As we welcome April and say goodbye to March (International Women’s Month), it’s important to remember that championing women and equality in traditionally male dominated industries shouldn’t center solely around social media hashtags and “hallmark holidays.”
Here in the trenches of the insurance biz, it’s no secret that our industry maintains a somewhat less than stellar reputation when it comes to keeping up with the times. It’s an ancient business, after all, predating the birth of the United States by thousands of years. In what seems like an eternity in itself, the Philadelphia Contributionship, this nation's oldest insurance carrier still in operation, was founded in part by Benjamin Franklin. And, despite an abundance of stockings and curls, it’s safe to assume there weren’t a lot of female executives running that show back in 1752.
Back to the here and now … only 35 percent of independent agencies are led by a woman principal or senior manager, according to the 2018 Future One Agency Universe Study. Considering the industry, as a whole, is made up of over 60 percent women, it’s a pretty telling statistic that only about a third of businesses are actually headed by women.
The stats become even less heartening when viewed at a more granular level. In 2019, women account for only 19 percent of board seats, 10 percent of named inside officer positions and 12 percent of C-suite roles. For women bringing home the bacon in insurance, our cut averages about 62 cents on the dollar to our male counterparts'. In this age of #metoo and heightened emphasis on equality, the ugly undertones of gender discrimination still manage to cast their shadows.
That’s why it’s important to take the time to point out that change is happening in this traditionally old-fashioned industry. Just as with the undeniable impact of insurtech, companies that refuse to embrace modern human resource practices will be left in the dust. Women are more than representing, and the “gender gap” is narrowing, however slowly. Continued momentum depends upon both women and men, inside and outside the industry, itself.
Tim Cooper, Farmers Insurance agency owner in Suwanee, Georgia, states that it’s not uncommon for clients to initially refuse to even speak with his female agent, insisting on dealing directly with him. It’s a demand that clients have had to accept will not be accommodated. “They do get a call from me, during which it is made clear that their policy needs will be placed in the hands of my more than capable agent, Scarlett. Most of those clients realize pretty quickly that they are lucky to have her on their case.”
Agency Matrix customer Rolanda Watson of Watson Insurance Agency in Houston, Texas agrees that—for whatever reason the insurance world was late to the modernization game—things are on the uptick. “I feel that women in the industry have become more accepted,” she says. “I have received some support from [men] in the industry; however, it has been hard and slow.” As a working mother and wife, Rolanda says that a lot of true opportunities and referrals take place during off-hour social encounters and networking events that she and other women simply don’t have the time (or always the invitation) to join.
So, what can we do in our everyday lives to foster change? Rolanda points out that opportunities lie in mentoring and educational areas, and through referrals. “So much business comes through warm referrals and through just knowing the right people.”
Many times, when asked for an opinion, we just rattle off the name of the first agent that comes to mind, without taking a minute to remember that there are plenty of equally (or more) capable women in the selection pool. It's as simple as making a conscious effort to support our female professionals both inside and outside the agency—to keep promoting and creating mentoring initiatives, internships, recruitment and education at the college level, career development and training programs. Our efforts will lead to greater opportunities for women to not only become financially secure, but to lead the way and break new ground. Both women and men in insurance are already working to make our industry one we can be proud of in every way. We are making a difference and looking for ways to do more. As with anything worthwhile, growth depends on commitment, communication, leadership and hard work.
The sheer number of women currently working in insurance, combined with more and more coming in, creates the perfect opportunity for positive change. It may be as simple as shining a light on the progress we’ve already made and encouraging equality in our individual corners of the industry. The bar is moving in the right direction, we just have to figure out more ways to increase the momentum.
This business offers such an opportunity to touch the lives of people just like ourselves, people whose most important priority in life is to protect the property and loved ones they hold closest to their hearts. Ours is an industry made of relationships with real people putting the security of their homes, vehicles and families in our hands. Who better than women to undertake such an awesome responsibility? Who better to lead more women in building careers they can be proud of?
We are honored to work with insurance agencies every single day. So, we feel qualified to attest to the positive changes already taking place. What’s more, we strive to do our part to promote diversity in our own recruiting, hiring and promotion practices. There is always more to be done, and we join you in our commitment to working hard for continued improvement in our industry and our world.