Wishing to enhance their successful culture, the leadership clearly saw the need for a broader set of skills and perspectives.

The Challenge

Founded in 1857, this professional services company had an established, values-oriented culture that fostered tactical, results-oriented thinking and a high level of independence and autonomy. For much of the company’s history, leaders looked like their client base—white and male. But times have changed and Northwestern’s leaders must now connect with a more diverse clientele. In their high-trust industry, Northwestern Mutual’s leaders clearly saw the need for a broader set of skills and perspectives to enhance their successful culture.


Northwestern Mutual’s willingness to explore options led them to WMFDP. Partnering with WMFDP, their diversity and inclusion journey included:

  • Testing the waters by sending one senior leader to a White Men’s Caucus. This influential leader helped determine if WMFDP’s approach and partnership style were a good match, yet would challenge Northwestern’s leaders to go beyond their current mindset.
  • Piloting a 3½-day learning lab for a team of managing partners—leaders who where highly independent and ran their own offices, yet who were willing to commit time and focus to a long-term journey.
  • Providing the managing partners with follow-up individual and group Full Partner Leadership Coaching to support their ongoing learning and application of inclusive behaviors.
  • Engaging home office leaders in the Full Diversity Partners learning lab (formerly WMAA) as a way to bridge the home office to the experience and learning in the field.


Northwestern Mutual’s journey continues. Their spirit of curiosity and willingness to try new diversity strategies and focus on how they apply their new skills is giving them the edge in a highly competitive field. Their efforts have led to:

  • Expanded awareness of their own culture and how it impacts others. They courageously examine their actions and interactions to challenge and support each other’s ongoing learning without blame. One example: Recognizing the impact on others, they changed the name of their mentoring program (previously “Big Brother”).
  • Stronger, more collaborative partnerships between the regionally-based, independent managing partners and home office leaders.
  • More effective dialogue—a shift from the male-to-male banter that had dominated their interactions—resulting in more engagement and motivation of employees throughout the organization.
  • Expanded their participation in Learning Labs by encouraging partners and home office employees to build on their efforts.