As part of the coverage of our August "Top Women in Insurance" issue, American Agent & Broker interviewed some of the most successful women in the insurance field today. In our other installments, read how top industry women find success at work and at home and 8 stories of mentorship and sponsorhip.
Several who have been in their careers 30 years or more concede that insurance has come a long way since the days when management was exclusively “pale and male.” But all of them also acknowledge that our industry still has a long way to go to achieve true balance and diversity.
Here's what six of them had to say on what it's like to be a woman in what's still a male-dominated field.
“Statistically speaking, the industry has more women than men; however, more men than women occupy leadership positions. As social demographics change and more women receive bachelor’s degrees than men, the industry has begun to embrace the fact that the talent pool of future leaders is evolving and is becoming much more balanced.
“I’ve also seen firsthand how the support and trust of senior professionals can give other professionals—especially women—the confidence they need to grow and advance. A breakthrough moment for me occurred after I initially turned down a position because I did not think I was capable of taking on the responsibility. However, a senior leader told me, ‘I see you in the position.’ That simple statement changed my career and gave me the confidence I needed. Women need to believe in themselves first, and then advocate for the opportunities they know they are capable of pursuing.”
Joan Lamm-Tennant, global chief economist and risk strategist, Guy Carpenter
“Companies are making diversity a priority because it makes sense to do so. How can they find the brightest and most talented professionals by fishing in only one part of the pond? Collectively, we are recognizing that success is driven by a variety of people from a range of backgrounds working together. Many of the leading insurance companies have implemented strong diversity programs, and they are now benefitting from the creativity and broad perspective of diverse leadership teams.”
Donna Pile, owner, A.G. Perry Insurance Agency
“I know there are hurdles and some women create for themselves. These hindrances end up being self-imposed. Sometimes we are our own worst enemies. I remember the old ‘Godfather’ statement that this business is not personal. For women, that takes a little time to absorb.”
Karen Bailo, general manager of agency sales and distribution, Progressive
“Although I’ve never felt that my gender was a barrier to success, I do see the unbalanced demographics that make up our industry. Whether I’m sitting in a board room or at an industry conference, we’re definitely a male-dominated field. I think some of the challenges for women come from having to balance a career and family. It’s difficult. There never seem to be enough hours in the day.
“At Progressive, we strive to give employees tools to combat those challenges. We offer a number of amenities at our offices—health services, workout facilities, dry cleaning, and we even bring in a farmer’s market for shopping one day of the week. Companies are finding that helping employees find a balance makes them more satisfied and productive. I think it becomes especially favorable for women. I also think that women in leadership positions can help by mentoring and coaching younger female employees. Often, advancement is about building a strong network around you and cultivating relationships. Having people that can stand behind you and help you navigate your career is important.”
Sue Federinko, senior vice president, Glatfelter Healthcare Practice
“I can personally attest to the industry becoming more encouraging. I once was a policy typist, and today I’m senior vice president and division head of Glatfelter Healthcare Practice. In the insurance industry, personally I have been fortunate to experience or see encouragement for women to advance to higher positions. I would like to believe within the industry and outside it, if you work hard and take the initiative to do more, there are opportunities. Simply ‘go for it.’
“My stumbling block was looking at myself—I doubted myself plenty of times for not having a college degree. Prior to my recent promotion, I was sharing this with my boss and he looked at me and said, ‘Sue, what you have you cannot get in a textbook.’ I took a step back and said to myself: Wow, he is right, and I can thank the insurance industry for providing me with the stability and tools to get to this place where I am today.”
Claudia Mandato, executive vice president, Lockton Inc.
“It’s still a challenge and while we can look at some excellent examples within our industry of successful women, it is still a very small number. Acknowledging that a gender bias both consciously and unconsciously exists is one way to begin the slow progress of change. Carriers and brokers must be willing to break the traditional mold and cultivate women informally and formally as has been done with men for hundreds of years. Interestingly, there’s an ‘old boys club,’ but not an ‘old girls club.’ When women try to break free and challenge these embedded traditions, they’re labeled, and not so kindly.”