PROMOTING WOMEN INSURANCE LEADERS IS A JOURNEY
Mentors and managers can lead the way
By Susan Rivera
Insurance companies and independent agents have made significant progress in recent years to address diversity and inclusion challenges. Gains have been made to ensure our workforces reflect the customers we serve and the communities in which we live and work, and the journey toward true equality continues to be a road well traveled.
Gender diversity, in particular, is an area where we’ve seen tremendous success. According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, women consistently have made up about 60% of the insurance workforce every year since 2007. However, more work needs to be done. They continue to be woefully underrepresented in executive positions, in the C-suite and at the board level.
Simply hiring more women won’t solve the problem. Progressive organizations are finding ways to foster the growth of women in their careers. Agents, who are uniquely in tune with their workforce, have a prime opportunity to drive this change.
The value of mentors
When I meet women working in insurance, the first question I ask is, “Do you have a mentor?” Mentors play a key role in helping women find new ways to stretch themselves so they can take on more responsibilities and find paths to promotion.
Early in my career, I was lucky to find mentors who took notice of my skill set and gave me opportunities to advance. When I worked for AIG, Bill Smith was president of its National Union subsidiary. I had spent six years working on National Union products on the actuarial side, and Bill gave me a chance to jump completely out of my comfort zone and take a leadership position in the financial institutions division in what would be my first foray into underwriting.
When Bill first told me about this new position, his advice was short and sweet: “Don’t let anybody else know that you don’t know what you’re doing.” I was smart and would catch on quickly, he said. His confidence in my abilities boosted my own and made me resolve to work hard and make him proud.
Mentors play key roles in helping women find new ways to stretch themselves so they can take on more responsibilities and find paths to promotion.
Mentors and engaged managers play a key role in the successful career development of women. That’s why at Tokio Marine HCC they are a key component of our diversity initiative, which addresses four key areas:
Awareness: A holistic approach starts with awareness: an understanding of the issue, why it is important and everyone’s role in it. This awareness needs to resonate throughout the organization with the goal of creating an environment that fosters inclusiveness and makes leadership desirable for all. For independent agents, as you look up the ladder from the front-line manager to the mid-senior manager role, you see few women. We need to invest in advancement efforts, fair compensation and a level playing field for all employees.
Leadership: Diversity and inclusion need to start at the top and be a pervasive part of the culture of an organization, including its managers. Managers must recognize the impact that diverse perspectives can have on strengthening performance. It’s important to go beyond lip service and lead by example. Track your analytics, audit your pay practices, and understand the reasons why employees are leaving or not advancing.
Engage your managers: It’s critical for agency leaders to provide support and get their managers on board in solving the diversity and inclusion conundrum. To get managers to take this issue seriously, formalize mentoring relationships and inspire them to develop a variety of promising employees. Encourage your managers to give rising stars greater visibility through stretch job assignments, letting them give a presentation or attend a client meeting or industry forum.
Managers not only should be on board and engaged with these diversity initiatives, they themselves should be actively engaged. Think about it: When I ask my son if he wants to play basketball, he says no. When I ask him if he wants to try to beat me at a game of 21, he’s up and outside. Make sure your managers know it’s not just about filling quotas; it’s about believing in and promoting the benefits of a more diverse workforce.
Individual development: A successful initiative also requires programs and education that focus on individual behaviors and development. Women are not afraid of hard work, but there are certain learned behaviors and thought patterns they need to work on releasing, such as fear of failure or a focus on perfection. Women need to be encouraged to take a planning perspective on their careers, develop their networks, cultivate relationships with executives, broaden their skills from tactical to strategic and step out of their comfort zone.
The Insurance Industry Charitable Foundation’s Women in Insurance Global Conference, for example, allows participants to bounce ideas off each other and learn about best practices that insurers are developing to address diversity and inclusion issues.
The road ahead
Diversity adds value to an organization, resulting in increased revenue, satisfied clients, and engaged and talented employees. Agents, because of their intimate work culture and close interactions with their employees, have an opportunity to discover the needs of their employees and identify mentors and mentees who can formalize relationships that lead to opportunities to learn and grow. The goal is to create an environment where everyone can thrive, participate and navigate a path of advancement.
Gender diversity is strong in insurance, but we need more women to be decision makers.
According to a Harvard Law report, just 9% of top executive positions in the Russell 3000 are filled by women, which means organizations have a long road ahead to establish gender equity within the top ranks where the next generation of CEOs is cultivated.
It’s not about setting quotas or promoting for the sake of promotion. Women bring a thoughtful perspective to the workplace, and smart organizations will take the steps to build a pipeline of female leaders to guide them in the future.
I am optimistic about the future for diversity and inclusion and the role of women in our industry, given the desire of many companies and independent agents to create a more balanced workforce that is representative of our clients, stakeholders and communities.
The journey need never be complete as long as it’s well traveled.
Susan Rivera was appointed chief executive officer of Tokio Marine HCC in September 2018. She previously was executive vice president and chief operating officer. From 2014 to 2015 she served as an independent director on Tokio Marine HCC’s board of directors while she was president of V3 Insurance Partners, a managing general underwriter. Rivera will speak on the topic of diversity and inclusion at the Insurance Industry Charitable Foundation’s Women in Insurance Global Conference, June 12-14 in New York