The Path to Creating Change

With Sheldon D. Williams, Nacora International Insurance Brokers–Diversity Leader of the Year

By Erin Kruk, Interim VP, Marketing & Communications, IBAO | Photos by Jason Gordon

Sheldon Williams has been called inspiring, a community builder, a professional, and advocate and a friend. And now—after winning the 2022 Award of Excellence—he can officially add Diversity Leader to that list. 

This award isn’t a surprise to those who know him. He not only has a long list of impressive career accomplishments, but also has remained dedicated to his community and has a long-held passion for helping others. What may be surprising—even at times to himself—is that he’s made such a huge impact in the insurance industry. 

Like many people before him, Sheldon never planned to have a career in insurance. He fell into a job in a call centre in 2001, and thought it could be a stepping stone to something else. Over two decades later, Sheldon has made waves throughout the industry as not only a successful brokerage owner, but also a generous volunteer who has made a difference in the lives of his colleagues, clients and peers.

The Key to Success

The impact made has been mutual. It may be that he is a truly humble winner, but Sheldon doesn’t believe that this award belongs solely on his shelf. He emphasized that his award win was only possible because of the team he works with at his brokerage and the people involved in the Canadian Association of Black Insurance Professionals (CABIP).

“No one person could have done this alone. We’re a team and together we’re the visionaries behind this. There is no single person on the board I would replace with anyone else. Their dedication and passion are incredible and infectious. We are a strong CABIP family, and none of our success wouldn’t have happened without this team.”

Passionate Community Member 

A deeper look into Sheldon’s impressive resume, shows that he truly enjoys working with people and has a knack for building relationships. He has a variety of volunteer roles under his belt and has been an active member of several industry associations for years. For the past decade, Sheldon has worked with the Canadian Caribbean Association of Halton (CCAH), where he is currently the Vice President, and in 2021 he became Chair of CABIP. The role at CCAH started the ball rolling for his diversity, equity and inclusion work, but at the beginning, Sheldon couldn’t have known how his involvement in these associations would make such a profound difference within the insurance industry.

A Moment the World Will Not Soon Forget

Monday, May 25, 2020. “The murder of George Floyd—that really permeated the entire globe and showed us something is very wrong here. It’s not just another incident or a one-off. For this to happen and for it to be documented, something is wrong”.

“People around the world wanted to do something that would make a difference. Through the CCAH, two girls in grade seven and eight who were planning a rally in Milton contacted me to ask me if I would speak at it. I was honoured and a bit nervous because at this point you really couldn’t say Black Lives Matter without having issues. Once planned, the rally ballooned, there were upwards of 3,000 people marching the day of. After the rally I was approached by Karen Rowe who said: I’ve seen what you’ve been doing, have you thought of doing anything for insurance? And the idea for CABIP was born.”

During the initial development of CABIP, Sheldon worked quickly to bring Dionne Bowers and Richard McGee on board—operating as a trio of cofounders in mapping out the best plan. After months of research, conversations with industry stakeholders, networking and planning the Canadian Association of Black Insurance Professionals opened its doors with a mission to advocate for the representation, inclusion, and advancement of Black professionals within the Canadian insurance industry. They aimed to bridge the opportunity gap for Black professionals within the Canadian insurance industry through advocacy, mentorship, education, and networking opportunities.

Strength in Numbers

Sheldon highlights the importance of his team in the success CABIP has seen in its early days. 

“I was able to act on this idea based on my experience with the Canadian Caribbean Association and my other volunteer positions. That is where I got the confidence and that—coupled with the right people—was where this incredible opportunity happened.”

“We have the best in the industry—I don’t care what the idea is—if you don’t have the right team, it can be a challenge, and, in this case, it’s really the team that made it happen. The CABIP team is a flat organization and we work together.”

The CABIP Pillars

Advocacy: Dedicated to building a more diverse, equitable and inclusive insurance industry

Mentorship: Guidance and support for members seeking a clear direction in their insurance career

Education: Opportunities to gain skills and knowledge to develop as an insurance professional

Networking: Developing networks to strengthen our presence within the insurance industry

2023 marks CABIP’s third anniversary, and to date, the organization has seen overwhelming support and success from the insurance industry—offering networking events, membership and Board of Directors opportunities along with a list of professional development programs that cover important topics like Let’s Talk About – Unconscious Bias and Unintentional Racism, Inclusive Leadership and Emerging and New Leader Essentials.

Coming off an extremely busy 2022, the CABIP team is committed to keeping the momentum going this year and beyond with several priorities on their radar.

CABIPs Top 2023 Priorities

1. Continue the Momentum

2022 was a marathon, the team was heads down, going full speed ahead for the entire year, and had positive results. This year is more structured, focused, and intentional—the team has built the relationships and generated attention, so now is the time to make change. Make change, have important conversations, and get more embedded into the conversation.

2. Better Representation

The CABIP team all share the same story—walking into a room and being the only Black person there. It could be a small room at work or a big room at an event, but they’ve all been in that position and felt awkward. With this shared experience, the team asked themselves, how do we want to make that next generation a little bit more comfortable when that happens? The answer was clear—more representation. Representation leads to confidence because you know when you go to an industry event and step into the room, you won’t be the one that stands out.

3. Broadening Offerings

Hosting professional development sessions, networking and getting the word out about CABIP were the main priorities last year. This year the team is working on formally structuring our mentorship program to help a range of young professionals from college students to those already in their careers. We’re working to ensure that CABIP takes their unique and honest approach to the mentorship program, developing it in a way that best fits with our overall mission. Part of that is having conversations with our key partners, members and others to really understand how to make that happen. The mentorship program is slated to launch in Q2 of 2023.

How You Can Make a Difference

If your brokerage or insurance organization is looking to make a difference in the diversity, equity and inclusion, Sheldon offers a simple solution—open dialogue.

“Make sure your team feels comfortable having open dialogue. Really encourage them to be themselves, whether that’s in the conversations you have or calendar of important events you follow, find ways to get your organization and team open to discussing things that were not discussed in the past.

“We all grew up in the era of don’t talk about race, religion or culture. Those things were all taboo. So let’s talk about them today. Let’s flip this upside down and get to know each other more. That’s what we do in our brokerage. We are free to talk about anything. We have mixed individuals. We have Black, White and others. We talk about everything on the table without holding anything back, and we use that as an education piece as well. It’s like oh I didn’t think about that before or I didn’t understand that or I didn’t look at it that way, especially in the world of insurance. There are prejudices wrapped into the industry without us even knowing. Let’s change that.”

Sheldon’s Advice

Open Dialogue: Invite open dialogue and discussion in your brokerage and ensure your team is comfortable sharing

Education: Do your own research, be curious, talk to an expert, talk to someone outside of your circle and get your own understanding. Look inside and understand if you have anything to unpack or any unconscious issues that may have caused you to look at things in a different way

Ask for Help: Reach out! CABIP is a great resource to reach out to for conversation, connections and understanding about topics that you’re interested in learning more about

Getting Involved in CABIP

“Everyone is welcome—reach out! The more hands and ideas, the better.”

Sheldon is eager to invite the industry to get involved, stay interested and ask questions. “We’re a Black-led organization and not a Black-only organization. We want to be 100% clear in this. There is no way at all that CABIP can be successful if we were a Black-only organization—that defeats the entire purpose of diversity and inclusion. We are so excited to have these conversations with allies and other Black individuals.”

Redefining Success

While there has been a lot of hard work and planning poured into CABIP, the core of the success of the organization—and of Sheldon’s success as a Diversity Leader—boils down to one word: authenticity.

“Personally, and professional, I am the truest version of myself that I’ve been since I started in insurance in 2001. Generally, I have a lot of great contacts and they get me and my background but this last year my biggest success was able to peel off all these layers and be the true, authentic Sheldon Williams. This has been a relief and also a fear, as I have seen people shy away—this is something that I always knew would come with the territory of being my authentic self and a reason why I think all people don’t want to show their true self.”

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