Susan Glass never expected to have a career in insurance.

Although her father was an insurance agent and she spent time around the industry while growing up, Glass never pictured herself following in his footsteps.

“Interestingly enough, growing up I always thought there was no way I would ever do what he did, only because there’s a lot of rejection in this industry,” said Glass. “And I only saw men in this industry when we would go on trips with my Dad that he won or company gatherings. It was never on my radar to say I want to do what my dad does, selling insurance is one of the toughest industries to be in as a woman.”

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After graduating from college, Glass went into event planning and catering, an industry she was passionate about, but one that also required a fair amount of travel. After several successful years as a corporate event planner, Glass was newly married and thinking about starting a family. She began to consider making a career change that would allow her to be home more often.

Her dad suggested the insurance industry.

“At first I was like, ‘Are you kidding me? You want me to talk to people about buying life insurance? I’m used to planning parties!”

He thought she would do well at it, and after thinking it through, Glass decided to give it a try. In 2001, she joined her dad’s agency and worked with him for about a year, learning the ropes and building a client base. Whatever hesitations she had about a career in insurance growing up were quickly erased.

“I love the industry,” she said.  “I just celebrated my 16th year.”

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Building a business

After a year, her dad left the agency and she inherited his book of business. Initially, Glass was working with many of his existing clients, including a lot of service work. She found that she was trying to do something impossible — be her father. She decided she needed to focus on building her own client base, so she reached out to several contacts she had made in the event-planning industry.

“I was working nights and weekends when I first started out, those first three years you do whatever you can do to get your business going,” said Glass. “The majority of my client base is female, however, I work a lot with retired couples as well. The age range of most of my clients is between 45 through 70, and I am actively involved in the LGBT community and with same-sex couples.”

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As a risk management financial professional and an agent with New York Life, Glass offers life insurance, long-term-care insurance and fixed income annuities. She is a Million Dollar Round Table qualifier (2013-2015). MDRT is recognized throughout the industry as the standard of excellence in life insurance sales performance, a distinction she earned without doing any investment work.

Glass has found that her role with her clients often crosses over from retirement planning into the realm of acting as a counselor and confidante.

“Not only do we discuss retirement numbers and insurance policies, but we connect on a personal level as well. Sometimes it is just a matter of me letting them know everything will be okay,” said Glass, who noted clients often express fears about running out of money during retirement and facing exorbitant health care costs. “I have some clients I talk to on a regular basis now that they are in retirement, because it doesn’t just stop once they retire.”

Her role as a confidante has brought her some unexpected clients. One of her contacts in the catering industry, a single mom with a special-needs daughter and an adult son, reached out to her several years ago and told her she feared she’d never be able to retire. Glass sat down with her and helped her understand basic principles, including how to create a budget and open a savings account.

“It was those little things that most financial professionals would have walked away from because there was no business generated just for lending a helping hand,” said Glass. “But I just kept working with her, and two years ago she retired, her kids are doing well and she’s enjoying retirement. She only had a span of seven years to turn things around and she was really focused and willing to do whatever it took. It wasn’t about making a sale, it was about making her feel comfortable and confident that she could and would retire one day.

“Now she’s probably my biggest referral source and one of my best clients,” continued Glass. “It’s rewarding to see somebody who struggled so much and work with her a little at a time to chip away at it, and now she’s retiring. I just saw this single mom of two that wanted to retire someday and now I can call her about anything. She’s a great client and friend.”

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Industry challenges

Glass is also tuned into the challenges the industry is dealing with. In particular, Glass said one of the biggest challenges she sees is the face of the industry.

“What I mean by that is this industry still has a stigma of being a male-dominated industry,” said Glass. “We’re also put in the category, especially on the financial side of things, where people think we are an extension of Wall Street, and that’s a hard barrier to break through, especially when you are trying to attract younger people to come into this industry — millennials as well as women.”

As the national president of Women in Insurance & Financial Services, Glass is involved with trying to change the face of the industry. Turnover within the industry and succession is a real problem the industry is facing, and finding ways to attract millennials and women to fill the void left by a large wave of retiring agents is crucial, she said.

WIFS is working with its company partners to help bring more women into the industry and support them as they advance into roles of increasing responsibility. Part of that initiative includes understanding how to recruit women.

“We have found within WIFS that women don’t like to be recruited; they like to be attracted to things,” said Glass. “Our partners at WIFS are really working on that and we’re starting to branch out and work with the different colleges and career centers to act as a third party where women can ask questions about the industry.”

Why aren’t there more women in the industry? Glass said it goes beyond the industry’s image problem to real-life issues that may be pushing women away.

“If you’re a captive agent, you get your benefits and pension from that company. A lot of women want to join the industry, but are hesitant due to the lack of equality that many companies’ posses. Most women cannot commit the same amount of time and sell the same amount of money when out on maternity leave. This puts a great burden on the contract when a woman has to choose between a family or a career.”

Glass said both contracts and compensation structures need to change to make the industry a more viable career choice for women.

“We’ve all evolved in this industry, but some things just don’t work anymore. A lot of our industry partners are looking at their contracts to make sure agents are getting a base plus commission, because a lot more women are working now, and a lot more women are head of household. The divorce rate is up and they need be able to make enough money to support their family. It’s the commission-based salary that, at the beginning of your career, is very difficult.”

Much of Glass’ inspiration to change the face of the industry comes from her family, the reason she decided to take a risk on a career in insurance in the first place. Since her earliest days in insurance, her husband, Harvey, has provided a solid support system at home that has allowed her to focus her energy at work building a successful business, being available for clients and ultimately advancing into a role she’s passionate about at WIFS. Her stepson, Josh, now 30 and soon to be married, and her 9-year-old daughter, Brooke, inspire her to be a role model.

“Last year my daughter, Brooke, came to Baltimore when I was instated as the national president of WIFS, because I wanted her to see what took mommy away for work sometimes,” said Glass. “I just want her to see that you can have anything you want in life, you just have to go get it. I’m trying to instill strong leadership in her, and a desire to shoot for the stars is really what I want her to learn because I think sometimes society has a hard time letting kids know they can achieve anything they put their minds to.”

She wants young women to see the same things she wants Brooke to see.

“I think this is a phenomenal career for women — for women coming out of college as well as even women going back to work, whether it’s after having children and wanting to get back out into the workforce or after a divorcee or becoming a widower. It’s a lot of hard work, but there’s definitely some flexibility to be able to run your own business and help people at the same time. It’s such a rewarding industry. I can’t imagine doing anything else.”

See also:

Where are all the women in financial services?

Women advisors and the desire to give

Women in sales: closing one gender gap by shutting another

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