Annette Martinez  Tell us about your role on State Farm and your work. What attracted you to work in the insurance industry?
I am currently the senior vice president of State Farm and that includes overseeing what I call the "peoples' areas" – human resources, learning and development, public affairs, and executive heritage and development teams. I've been to State Farm for over 33 years.
My degree is in biology and chemistry and I worked for an R&D facility early in my career. My husband started with State Farm as a car insurance company, and he encouraged me to come over because of the opportunities.
I started my insurance career in health insurance. Every two to three years, I was able to recreate myself into new roles. I spent five years in life / health operations before moving to human resources. In human resources, I was able to work early in a row and then go into leadership in human resources. In 2002, I started the initiative for diversity and inclusion and the path to drive the organization forward. Like many in the insurance industry, I came in and thought I would get a lot of experience in a couple of years and now we are here 33 years later, and it has been a fantastic journey.
You started the first Office of Diversity and Inclusion at State Farm, initiated your Diversity Council and started your Affinity Group Program. You have also been known and rewarded on several occasions for your work with diversity and inclusion. What inspired you to become a champion of diversity and inclusion?
From the time I was young, justice was always important to me, which may be partly because I grew up in an environment where I did not see people like me. But for a long time I have and still believe that everyone should be treated with respect and dignity and have the same opportunities. The opportunity should be open to anyone who has the desire and ability.
When I started the diversity initiative, I already carried out diversity training in the organization. State Farm is a fantastic company and has been progressive in programming over the years. We started one of the first minority summer minority programs, but I knew there was more we could do. My focus was to improve the opportunities and bring people to the organization who had a different mindset and could influence the company positively. That's what diversity does. It's not just a social imperative – we all benefit from it – it's a business imperative about how we treat and gain new customers and how we move forward.
You mentioned that not many people looked like you during your career. As a Latinx woman, what obstacles have you encountered and overcome?
That's correct, very early in my career very few people looked like me. It was isolating. I had to understand that my voice played a role and that I had the opportunity to speak for many others. There was a lot of pressure with it.
I have had amazing mentors over the years of all genders and races. There was a retired senior vice president, Dave Gonzales, who was the first Spanish-speaking boss to take me under his wing. Dave told me it would be a difficult road, but he was and always has been a good support system for me.
We have always had mentoring programs at State Farm, but several years ago we started a more formal matching program for people who want to mentor or be mentored. It flourished into a way of life and becomes part of the culture. I am active as a mentor and mentor. I have had senior leaders throughout my career who have coached me to the next level. I have also had people [early in their careers] who have guided me to what is happening at all levels. As a senior manager, it gives me insight into how our actions affect each employee.
How can we promote an honest and open culture in the workplace that welcomes and encourages employees to have conversations about race, discrimination and justice?
In 2019, we decided to be bold in our conversations. State Farm started working on the CEO Act! For For Diversity & Inclusion and implemented a program called "Conversations Worth Having." In February 2020, we had our first session on racism. We knew it was going to be a difficult and honest conversation. We had a panel that shared their stories about their lives, their children and what they experienced.
We had no idea that COVID-19 would happen a month later. The social unrest in 2020 was the basis for what we needed to address last year and will continue to address this year. These open discussion forums have continued and are important in letting people express their frustration and let us be a part of the solution.
We learn every session. Setting ground rules is also important – trust that people's intentions are honest, listen before you react – some basics in conversations we talk about in each session. If someone responds negatively to a session, we take the time to talk to them one on one to also have conversations on a personal level.
How has State Farm dealt with the current social and racial climate over the past year? ? Are there any measures or initiatives that State Farm has taken to support Black and Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) communities inside and outside the workplace?
State Farm was appointed Chief Diversity Officer 2020, which was an important step for us. We also realized that we need to be faster with our communication and the recognition that we oppose racism. In the past, we may have addressed it internally on a more moderate level, but we took the position that State Farm is against racism and the hatred that leads to racism. This is who we are. We respect people – everyone should be treated with respect and dignity, and there is no place for racism in our organization.
There is more work to go into this. It's an ever-changing journey, and I think we learn when we communicate. We are the organization Good Neighbor. We care about all our neighbors, and we are not exclusive to anyone.
Our CEO, Chief Administrative Officer and Chief Diversity Officer have also been involved in listening sessions to give employees the opportunity to talk about an experience they have had, including at State Farm, to better understand the work ahead. We want to be an organization that is part of the healing process.
Jake from State Farm was recently reworked as an African-American man, actor Kevin Miles. How do you think this change has affected the diversity and representation in insurance and has it helped State Farm reach more colored people?
The first Jake from State Farm was a real employee. We turned away to a few other campaigns for a while, but then we researched and realized that Jake from State Farm was still very relevant. We knew that the needs of a marketing and advertising world today would require more than we could ask an employee, so State Farm began an external talent search. We are usually very intent on diversity in our marketing and advertising, but in the end we chose the right actor for the right role.
The actor [Kevin Miles] is from Chicago. One of my favorite stories is an event early in her role as Jake from State Farm. We invited him to meet and greet at the head office. It was a big deal, and he brought his parents to the event. The atrium was full of employees waiting to meet him. He was humble, kind and genuine, he spent hours talking to and taking pictures with employees. His success is not only impressive externally, but also impressive internally. The qualities you can see and feel from Jake from State Farm are also qualities that Kevin embodies. And so we deliberately let many Kevin get through in his role as Jake from State Farm.
Can you talk about any upcoming or future State Farm Diversity and Inclusion Initiative that you are happy about? What are your goals for 2021 and beyond?
We are proud of the intentionality we place behind diversity and inclusion. State Farm just started a board of directors in January, which is a group of leading leaders in the organization that will drive the future strategy for diversity and inclusion.
One area of focus that we are looking at is more openness. How do we tell our story internally so that our employees feel comfortable? How do we tell the story bigger from an external perspective? We work with intentional performance targets for all employees regarding diversity and inclusion, which will be part of their performance assessment and how they actively engage in that work. We continue to define our measures and concrete ways of measuring the progress we make as an organization. The "Conversations Worth Having" sessions are planned throughout the year as well as the listening sessions with our executive leadership. We are happy about the continuation of the programming and lean towards the opportunities that lie ahead.