New York Life CDO: Diversity Boosts Bottomline

April 9, 2015 6:01 pm

By Barbara Frankel


Kathleen Navarro gained insight into the value of diversity and how it furthers business goals when she worked on the women’s and Hispanic marketing initiatives at New York Life.

“Working on these initiatives was a wonderful learning experience because I was able to see how diversity impacts our bottom line,” explained Navarro, New York Life’s Chief Diversity Officer.

The initiatives, she continued, “were aimed at embedding New York Life agents in diverse communities. I learned that to have a wide reach and to deepen our customer base one solution does not fit all. My experience on these projects also helped me learn the importance of engaging a diverse group of people in the planning stage.”

“Having a diverse group involved upfront leads to better insights, decision making, and results,” she added.

It’s been a life-long road of diversity learning for Navarro who admittedly “did not have a very diverse upbringing.” She grew up in Staten Island, New York, where just about everyone she knew was either Italian or Irish (she is both).

“I went to an all girl’s Catholic high school that wasn’t very diverse,” she recalls. The youngest of four, Kathleen’s mother was a housewife and her father worked for the telephone company.

Her world changed dramatically when she attended the Leonard N. Stern School of Business at New York University.

“I met a wide range of people, some of whom are still my best friends. I saw the importance of diversity and different upbringings and learned that not everybody has the same experience,” she says.

Kathleen studied management and statistics at NYU and obtained her MBA in accounting from Baruch College but never practiced accounting. She came to New York Life after a few years at a law firm in the financial-services department.

“I thought I might be interested in going to law school but New York Life showed me what I wanted to do,” she says. Her background is in financial reporting, operations and strategy. What it doesn’t include is any HR background. Once a staple for chief diversity officers, HR experience is no longer a given. Increasingly, CDOs, like Kathleen, have more business-related experience.

Current PositionVice President and Chief Diversity Officer, New York Life (No. 25 in the DiversityInc Top 50)

Previous Position
Vice President, New York Life (since 1994)

Bachelor’s Degree, Statistics and Management, New York University, Leonard N. Stern School of Management

Master of Business Administration, Accounting, Baruch College, City University of New York

New Beginnings

Kathleen recently took over as Chief Diversity Officer at New York Life, the company she has worked at since 1994.

“This is my first foray in HR but because I’ve worked in so many parts of the company, I have a wide breadth of knowledge. My HR colleagues help me fill in the gaps,” she says. She is reporting to Katherine O’Brien, the Chief Human Resources Officer.


Understanding Women

From the start of her tenure, Kathleen has been involved in creating opportunities for women at New York Life and has been a leader in The Women’s Initiative, which is New York life’s women’s employee resource group.

“When I started working here, there weren’t that many senior female role models. I’m proud to say, times have changed.”

Kathleen began working with the women’s group when it was formed about 12 years ago. “I was involved in programming but was on the sidelines. I was asked to join the core team and lead the membership committee. I saw the impact and importance of what was being done,” she says.

Three years ago, she became a co-leader. “Our vision is to help women take their place at the corporate table – to be confident, connected and community-minded,” she says.

The Women’s Initiative offers a mix of development programs, networking events, volunteer opportunities, and mentoring including a Peer Leadership Circle Program, which is a peer-directed, small mentoring groups that meet regularly to encourage and support each other’s development in an atmosphere of confidentiality and trust.

“The Women’s Initiative helps employees develop their skill set and network across the company. “Now there are many women role models throughout the company and I’m proud to have played a part.”

Although she no longer co-leads The Women’s Initiative, all the employee resource groups report into the Office of Diversity and Inclusion so she will expand her involvement across the groups. “Now I get the opportunity to share my knowledge base with all seven of the Employee Resource Groups,” she says.