It was in late November when a cool autumn breeze hit Cathy Coppedge-Jinks as she walked into work at Aflac. A divorce had made the year a difficult one, and she wasn’t looking forward to spending Thanksgiving without her daughters. Aflac’s CEO, Dan Amos, was in the lobby and he asked about her holiday plans and invited her to his own family’s celebration after hearing about her plans—or lack thereof.
The following Thursday, Coppedge-Jinks found herself sharing a delicious holiday meal with CEO Dan Amos and his family. After supper, they spent the afternoon watching Georgia football as they laughed and she snacked on popcorn with Mr. Amos’ wife, Kathelen. Coppedge-Jinks was very grateful to be included in the Amos family holiday supper and the experience fit congruently with the type of CEO and leader Mr. Amos, or “Dan” as he is known to Aflac employees, is, day in and day out. Dan has always been an in-the-know and caring CEO. For example, he and Aflac’s General Counsel, Mrs. Audrey Tillman, went to the courthouse during a custody trial to offer Coppedge-Jinks their support, which she still finds remarkable. Dan Amos is a leader that embodies Aflac’s culture, and that culture has kept Coppedge-Jinks at the large and well-known supplemental insurance company for more than twenty years.
Before and during her time in law school, Coppedge-Jinks worked for other insurance companies and grew fond of the industry. After law school, she relocated to Columbus, Georgia, for her family. The move was a fortuitous one, as the southern city has been Aflac’s home since 1955. “The city and insurance industry may have been what brought me to Aflac, but the culture is why I’ve stayed,” says Coppedge-Jinks, who started as staff attorney in 2000, took on progressive leadership roles, and now is an officer of the company.
The Aflac culture is one built on empathy, understanding, diversity, and an open-door management style. The supportive work environment and strong reputation have helped the company retain many long-tenured employees. Audrey Tillman joined in 1996 and sat across the floor from Coppedge-Jinks during Coppedge-Jinks’ first year with the company. Today, Tillman is Aflac’s executive vice president and general counsel.
Over the years, Coppedge-Jinks has had many opportunities to gift forward the culture that’s been so instrumental to her own professional journey. After managing litigation and arbitration matters for Aflac and its affiliates, she was recognized for her ability to inspire teams and deliver outcomes by being asked to help promote internal employee engagement. She accepted the assignment and became part of a small project group that designed and implemented a rewards and recognition program through which employees can earn special “Aflac duck feathers” for meeting certain performance benchmarks. More than ten years later, managers and employees alike are still using feathers to motivate and celebrate members of their teams.
As counsel for Aflac, Coppedge-Jinks runs the legal efforts for the Aflac Group benefits division and Aflac’s independent sales force. Additionally, she’s leading the legal division’s increasing efforts to develop talent and elevate its diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives. Aflac, Coppedge-Jinks says, has a strong foundation in these areas. Several members of the executive management team (including general counsel Tillman) are women and ethnic minorities, and 64 percent of Aflac’s board members are women. In the workforce at large, 65 percent are women.
While the legal department has always mirrored these statistics, Coppedge-Jinks and her colleagues started to formalize the legal division’s diversity, equity and inclusion policies after the racially motivated social unrest of 2020. The team created a diversity statement and policy to act as legal’s “North Star.”
Next, the team introduced a tracking system requiring partner firms to answer diversity questions when they submit invoices. The team will compile this data and use it as a guide to make future informative decisions and prioritize firms that meet certain DEI metrics. “Addressing diversity and inclusion is a journey,” Coppedge-Jinks explains. “We are committed to doing good work and we recognize that it takes an ongoing approach to be successful.”
Other efforts are strengthening Aflac’s partnerships with its network of outside counsel. The team created a “continuing legal education” series through which subject matter experts are invited to train her colleagues in niche and specialty areas. A similar internal “lunch and learn” program encourages younger employees to build mentoring relationships with their veteran counterparts. Coppedge-Jinks recently gave a brown-bag lecture on how COVID-19 is impacting Aflac’s in-bound and out-bound US employment needs and practices.
Aflac wants to invest in the best and brightest employees, and that starts with recruitment. The DEI team is therefore expanding an existing legal intern and extern program and recruiting students from more diverse colleges and universities. “A more diverse talent pool helps bring diverse perspectives to our legal department. A diverse department will best serve both the business and our customers,” Coppedge-Jinks says. Participants rotate through the department and get a broad experience as they assist on research projects and learn about contracts, the Aflac sales force, HR, privacy, and other related matters.
Although COVID-19 took Aflac’s workforce remote, Coppedge-Jinks says its culture is stronger than ever before. “Everyone is encouraged and expected to bring themselves to offer meaningful contributions we wouldn’t otherwise have,” she says. “We’re living out the culture that comes from the very top.” Like Dan Amos, Cathy Coppedge-Jinks is walking the walk at Aflac.
“Congratulations Cathy Coppedge for this well-deserved recognition! We applaud your commitment to excellence, equality and diversity and your engagement of diverse counsel.”
–Emilia A. Quesada, Esq., Chair, Insurance Practice Group