various areas of the organization representing different generations, genders and backgrounds. We hire based on merit from a diverse pool of candidates, with protocols that are free from bias related to race, gender, age, abilities, place of birth or religion. We also have a comprehensive diversity recruitment strategy that reaches out to Asian, Hispanic/Latino, African American, women, LGBTQ, veteran and disability-focused strategic partners to help support recruitment.

We’ve built a strong reputation as an employer prioritizing diversity and inclusion because we also place a strong emphasis on relationship-building activities for new and existing employees, like engaging diverse individuals in mentoring and networking opportunities. This helps us continue to draw in talent from a broad pool of individuals when hiring. Our Business Resource Groups (BRGs) are internal diversity and inclusion champions who support recruitment, community outreach, awareness and education, brand recognition, marketing, retention and professional development. We currently have eight national BRGs representing African Americans, Asians, Latino, members of the LGBTQ community, individuals with disabilities and their caregivers, armed forces members, veterans and military family members, young professionals and women leaders.

What are the best D&I practices of MassMutual?

MassMutual sets high standards for ourselves to attract and retain exceptional talent with D&I in mind, promoting a flexible and inclusive workplace where everyone can achieve their career goals. For example, we actively pursue workforce and Board of Director diversity. Approximately half of MassMutual’s Board of Directors are either women or people of color, making it one of the most diverse groups in the industry and among FORTUNE 500 companies. Females represent more than one-third of our executive leadership team.

Workforce diversity is part of our ongoing annual management and measurement goals, and we hold ourselves accountable to transparency on progress. We also run the eight BRGs I mentioned that serve as internal diversity and inclusion champions and partner with external experts to analyze and, as needed, address any salary discrepancies on an annual basis.

We also believe in publicly supporting a number of organizations and initiatives focused on diversity and inclusion to show employees we stand behind these beliefs and principles, and take action on them. This crosses a variety of efforts. MassMutual is a corporate partner of the National LGBT Chamber of Commerce (NGLCC) as well as a corporate founding sponsor of the MA LGBT Chamber of Commerce, among many other activities that support the LGBTQ+ community. We feel public acts of ally-ship are a strong tool in our efforts to welcome and support the LGBTQ+ community within the MassMutual environment. Separately, we are a founding member of the Council for Disability Awareness and have a long-standing relationship with the MA Rehab Commission, the MA Commission for the Blind, and the Job Accommodations Network. And, we have a history of hiring veterans and military family members as well as supporting employees with ties to the military. The company’s 200+ employee strong BRG consists of veterans, family members of veterans and allies, all focusing to serve the military community by recruiting, mentoring and general support. We also recently enhanced and modernized our benefits, which is something I’m particularly proud of.

Engaging with the community always delivers great results. Are there any D&I campaigns you are proud of?

In January of this year, to better meet the needs of a diverse and growing workforce and continue to attract top talent, we announced a significant expansion of our employee benefit offerings. We believe in supporting people in their times of need, and I believe this rollout reflects the spirit of our company. Some of the expanded offerings related to D&I include:

Caregiving for all ages: A new caregiver leave provides up to two weeks paid leave to care for a loved one who is suffering from a serious health condition. It is at the discretion of the employee to define who a “loved one” is and there is no requirement that the person is an immediate or extended family member. The same applies to our new bereavement leave, whereas there is no prescriptive model of how to define a loved one.

Gender affirmation: Since 2014, our benefits have covered medically necessary services related to gender affirmation surgery. Now, these benefits include previously non-covered procedures such as facial feminization surgery, thyrochondroplasty, electrolysis and more.

Parenting: To ensure new mothers have adequate time to recover and bond with their child, maternity leave for birth mothers increased to 18 weeks of fully paid leave – made up of 10 weeks of maternity leave and eight weeks of parental leave. Non-birth mothers, fathers and adoptive parents will also be eligible for eight weeks of fully paid parental leave that can be used all together or incrementally up to a year after birth.

Family planning and fertility: Fertility benefits are being enhanced to provide more medical and prescription drug coverage, as well as personalized support, advice and resources.

What are the challenges associated with diversity hiring?

Finding the best-qualified talent for any position is a consistent challenge for all employers, especially in the current employment market. In order to address this, we tap the right resource pools for a community of candidates that meet all the criteria of a position; we do our best to reflect the changing face of today’s workforce. We also look for candidates who embrace the culture that MassMutual has created to ensure we’re doing what’s right for our clients, our workforce, and our communities.

Do you use any diversity hiring tools or software?

We have an expectation during the interview process that teams, hiring managers and recruiters will bring in diverse candidates in addition to building a cross-functional panel of interviewers whenever possible to interrupt bias and create a more objective selection process. We are not currently using any specific software.