Unlocking the potential of women in insurance
By Elisabeth Boone, CPCU
Undiscovered Voices: Unlocking the Potential of Women in Insurance. That’s the title of a book by Sarah Muniz, a 20-plus-year veteran of the insurance business who, like many women, came up the hard way. In job after job she was told by men that she would never succeed because she was only a woman—this despite the fact that she was earning a six-figure income and was eager to take on more responsibilities in her agency.
Like many women, Muniz was laboring under the misapprehension that she was causing her own problems. Once she started to share her journey with her growing network of women, she discovered that she was not alone—far from it.
Ultimately Muniz decided to write a book about her experiences and those of other women in the industry who shared her view that women were a valuable yet untapped resource. This month we’ll present excerpts from the first six chapters of Muniz’s book, and next month we’ll excerpt material from Chapters 7 through 13.
Chapter I-Women in Insurance
The first chapter is titled simply “Women in Insurance.” Muniz notes: “Women have been part of the insurance culture since at least the1900s, when they began working as front office staff.” Today, she continues, “women are still operating on the front lines, empathizing when distraught clients call about a loss or need advice.”
On the carrier side, Muniz explains, “Women rule the call centers, support staff positions, and some lower management positions.” She observes that, when it comes to higher end leadership positions, however, “the number of women in those roles drops dramatically.” She cites statistics from credible sources to support this assertion.
“Imagine if we converted the 61% of women already in the insurance industry to higher-level positions from lower positions while attracting a younger generation to fill in the lower gaps. Our talent crisis would turn around to a ‘talent abundance,’ solving this dilemma the industry is currently facing,” Muniz asserts.
Chapter 2-Female Brains vs. Male Brains: Is There a Difference?
“Scientists have documented an astonishing array of structural, chemical, genetic, hormonal, and functional brain differences between men and women,” Muniz explains. “In the brain centers for language and hearing, for example, women have 11% more neurons than men. The principal hub of both emotions and memory formation—the hippo-campus—is also larger in the female brain, as is the brain circuitry for observing emotions in others.
“On the other side,” Muniz continues, “males have larger processors in the core of the most primitive area of the brain, the amygdala, which registers fear and triggers aggression. This is why some males can go from zero to a fistfight in a matter of seconds, while many females will try to defuse conflict first.
“The insurance industry would be a stronger place if we didn’t judge others
by their appearance or gender, but by their ambition and talent.”
“Our industry needs diverse perspectives, ideas, and talent to thrive,” Muniz asserts. “What if we had the same number of women CEOs, entrepreneurs, and managers with equal growth potential as our male counterparts?
“In an industry where people are always complaining that we don’t have enough talent, embracing the abundance of available women would open up a whole new realm of talent that has been vastly overlooked and would make us more relevant to the group of people we represent. If we could shift the mindset that men are better or women are better to embrace the concept that we are both talented and bring different qualities to the table, our industry will move into a thriving future,” she concludes.
Chapter 3-Why Haven’t Women Spoken Up?
“Women’s rights have come a long way in the past 50 years,” Muniz observes, “but the foundational thinking pattern is still far from being equal for men and women. Fear will stop women from using their voices.
“When women don’t speak up about how to improve the company culture, how to improve a product, sales presentation, or teamwork, it deprives the company of that point of view that would positively affect the company,” she says.
“When over 50% of the company isn’t able to speak, then true brain-storming, team collaboration, diversity, and inclusion aren’t happening,” she continues.
“The insurance industry would be a stronger place if we didn’t judge others by their appearance or gender, but by their ambition and talent,” Muniz asserts.
Chapter 4-Mental Health in the Workplace
“I’ve heard from many different men that being a good leader means that your followers are afraid of you,” Muniz says. “This stance motivates employees to listen and react with fear. According to these men, employees will take whatever action they need to move away from the fear. They will do what the intimidator wants them to do so they can stop feeling afraid, not because they care about the intimidator’s goal.
“For those living in fear, the side effects could include shutting down, high turnover, mental distress, burnout, defensive behavior, and more negative outcomes,” she explains. According to one source, she says, “30% of sick days are used in direct relation to some form of mental health problem.”
Work-related stress, she continues, “could also manifest as heart disease, back pain, headaches, and irritable bowel syndrome, as well as psychological issues such as anxiety, depression, loss of concentration, and poor decision making.”
According to an article in the Journal of Analytical Psychology, she says, “The most common reason for office stress is dealing with difficult bosses and relationship problems with colleagues.”
In the insurance industry, she comments, “Most managers are men, and many use tactics that cause fear. I’ve been successful with numerous different employers and am now in a position where I’m able to be a top performer once again. My new employer allows me the freedom to use my talent without fear.”
One of her new employer’s mottoes is: “Be hard on the problem, not on the people.” If an employee makes a mistake, Muniz says, “management works on solving the problem and doesn’t beat the employee up about it. The culture I see in this new place of employment is that production levels are high, employees are happy, and tons of positive team collaboration happens daily.
“It took five positions and 18 years to find this supportive male employer in our industry, one who took the time to see what was going on rather than dis-missing me out of hand,” she explains.
Chapter 5-Who Are the Breadwinners of Today’s Households?
According to a Bureau of Labor Statistics report cited by Muniz, the insurance industry has one of the largest gender pay gaps, with women earning only 62 cents of every dollar earned by men in similar positions, Muniz reports. This is lower than the 1951 average of 64 cents per dollar earned by women across industries and 20 cents lower than what women earn in other industries today, Muniz says.
“The idea that men are the primary breadwinners in their families is completely false,” she asserts. “According to data from the American Progress Report, 41% of mothers are the sole or primary breadwinners for their families, earning at least half of their total household income. This includes single working mothers and married mothers who out-earn their husbands.”
Muniz continues: “While a significant number of mothers are breadwinners or co-breadwinners for their families, women continue to receive artificially depressed wages as a result of the gender pay gap.
“When women reenter the workforce after taking time off to care for a new baby or family member, typically it is at the cost of a decrease in pay or losing a chance at promotion,” she says.
“Studies have shown that men conversely do not experience a loss of compensation after having children; in fact, some men even get paid more.
“Part of the reason for the gender wage gap is many organizations’ unwillingness to modernize their compensation practices. Pay transparency has been found to be a possible solution to the gender pay gap because it removes any discrepancy in pay when applicants are interviewed,” Muniz continues.
“I’m not expecting the older male generation to change drastically because unfortunately they are set in their ways with a closed mindset. Our younger generation of men typically is more open-minded and realizes that talented women need and deserve to make as much as their male counterparts,” she observes. “We have families to support, and often single mothers are the only ones supporting their children. That makes the argument that men need more money completely obsolete. In fact, I’d go one step further and say that women need to make more money if supporting the family is the justification.”
Muniz concludes: “Women also should have the same opportunities for advancement as men without the fear of repercussions; and if we remove the bias from management and human resources, we could see a much brighter future in the insurance industry.”
Chapter 6-Insurance Promotes Average Men
The entire society in this country, and around the world, has been built to ensure that men stay in power, Muniz says.
That’s a strong statement, but it has more than the ring of truth.
“It’s easy for men to embrace equality until they are asked to sacrifice their own status for equal justice,” Muniz asserts. This isn’t always done on purpose, she comments; it may be subconscious because it goes against the grain.
“I’ve seen average men move up in insurance companies and given opportunities not offered to women because of their gender,” Muniz relates. “I was asked numerous times to train the new man just hired because management wanted him to learn from their best producer. One manager told me to do a great job because one day the trainee was going to be my boss. The men I attempted to train didn’t pay attention to what I had to say because they knew they would be promoted above me. When these trainees didn’t succeed in the position it typically wasn’t their fault, according to my boss. I would get blamed for not being a good trainer instead of the men not being talented enough or smart enough to pay attention during training.”
Muniz continues: “I realize that all of my research and arguments are pointless unless they increase revenue in our industry. That being said, I want to show proof that embracing diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in the workplace will increase the bottom line by creating more growth for any insurance company that uses this talent.”
According to Muniz, numerous studies of DEI in the workplace show that “every 1% increase in gender diversity equals a 3% increase in revenue. Higher levels of diversity can increase revenue by up to 15%.” And beyond revenue, 67% of active and passive job seekers say it’s important to have a diverse workforce.
“Small and large insurance companies and agencies alike can grow their profits just by implementing DEI programs,” Muniz says. “Just imagine if these companies increased DEI efforts by a higher amount.” What’s more, she adds, a lot of money is being left on the table by companies that don’t implement DEI initiatives.
Interestingly, she remarks, “While conducting my research on companies that have become global names by using DEI programs, not one insurance company name appeared. Can you imagine if just a few insurance companies embraced the DEI culture? I believe that the first insurer to do so will become the most impactful, insightful, and successful company the industry has ever witnessed.”
Sarah Muniz has been in the insurance industry for 21 years. The insurance industry has given her room for making a good living and achieving growth, but she has found there is a glass ceiling that is hard for women to break through. Her goal is to help even out the playing field for all races and genders in the insurance industry.
Elisabeth Boone, CPCU, is a freelance journalist based in St. Louis, Missouri.
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