Insurance was — and still is — a man’s profession. The male dominated careers within the industry have often been uninviting and unattractive to female business professionals looking for promising and rewarding futures. Times have changed and so has the insurance industry.
In fact, according to the Insurance Industry Charitable Foundation (IICF), 75 percent of women in the insurance industry believe that progress is being made toward the goal of achieving gender equality in the industry, while two-thirds say they have seen work being done within their own organizations.
So which individuals, organization and resources are the real champions of the cause?
Gail Linn started her career in the airline industry. When a merger presented her with a generous leave package, she accepted and decided on a whim to interview with MetLife. She started with the insurance giant in 1989; the only woman in an office of 20 men. Today, 17 percent of the advisors at her MetLife Premier Client Group of New York City are female.
Linn is not surprised at the growth, considering the benefits the career has for both men and women alike. “There is no glass ceiling and you have total flexibility to build a market that you can be passionate about and fits your lifestyle,” says Linn, who is featured in a soon-to-be-published book titled “Financial Services: Women at the Top” by Diane Dixon & Arthea Reed.
And what advice would she give women fresh out of college and wondering if insurance is the right career for them? Connect, contact and comprehend.
“She should reach out and speak with as many women in financial services as possible,” says Linn, adding that connecting with local chapters of NAIFA — many of which have special events for those under 40 — will prove beneficial. Also helpful is reading as many insurance and financial services trade journals as possible, Linn stressed, especially those that promote women or young advisors.
“Consumers today are looking for trusted relationships with financial advisors they can seek out to help them make smart choices about their money and women are extremely suited to building those relationships,” she adds.
Like Linn, Eileen McDonnell didn’t have aspirations of an insurance career. When she graduated from Molloy College on Long Island, she started working for WANG Labs. While at WANG, she began earning her MBA in Finance from Adelphi University, which set the stage for a change in her career. Equitable (now AXA) was a large client of WANG, and McDonnell received an introduction into Equitable and was hired as a financial manager. Now, McDonnell serves as the chairman, president and CEO of Penn Mutual, an insurance organization working towards gender equality.
“We have a company with over 40 percent of our board and senior leadership who are women,” says McDonnell. “We ‘walk the talk.’ Other companies are trying to aspire to what we have already achieved. Our attention is now focused on increasing the number of female advisors.”
McDonnell practices what she preaches by taking the time and opportunity to speak with young women about a career in insurance. “I tell them today what I have told them over the years: If you want to live a life of significance and make a positive impact on people’s lives, this is the career for you,” she says. “You will work hard, but it will never feel like hard work.”
Dana Hollinger, founder of Beverly Hills-based life insurance and estate planning firm Dana Hollinger Group, has a more matter-of-fact view of the current state of diversity within the industry. “The real question is not whether women are entering the industry, it’s whether or not they are staying in the industry and in what capacity,” she says. “I have always seen women in administrative roles at the carriers. How many are getting into the E-suite?”
Hollinger’s questions bring to light a serious issue within the industry: women and leadership roles. Groundbreaking 2013 research by Mike Angelina, executive director, Academy of Risk Management and Insurance, Saint Joseph’s University, showed that only 12.6 percent of women in the insurance industry hold board of director positions, 8 percent are named inside officers and only 6 percent hold C-suite positions.
Hollinger strives to help women with her practice, believing that when you inform and educate women you elevate women, and, in turn, society. But she’s not as optimistic when it comes to women working in the industry. When asked if Hollinger sees the insurance industry as a great career option for women, she says “not at the moment, but hopefully soon.”
It’s not all gloom and doom for women in insurance, however. Some companies within the industry are taking aggressive steps to ensure employees represent gender diversity. And the year-over-year results are tangible.
According to the IICF, the percentage of women who cited “biases in advancement” and “lack of opportunities for professional advancement” as the chief barriers to advancement for women in insurance fell from 76 percent in 2014 to 68 percent in 2015. Are companies finally beginning to value diverse leadership? A few certainly are.