Do you remember when vast fields of chin-high cubicles blanketed the floors of the Indiana Farm Bureau Insurance (IFBI) home office? If you joined the company in the last few years, you may never have seen the cubicles stretching as far as the eye could see, lit overhead with pallid fixtures. Only those with offices were lucky enough to see the sunlight! It was a simpler but darker time for many working in downtown Indianapolis.
I began working as a contractor at IFBI in 2015. My initial impression of the company culture was informed by those cubicles. The outer wall of each cubicle was adorned with a plate indicating the occupant's name and the year they started at the company. It was apparent that some people had inhabited their cubicles for years. Commonplace were Pacers and Colts calendars, pennants and other memorabilia. Posters of inspiration and affirmation hung from rarely used overhead cabinets. But most of all, cubicles were decorated with the images closest to the heart: pictures drawn by children and photographs of smiling families.
It was evident that IFBI was the type of environment where people built lasting relationships and where families were valued. But of all the family pictures proudly displayed, I saw none that assured me that *all* families were welcome at IFBI. The insurance industry has a reputation for conservative values; it was my first time working for an insurance company, not to mention one smack dab in the Midwest. I had to wonder, was I safe bringing my whole self to work?
Concern over Indiana’s legislative response to Supreme Court rulings
In 2014, the Supreme Court narrowly decided a case under the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993, which ruled that a privately held corporation could be exempt from regulation which substantially burdened the owner's exercise of religion. In 2015, the Supreme Court agreed to hear a set of cases challenging state laws banning gay marriage. The tensions between civil rights for gays and lesbians and the rights of religious practice were coming to a head in federal courts.
In response, the Indiana State legislature passed the Indiana Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) in March 2015, despite criticism that the bill would make it easier for businesses to discriminate against gays and lesbians.
The tumult happening in the courts and the Indiana legislature was the backdrop as I was adjusting to my new position and getting to know my colleagues at IFBI. Among my friends, RFRA was seen as a regressive and threatening act by the state to implicitly allow companies to discriminate against their employees and to impede upon civil rights in other pernicious ways. At work, there was no sign that anyone was aware that RFRA existed. I wish there had been someone with whom I felt safe to share my trepidation. I wish I had noticed any outward sign that any of my colleagues, my consulting company, or IFBI were also concerned.
The backlash to RFRA was immediate. Condemnation came from businesses, religious groups, and prominent Republicans and Democrats statewide, proving that inclusion is not a partisan issue. On March 31, 2015, the Indianapolis Star devoted its entire front page to a bold headline reading "FIX THIS NOW." I bought a copy of that day's paper and kept it at my desk at IFBI as a quiet declaration of where I stood on the matter.
Indiana faced an economic reckoning due to RFRA, and the pressure on the Indiana legislature was immense. Lawmakers immediately started forging a correction to RFRA, clarifying that it was not intended as an excuse for companies to engage in discrimination, which was passed in the next legislative session.
How Indiana Farm Bureau Insurance has grown
Last year, when IFBI announced that it was forming an Inclusion and Diversity committee, I was reminded of keeping that Indianapolis Star cover on my desk for months. Who else had felt threatened at the time? How could we advance our company culture so that we could all feel protected and valued? How do we promote an environment where we can be ourselves? Not to force our colleagues to endorse any of our relationships necessarily, but to validate our individual right to have our own families and make our own choices without fear of reprisal. What could I do to help clarify our company's values of inclusion and diversity?
It's hard to believe so much has changed in six years. The claustrophobic cubicle farm has disappeared. The windows hidden by the wall-hugging offices have been opened wide. In the home office, we all get to work by the natural light of day. Steadily, family portraits of all different varieties are appearing in workstations. Our culture is moving beyond the outdated stereotypes of nuclear families.
"Our family protecting your family." That is our company's vision statement. We work together, trust one another and deliver for our members as one team. Families come in different shapes and sizes. It doesn't matter what your family looks like, at Indiana Farm Bureau Insurance you are part of our family.