The life insurance industry continues to be dominated by men–with only 20% of the agent population consisting of women, according to figures recently released by LIMRA International, Windsor, Conn.
For women starting out in this business, it can be difficult for them to find other women they can look to as role models, or find peers that they can confide in. Many women entering this career are single mothers who are trying to balance a new career with raising a family, taking care of aging parents and performing community service, says Susan Sweetser, second vice president, women’s initiative at Mass Mutual, Springfield, Mass.
“In agencies where there are no other women, it’s hard for her because she has no one else to talk to who is like her,” says Sweetser.
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She adds that the men in the office are always willing to help or provide mentoring opportunities, but they may not be as empathetic towards the demands on a woman’s time–especially for single mothers.
“They do start to feel isolated, even though they may be in an agency with many people,” she says.
To overcome this, Mass Mutual has started to put its female agents in touch with other women producers. Through networking opportunities at company sponsored educational seminars, Sweetser encourages women to keep the lines of communication open between them.
“We want to put them in touch with someone, whether it’s a mentor or just somebody to listen to them–somebody who has been through what they’re going through so they know they are not by themselves,” she says.
Guardian Life has implemented a formalized program to help their female agents form study groups. Through their program, a small group of 4-5 women with different strengths and weaknesses become part of a study group, explains Emily Viner, director of agency distribution and development for Guardian, New York. The group then works with a professional performance coach on issues they are facing.
“These women may be at different life stages, or have different types of practices, and may be in different geographical locations,” says Viner.
Women who have participated in the program have been successful in sticking with the career. “Many of these women feel that they would have been out of the business a long time ago because they didn’t have the support internally,” she says.
Not having a successful female role model to follow is a central issue for women entering the business, according to Kim Michel, a Mass Mutual general agent with Michel Financial Group, Century City, Calif.
“I didn’t have one, and that’s probably one of the reasons why it took me 21 years to become a general agent,” she says.