New York Life is Creating Opportunities from the Inside Out
By Jessie Wagoner
New York Life is one of America’s largest mutual life insurance companies. For more than 170 years, the company has thrived by nurturing relationships, transcending generations and building a track record of financial stability.
Inclusion takes shape
Two women, Angela Daniels-Lewis, corporate vice president and LGBT market manager, and Joy Wong, corporate vice president and supplier diversity program manager, have helped guide the company — providing vital insights into engaging with diverse markets.
Each woman brings their own unique experiences to New York Life, combining 59 years of experience. Wong has devoted 29 years to the company while Daniels-Lewis has invested 30 years. Over their lengthy careers, including a variety of positions with the company, the women saw a need for developing relationships within the LGBT community.
In 2008, Daniels-Lewis presented a proposal to senior management to include the LGBT Market as a business opportunity. She knew the company had existing clients from the LGBT market but her proposal provided an opportunity to formalize the market. The proposal led to the creation of her current position and launched a focused effort to establish a viable market in the LGBT community.
“This was an opportunity I created for myself that didn’t exist before — developing the LGBT market,” Daniels-Lewis said. “It was not only a business decision but a personal decision to come out when we established the market at New York Life, so that is what keeps me motivated.”
The environment at New York Life has allowed both women to create opportunities for themselves, both personally and professionally. As new ideas come to light the women have been able to transition to new positions and expand their reach. Daniels-Lewis lauds the inclusive environment at New York Life as one that encourages and supports community and family. Not only has it fostered success for her professionally, she also met her wife through New York Life.
The LGBT target market quickly grew and Wong transitioned into her current role in supplier diversity. Daniels-Lewis says the addition of Wong has been an asset. Wong’s lengthy tenure with the company and her passion for working with diverse communities was a welcome addition. Wong has family members and close friends who are LGBTQ and she is proud to be an ally.
“Being a diverse person myself, foreign born, I have always supported diversity,” Wong said. “When I got this job as a supplier diversity manager almost seven years ago, I thought it was a great opportunity to merge the passion I have for diversity and be able to help diverse businesses — advocating for them and helping them grow motivates me.”
Their days look different — Wong may spend a day connecting diverse suppliers with stakeholders at a conference like NGLCC’s while Daniels-Lewis catches a plane to travel to another city to train agents. Though the tasks are different, the mission is the same — advocating for diverse partners and cultivating relationships.
Coaching and training others is crucial for both. Daniels-Lewis provides agents with behavioral coaching and Wong mentors diverse suppliers. New York Life maintains corporate memberships with third party advocacy groups like the National Minority Supplier Development Council, the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council and NGLCC. The women say corporate membership and certification are beneficial, and they encourage others to engage with the groups at the national and local levels to leverage those networks for success.
“I focus on helping diverse suppliers expand their network and their access to opportunities,” Wong said. “I introduce them to internal stakeholders, peers in other corporations and members of supplier diversity advocacy organizations.”
Agents and suppliers alike can benefit from the networking opportunities and mentoring the women offer. Cultivating relationships through networking is a continuous or ongoing process. An innocuous conversation with one person can result in an invitation to another person’s event. There is no clear beginning or end to the benefits of networking. As relationships develop, more business opportunities may be presented.
“A lot of newly certified suppliers have a false expectation that the business will come right away but it is about relationships,” Wong said. “So any vendor I meet, I try to explain to them that it takes time building the relationships. They need to make themselves stand out and make a clear value proposition. The relationship doesn’t start or end with one meeting, they have to continue to make themselves relevant.”
Wong also advocates for diverse suppliers to consider doing business with one another as a means to strengthen the business community.
Historically, the LGBT community has been underserved. Daniels-Lewis and Wong are committed to influencing change by providing support to the community and fostering inclusion. In addition to their professional engagement with the LGBT community, both women volunteer their time to support the community. Wong serves on a number of boards for supplier diversity advocacy organizations and mentors diverse suppliers informally and formally, through various one-to-one mentorship programs like NGLCC’s Mentor-Protégé Program; Daniels-Lewis devotes time to organizations focused on supporting LGBTQ youth.
“In Supplier Diversity, my objective is to continue evolving the program and to engage partners beyond the traditional supplier-procurement relationship,” Wong said. “The NGLCC and NGLCCNY events that we have hosted through the years have created opportunities that seamlessly included broader representation from our agency target markets, NYLPride employee resource group, and legal department. Bringing together a diverse group of individuals with a shared passion for diversity to have conversations and to create opportunities for collaboration is a successful model of inclusion worth replicating.”
The women have experienced the success that inclusion can bring. Their commitment to diversity and inclusion will undoubtedly inspire others to pursue their personal and professional passions.
“My overall goal as the LGBT Market Manager is to have New York Life become the industry leader for insurance and financial services in the LGBTQ market space, not only for our products but also for career opportunities,” Daniels-Lewis said.
For New York Life, focusing on inclusive practices across the enterprise is the path to success.
“By connecting agents, diverse suppliers, corporate and industry leaders to one another,” Wong says, “everyone wins.”