Male and female symbols (Credit: Shutterstock)

Last November, I participated in a Women in Leadership workshop at the Connected Insurance conference in Chicago. As one of the women on the Breathe Life leadership team (a Montreal-based insurtech) it made perfect sense for me to attend this event, and, as I settled into my seat with my coffee and croissant, I was soon both impressed by the wit and grit of the women participating and disheartened (if not surprised) to learn about the state of women in the insurance industry.

There just really aren’t enough women in leadership roles!

I came away from the session with a desire to learn more about where women stand today in insurance, what their future looks like, and how we can encourage more to consider building their careers in this important, complex, and rapidly changing industry.

The Reality of Women in Insurance

So, where do women stand in the insurance industry? And what does their future look like? The industry is going through a massive period of change, barreling towards digitization and integrated organizations, but how will these changes impact opportunities for women?

In an important report, the Insurance Industry Institute had forecast a need to fill nearly 400,000 jobs at all levels and in all areas by 2020. And from what I’ve seen firsthand, I don’t think those positions are anywhere close to having been filled. That means the industry as a whole has to do a better job attracting new talent and selling prospective employees on the benefits, advantages, and opportunities of working in insurance.

Hiring women could and should play an important role in addressing this need. Doing so will not only help fill an immediate productivity gap but will also lead to more diverse companies that have greater success in reaching their customers.

Yet to map a path forward to a more inclusive, women-energized workforce, it’s important to assess the industry’s current state as it relates to its female workforce. In 2020, the insurance industry relies heavily upon the labor of women, but, according to the whitepaper, Women in Insurance: Leading to Action, published by Million Women Mentors, only at lower levels. While women make up 46.5% of sales agents and 85% of claims and processing clerks, they only hold 11% of named executive officer positions and 19% of board seats at insurance companies.

And, adding insult to injury, women in insurance still earn less than men; 62 cents on the dollar. This is even worse than the pay gap in 1951!

More than Money

While such a pay gap, particularly at the advent of a new decade and amidst major transformation, hardly seems plausible, equal pay may not be the biggest barrier facing women entering and working in the insurance industry. The Women in Insurance whitepaper further identifies an “opportunity gap” keeping women from rising through the ranks.

For example, when comparing women and men in similar jobs, the pay gap lessens. But there are fewer women promoted into these roles in the first place, thus an opportunity gap. Simply put, women have not been given the same opportunities as men to advance.

Other barriers to entry have included unsupportive cultures and organizational bias. But with more and more data emerging that proves the positive impact on the bottom line of having women in the C-Suite, cultures have begun to shift.

Women in the Lead: Opportunities for Improvement

Today’s insurance industry is powered by technological disruption, new uses of data, and digitization, and that has led to the creation of more jobs, new kinds of jobs, and, along with them, new leadership roles. If anything, it should be easier now to promote women. For example, chief digital officers and chief innovation officers might not have been sitting in the C-Suite 10 years ago. These new additions represent a tremendous opportunity for companies to actively increase the number of women in executive roles.

Two other opportunities loom large: networking and mentorship. Historically, these have been two of the most effective ways to increase female representation in top roles, but only 8% of insurance companies have formal programs to develop strong careers for women. This is one of the reasons that the Million Women Mentors, Women in Insurance Initiative was initially launched. It was formed with the express purpose of providing mentorship opportunities and increasing female representation at member companies such as Accenture, State Farm, and Prudential, and has steadily grown in influence and impact.

Women on the Rise: The Tides Are Starting to Turn

After so many years in the industry in lower-level roles, women have developed invaluable insights into consumer behavior. These insights not only position women to add more value and advance at their current companies, they also enable women to pursue outside opportunities outside and even launch their own companies.

The Women in Insurance whitepaper found a 48% increase in representation since 2013, and a 98% increase in top executive positions held by women. In addition, it found that leadership teams are “increasingly acknowledging the existing shortfalls in gender parity, and voicing a desire to improve work environments and opportunities for female employees.”

Can We Close the Gap?

In an industry where women outnumber men, the data on women in leadership, the wage and opportunity gaps are discouraging but not insurmountable. In fact it’s clear that taking steps to advance gender parity is narrowing the gap.

As we head into a new decade, the call to action couldn’t be any more pressing. When you look around your company, do you see organized efforts to advance women and promote diversity? What steps are you taking personally to nurture and promote women?

While I’m fortunate to work for a company that actively promotes diversity at all levels of the organization, there is always more that can be done. Understanding the challenges facing women in the insurance industry is a call to action for all of us. I’m more committed than ever to helping women close the gap, how about you?

— Connect with ThinkAdvisor Life/Health on FacebookLinkedIn and Twitter.


Rowena Roy

Rowena Roy is head of business development at Breathe Life.