In October, I attended a roundtable discussion at the Guardian Life Insurance Company of America’s headquarters in Manhattan to listen to a discussion about women in the financial services industry and why it is such a good fit for them. At the luncheon we were regaled with first hand accounts from women who run their own agencies about how great of job this is for women. They spoke about how the flexibility of their scheduling and how it allows them to make it to soccer games, pick up a sick kid from the nurses office and find that perfect ratio and lofty goal in America that is a work life balance.
They also mention how slow the industry and carriers themselves are changing. For some in the industry, it seems have rusty joints are not able to walk forward at the pace the rest of the business world and the world on a whole is towards gender equality. One agent talked about how, when she is at industry conferences with her husband, he is the one approached to talk business. One agent spoke about how some sales awards still have masculine connotations like golf clubs and football pins.
Why, if the financial services industry is such a good fit for women are they so underrepresented in rank and file positions across the board? Why are women who are successful in the industry paraded around in dog and pony show to illustrate the merits of the industry? And why, with a female sitting secretary of state and countless executives across the country does the industry feel that if they show a few examples of how females can “make it” they are on the cutting edge of an evasive male/female equilibrium?
These are questions that I have never been able to answer through all of my research on the topic. The only conclusion that I have been able to draw is that the life insurance industry is slow to evolve, and while they clumsily try to adapt to the world that we live in today there efforts seem more and more contrived.
The industry has to face a hard fact: they have done a miserable job incorporating women into the workforce. And when women have “made it,” they haven’t really, since so many are stymied by the very companies that hire them once they hit a glass ceiling of middle level management that leaves smart, capable and ambitious women frustrated and defeated.
I appears that Guardian (and a few other companies, to be fair) is working to change that. Emily Viner, vice president of agency growth and development at Guardian Life spoke about how becoming a financial representative is usually is career change for people but they are bolstering their presence on college campuses and are being well-received by young women. I told her that my girlfriend who is studying for her MBA is considering it as an option and how I have explained to her what a rewarding career I am always told it is.
And Guardian is hiring. The company added 237 financial representatives in the third quarter alone and have hired 683 so far this year; a good omen of things to come as financial planning is usually considered discretionary by families struggling financially and is one of the first things they cut back on. Guardian is on pace to reach its goal of hiring 840 new financial representatives this year and the company has stated that they hope that at least 28 percent of all new financial representatives in 2013 will be women.
It is rigid and quantitatively measurable goals like these that will help women break into the industry with the fury that is needed to shake of the self-defeating and self-fulfilling prophecy that the life insurance industry is a man’s world.
All of the inclusion seminars and “women’s months” in the world won’t help the industry attack its gender gap like numerical targets will. If companies’ industry-wide took the approach Guardian is taking, not only would the youth unemployment rate drop, but women would quickly fill the ranks of the country’s best and most prestigious carriers and agencies.
Guardian is ahead of the curve and I hope that more companies follow their lead. After all, if the industry sold itself to women as a career as well as they sell their products they would not have the reputation as an out-of-date boys club that they do.