Women driving positive change in the insurance industry
By Elisabeth Boone, CPCU
Undiscovered Voices: Unlocking the Potential of Women in Insurance is the title of a book written by Sarah Muniz. A 21-year veteran of the insurance business, Muniz came up the hard way. In job after job, she was told she would never succeed because she was only a woman, even though she was earning a six-figure income and was eager to take on more agency responsibilities. Like many women, Muniz labored under the misapprehension that she was causing her own problems.
Once she started to share her journey with other women, she discovered that she was not alone—far from it. Ultimately, she 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. In the October issue we presented excerpts from the first six chapters of Muniz’s book, and this month we’ll cover the last seven chapters.
Chapter 7: The Talent Crisis
According to Muniz’s research, a quarter of insurance industry workers reached retirement age in 2020, creating anticipated vacancies that needed to be filled by the end of 2021. Greg Jacobson, co-CEO of staffing firm The Jacobson Group, says many U.S. companies cannot meet their growth goals, profitability goals, or shareholder expectations because they do not have the talent in place.
“In addition, the existing talent is concerned because of the major reorganizations, job cuts, relocations, and other negative circum-stances, which create a perception of instability in the industry,” Muniz declares.
“Our industry has plenty of talent, but because of poor leadership the talent hasn’t been discovered, fostered, and given a chance to excel.”
“I recently discussed our talent crisis with a colleague and friend. His perspective on the situation: ‘Our industry doesn’t have a talent crisis; it has a leadership problem.’
“Our industry has plenty of talent, but because of poor leadership the talent hasn’t been discovered, foster-ed, and given a chance to excel,” Muniz asserts. “The insurance industry has been focused on the wrong problem.
“Our industry is comprised of talent-ed women who are passed up by men who complain that they don’t have enough talent to keep filling the vacancies,” she continues. “Of the current work force, 61% are women but only 12% are in corporate positions. Compare this to all of corporate America, where 24% of C-suite positions are held by women.
“Instead of focusing on attracting new talent, we should focus on fostering women, moving them into positions where they can help to retain talent and bring new talented people into our industry,” Muniz concludes.
Chapter 8: Benefits of Women in Leadership
“Only 5.4% of CEO positions at the 32 S&P 500 companies are occupied by women,” Muniz says. “Out of those 32 companies, only one is an insurance company: Progressive Corporation.
“Tricia Griffith was promoted to CEO in 2016, and her accomplishments prove that women have the same ability to lead as their male counterparts. Her accomplishments as CEO are so impressive that she was the first woman named Fortune magazine’s Businessperson of the Year in 2018,” Muniz continues.
“Griffith has led Progressive to become the nation’s third largest auto insurer, orchestrating sales growth that in recent years has outpaced both Apple and Microsoft. In Griffith’s first year as CEO, Progressive grew by $2.8 billion and 6,600 employees. The following year those numbers were $3.8 billion and 6,000, respectively, and in 2018 growth was more than $5 billion.
“The expansion was managed in such a positive way that the company was included in Fortune’s Best Places to Work list in 2019,” Muniz concludes.
“My biggest role is to create a great culture of trust at Progressive,” Griffith says. “Management comes from hierarchy, but leadership comes from anywhere” across the company.
“According to Harvard Business Review, current data present even more compelling evidence that bias against women is damaging and unwarranted,” Muniz says. “Women are perceived by their managers, particularly male man-agers, to be slightly more effective than men at every hierarchical level in virtually every functional area of the organization. That includes the traditionally male positions of IT, operations, and legal.
“Women were rated as excelling in taking initiative, acting with resilience, practicing self-development, driving for results, and displaying high integrity and honesty,” Muniz continues. “In fact, they were thought to be more effective in 84% of the competencies that Harvard most frequently measures.
“Statistically,” Muniz says, “Men tend to be more confident without evidence to back it up than women in organizations. This is one of the reasons men tend to be promoted more often than women. Leaders need to take a hard look at what gets in the way of promoting women in their organizations.”
Chapter 9: Recognizing Your Women Talent
“Talent recognizes talent very easily when looking at their actual work as opposed to how pleasant and attractive they are,” Muniz says. “These women have worked side by side with other talented women and will recommend whom your company needs to focus on so as to foster their unnoticed talent. Having a semiannual conversation with each woman at every level to determine career goals and creating a personalized plan for each one will help keep them loyal to your company.
“To avoid any potential conflict with the men in your office—those who are afraid they’ll be replaced—get them involved,” Muniz advises. “Share your plans for the future, assign men as mentors to lower-level women who are not in direct competition with their goals, and make it a part of their career goals to help those women develop.
“This is the definition of cooperation: You are creating a team environment where talent helps talent move up with-out bias of any kind,” Muniz asserts. “You’re creating a culture of hunting out the hidden talent in your company that will lead to an abundance of talent instead of a perception of a shortage of it.
“Change is often difficult for companies and will cause concern or frustration when it’s getting started,” Muniz says. “The longer it takes to make progress, the more a company risks not succeeding in the future.”
Chapter 10: Using Your New-Found Talent
Muniz advises companies to take a twofold approach to developing their new-found talent. The first step is to provide equal training opportunities for all employees and to give them similar chances to succeed. Investing in your female staff to the same degree you’ve always invested in the men will pay off in the long run. Second, she says, “Building a pipeline of qualified, talented, and diverse leaders is the key to keeping your business strong and profitable.”
Another approach with proven success is the career path. “This is a systematic approach to career development that enables employees to map out different career path scenarios, review job competencies, and evaluate skills gaps,” says Muniz.
A career path plan is an essential element of a performance development plan (PDP), she says. A PDP is created when a supervisor and a reporting employee meet to discuss the employee’s development plans and opportunities. The PDP is written, shared with a supervisor, and tracked by the company to monitor its effectiveness.
The organization can create a career path program by offering employees training, mentoring, and opportunities for advancement, according to Muniz. Program effectiveness is enhanced when employees know advancement possibilities. They need opportunities to visit other departments, talk with employees who have other roles, and be introduced to areas of the company they may not have been aware of.
On the agency side, licensing is necessary for anyone who sells insurance but should not be confused with the ability to assess a client’s needs, Muniz says. Another way to keep employees engaged is encouraging them to pursue professional designations. Designations play an important role in establishing credibility, and help designees keep current with changes in the industry and understand it on a deeper level.
Another way to support talent is encouraging them to find networking opportunities, Muniz says. Leaders are more successful when they have opportunities to establish relationships and build networks where they can seek out advice and career
Mentoring is a powerful tool to help talented people navigate the challenges they’ll face both as women and as leaders. “Investing in your staff and talent shows that you are committed to them, which in turn inspires commitment from them,” Muniz says.
Chapter 11: The Power of Mentoring
Because of the male-dominated insurance environment, women unquestionably need men as allies to help them overcome the systemic challenges in the industry. Male allies understand that they have an advantage over women because of biases and are committed to developing relationships with them.
“At first you’ll likely have to encourage male talent to view mentoring as an honor and a privilege and not as a chore,” Muniz advises. “Incentivize them with a bonus or extra personal time off and make it more than worth their while to succeed in supporting women’s talent.”
Muniz quotes C-level executives in the property/casualty industry on the value of mentorship and sponsor-ship. “Women need people in the industry to talk them up, take their side, and recommend them when opportunities arise. They should make it a point to find someone to do this: a sponsor.”
Seraina Maag, an executive at AIG, adds, “I think that finding a sponsor is really important. There’s a difference between ‘sponsor’ and ‘mentor,’ and remember: men get promoted on potential while women get promoted on performance. You should always have someone in the organization who is looking out for you.”
“A sponsor is someone who will look for opportunities on your behalf and bring up your name in conversations with higher-level managers. The sponsor will work to draw attention to your contributions to the company and your potential for the future,” says Muniz.
“In contrast, a mentor is an individual who has been successful in a position that’s similar to the one you’re currently in or aspire to grow into. This person is your trusted sounding board to bounce ideas off and share advice or new ideas for your future success. A mentor doesn’t have to work at your company; he or she can be in a similar role as you in another company. Both sponsors and mentors are needed to help you reach your fullest potential,” Muniz declares.
Chapter 12: Gen Z’s Viewpoint on Our Industry
“A new generation of influencers has come on the scene,” says Muniz. “They mobilize for a variety of causes and believe profoundly in the power of dialogue to solve conflicts and improve the world. They make decisions and relate to institutions in a highly analytical and pragmatic way. That is why, according to a McKinsey report, Gen Z is True Gen in contrast to the previous generation of millennials who are sometimes called the ‘me generation.’”
“Insurance companies have spent the past decade learning new ways to attract millennials into our industry, but now it’s time to pivot and look into the future of how to attract the youngest upcoming workforce,” Muniz continues. “Companies will need to keep their initiatives of attracting and retaining millennials while adapting to the new Gen Z workforce needs in order to keep a healthy flow of talent in the company.”
“Gen Z feels comfortable having more than one way to express individuality,” Muniz explains. “Their search for authenticity generates greater freedom of expression and greater openness to understanding different kinds of people. Seven of 10 Gen Zers say it’s important to defend causes related to identity; they are more interested inhuman rights than previous generations and in all matters related to race and ethnicity, LGBTQ+ issues, and feminism.
“It’s evident that they care about working for a company/industry that is philanthropic, stands up for what they believe is right, stability, benefits, and unlimited growth potential,” says Muniz.
“We already have all of these ingredients in place as an industry; they’re just not there for women,” she asserts. “Growth in our field is unlimited for men. It’s important to note that, even if this growth is offered only to men going forward, men from Gen Z will not be interested in insurance because they care about the improvement of society as a whole, not just their own personal advancement.
“The next step will be to share the message of how we improve the world and help others in times of crisis. Gen Z likes to understand how everything migrates toward a common goal. We need to recognize that they are different from millennials and treat this generation as the unique individuals they are.”
Muniz believes that “our talent crisis is not going to go away without a shift in our industry. But we have the ability and opportunity to start paving the way for a new, strong road for our industry.
“The key to creating change is not a drastic overhaul all at once. It’s a consistent and persistent change that starts small and grows over time. Creating this culture and getting existing leadership on board takes time.”
Chapter 13: The Time to Take Action is Now
“Through the power of research and storytelling, my goal has been to work together as a community to stop treating women as though they aren’t as deserving as men in our industry,” Muniz asserts. “We need to encourage women to move forward and seize the unlimited opportunities that insurance provides.
“My call to action for you is to look at your own co-workers and see who’s in what positions. Ask yourself why those people are there. Is it talent? Tradition? Assumptions?” Muniz asks.
“Remember you are not alone. A whopping 61% of the insurance industry is in the same boat as you,” she continues. “Ask yourself some simple questions: Would you want your daughter, sister, mother, or grandchildren to work in this industry just the way it is right now? Do you believe these important women in your life have the same opportunity that males have without any changes happening?
“If your answer is no, then you are already an ally and have skin in the game to help improve our industry for your family,” Muniz concludes.
Elisabeth Boone, CPCU, is a freelance journalist based in St. Louis, Missouri.
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