In 1964 when New York Life became the first insurance company to join Plans for Progress (PfP), the federal equal employment opportunity program, it was a natural next step in the company’s commitment to equality.
New York Life already made its policies and jobs available to anyone no matter their race. But the initiative went further than simply giving opportunities to minorities. From the beginning, New York Life focused efforts to improve equality through education, training, and other programs to help those from various backgrounds succeed.
“It’s not enough to hire people and just leave it at that,” said Charles W.V. Meares, then executive vice president, in 1966. “All new people—especially if they come from disadvantaged backgrounds—need to feel welcome, to be encouraged, to feel like they can rise as high as their abilities can take them.”
To demonstrate the company’s commitment to PfP and genuine desire to be a leader, New York Life’s Virginia Keegan, a member of the personnel department, spent a year in Washington working on the PfP administrative staff. She became the PfP’s first female staffer, and her experience at New York Life helped shape the program’s direction.
After returning to New York Life, Keegan was named manager of equal employment activities, a role focused on recruiting and training minorities. This commitment to PfP and creating a diverse, merit-based workforce continued in other areas of New York Life outside the commitment to the federal program.
The company also invested in building relationships in disadvantaged communities to diversify recruiting and hiring practices. For example, New York Life worked with the New York State Employment Service and the National Urban League to employ people who had dropped out of high school. These new hires received training and mentoring in order to ensure they were successful.
Through another program, high school students in need of financial support got the opportunity to work and go to school on alternating weeks, giving them experience and support to finish their degrees while earning much-needed money.
New York Life understood that creating a diverse workforce would mean more than changing hiring practices. It would require ongoing support, mentoring, and other programs to create truly equitable success. This commitment to equity and creating a better society continues to this day, helping create a better future for people of all backgrounds.
Photo: Virginia Keegan, "on loan" from New York Life as an administrative coordinator for Plans for Progress in Washington, DC, meets Hubert Humphrey.
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