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Protective's DE&I journey: Where we are and where we're going

by Martina Winston

Martina Winston

At Protective, we believe in protecting people. That belief informs everything we do — from the life insurance, asset protection and retirement solutions we offer customers to our relationships with distributors, and especially in the culture we've cultivated for and with our employees.

Investments in diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) teams, policies and practices have been shown to strengthen businesses. Since 2018, Protective has examined how we can push ourselves to become leaders in the corporate DE&I space. With explicit buy-in from Protective President and CEO Rich Bielen, and input from employees across the company, we have been moving full steam ahead with our goal to advance a culture of belonging where all voices are welcomed, valued and heard.

How does Protective define DE&I?

We define diversity as the collection of different identities, thinking and experiences that make us who and what we are. 

We support equity by recognizing that the path to success looks different for everyone and acknowledging our responsibility to provide the resources and opportunities needed for all Protective employees to succeed. 

And we practice inclusion by fostering a culture of behavior that embraces, respects, listens to and values differences, enabling all employees to thrive and contribute to our shared success.

Committing to advance DE&I efforts

When Protective's original Diversity and Inclusion Working Group was formed, we operated off the questions, “How can we create a space for not only our employees but also for our community to be successful and thrive? And how can we refocus diversity and inclusion at Protective to make it be a part of who and what we are as an organization make it a part of our DNA?

As a result of the conversations, the group agreed that the company had to be ready to commit to DE&I practices and communicate them throughout all levels. 

We knew the goals we set had to be actionable and we had to create  learning opportunities that encouraged and celebrated diversity of thought and experiences. Ultimately, we landed on three internal goals that would guide our strategic DE&I roadmap:

  • To encourage and support diverse leaders who would be able to build collaborative and agile teams.
  • To create an inclusive environment that would drive excellent performance and fulfill our business objectives.
  • To evolve our hiring practices, development opportunities and employee retention levels in order to increase the overall racial and gender diversity at the officer and managerial levels.

By focusing on internal practices early in our DE&I work, we were able to hear from our employees about what they needed in order to be successful, identify the gaps in our processes and ensure support from the top down to do the work in a way that would create lasting impact.

Protective's DE&I journey

Since our renewed focus on DE&I in 2018, we have intentionally worked to strengthen our DE&I efforts by growing and developing our people, attracting diverse talent and supporting strong, diverse communities.


After the strategic DE&I roadmap was approved, we hit the ground running internally with the formation of our DE&I Advisory Committee. Externally, our CEO made a visible and important demonstration of our commitment by being an early signatory on the CEO Action Pledge for Diversity & Inclusion. The pledge holds business leaders to specific DE&I goals including implementing and expanding unconscious bias training, formulating and actioning on strategic plans and sharing successes and failures with other companies looking to fortify their work in this space. 

We also organized and launched pilot programs for women and people of color that allowed us to listen and learn.


In 2020, we engaged over 600 employees in inclusive leadership training sessions and established a DE&I learning course available to all employees. 

Colleagues also participated in Days of Understanding, where employees volunteered to share their personal stories, their unique backgrounds and what inspires them. These activities came at a particularly pertinent time, as events and protests across the country turned everyone's attention to the ongoing issues of systemic racism.


In 2021, we were named the winner of the Social Equity and Community Empowerment Life Insurance award by the DEI: Expanding Opportunity in Insurance Conference. 

We also introduced a new emphasis to our diversity and inclusion team, formally adding the pillar of equity to our practice, realizing that the path to success for each of our employees looked different, but the commitment to their long-term accomplishments was what mattered most. 

We began our Diversity Month Series, where we recognized and celebrated different groups for a month at a time and were able to feature the perspectives of employees and guest speakers from the Asian, Indigenous and disability communities.

With our commitment to diversity also extending to our communities, we launched the Diversity in Business Bridge Program in partnership with The University of Alabama Culverhouse College of Business. The program aims to build a diverse pipeline of future leaders and improve DE&I practices in the workplace and the world. Additionally, we continued our support of the Birmingham Promise scholarship and apprenticeship program, and the city's VITAL program, which encourages companies to create economic opportunities for minority-, women-, and other disadvantaged business enterprises. 


In 2022, we've leveled up once again and received the Birmingham Business Journal's Leaders in Diversity Award in the large company category. We were also recognized as the Outstanding Corporate DEI Award winner by The University of Alabama's Malone Awards.

We launched our Uncomfortable Conversations series as part of our Diversity Month activities, which allows for frank conversations between employees to foster greater empathy and space for people to truly come as they are. 

We've also begun building Protective's first-ever employee resource groups, called Growth Networks, peer-led communities where Black, female and LGBTQIA+ colleagues, advocates and allies can learn from and connect with each other.

What's next for DE&I at Protective?

Moving forward, we're taking cues from the feedback we've heard from team members: 88% of our employees say that having a diverse mix of talent in our workplace better enables teams to achieve their goals. 

In the APD Division, we have developed relationships with Women in Automotive and the National Association of Minority Automobile Dealers (NAMAD), and in our Operations area, we sponsor several employee memberships for the National African American Insurance Association (NAAIA). 

The Protective Foundation and Protective’s Retirement Division is implementing a sponsorship strategy in 2022 focused on diverse talent acquisition opportunities. This strategy includes working with the Association for Wholesaling Diversity and Women in Financial Services (WIFS), as well as with the American College of Financial Services, Central State University and the University of Cincinnati Business Fellows program.

In addition to looking ahead to greater engagement with organizations, we plan to provide inclusion training to more employees and continue to dedicate Protective Foundation engagement toward causes that advance social equity. 

Our refreshed, strategic goals will guide our direction over the next three years  and ensure Protective is considering the intersectionality of race, gender, sexual orientation, backgrounds and varying abilities in all areas of our business:

  • Develop a culture of inclusion and belonging led by leaders who develop potential and embrace unique skills and abilities.

  • Create an equitable and accountable environment for all leaders and employees that will drive performance and impact business strategy.

  • Increase overall diversity for leadership roles and pipelines of talent by maturing our hiring practices, robust development opportunities and focus on retention of key talent. 

There's certainly more work to be done, but we trust that our willingness to commit to the sometimes overwhelming, sometimes uncomfortable, but always necessary work of DE&I will help make our business, our people and our communities even stronger.


Martina Winston is VP and Senior HR Partner and Diversity and Inclusion Leader at Protective.

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