Now is a historic time—an unrivaled opportunity for women in business, and specifically insurance.
The playing field is changing, and not only from the sea change in technology. To the delight of shareholders, many firms are already aware that diversity—particularly more women in the executive suite of their workforces—correlates with higher likelihood of profitability and value creation, according to McKinsey & Company.
How, then, can independent agencies increase gender diversity at more senior levels?
It takes a village.
Agency owners, men, women, young professionals coming into the business—it’s on all of us to do what’s good for society, as well as what’s good for business.
I grew up and went to schools in Korea, California, Spain and Switzerland. Exposure to different cultures undoubtedly shaped my career trajectory; I’ve worked in startup and large companies, in roles ranging from sales and marketing to strategy, innovation and operations.
My diverse background and experience makes me an unusual suspect in the insurance executive setting, but diversity of thought is where I feel I contribute the most in my role as chief operating officer of Marsh & McLennan Agency.
Beyond the financial returns linked to diversity, younger generations demand work environments that include diverse teams. More and more clients want to work with agents who not only understand their values, but look like them.
At the water cooler, I recently overheard a colleague, who was evaluating a vendor, talk about the “bro-centric” vibes she felt from their sales team: “Even one woman on their team would help them be more appealing.” Balanced sales teams shouldn’t leave out half the population.
I believe creating value through gender diversity will require participation on four critical levels:
I would not be where I am without the role my sponsors have played throughout my career. As brokers and agents, you understand how you can be at the right place at the right time with the right product, but it’s the key relationships that seal the deal. Similarly, in managing our career paths, we all need sponsors.
At my agency, we have a company-wide initiative, “Growth in Relationships and Opportunities for Women,” designed to drive change through education, mentorships, and networking opportunities. This type of formal structure and process can be particularly helpful in an agency where everyone knows everyone else.
What can agencies and others in the industry do to move the needle in terms of sponsors?
- Senior-ranking men: You make outstanding sponsors! Some of you already sponsor colleagues, both men and women. Others would like to sponsor a colleague but aren’t sure how to start. Human resources can “broker” the process and help you find your match.
- Women seeking sponsors: You have your work cut out. Sponsors don’t just land in your lap. You have to do the work to make it easy on them, which means clearly differentiating yourself, showing initiative and raising your hand—sometimes even before you feel ready. Then prove you can deliver.
Women make up about two-thirds of the insurance industry but are mostly in support roles. Rainmakers, historically men, get paid handsomely, and often go on to the executive suite, where they continue to make even more money—a cycle that only feeds the imbalance.
Consider that there are more women producers in the health and benefits space than in commercial insurance. Not surprisingly, there is a higher percentage of women senior executives there as well.
It appears the path to the top of the agency is through sales. The question, then, is: How can we get more women to enter sales?
Insurance sales is more exciting than many people think. The notion that “insurance is sold, not bought” conjures up images of hard-selling insurance salesmen of the past, but today, companies must navigate complex risks to survive and thrive, and insurance brokers and agents play a strategic, advisory role.
Technology has also created an opportunity for a new breed of producers who can leverage data, analytics and InsurTech-based tools to bring even more to the personal relationship. To sweeten the deal, successful producers are disproportionately compensated—those who catch on do really well in sales, where the earning potential is sky high.
All of that means insurance sales has become especially attractive for women who are curious, empathetic and tech-savvy. How can the industry foster a sales force that attracts women and assists them in delivering on their full potential?
- Successful women producers: Share your secrets. What does success in today’s insurance sales look like, and how can others follow in your footsteps?
- Agency leaders: Try various approaches that make sales work for women. There is no reward without risk. There are creative ways to provide stability while someone develops their sea legs.
- Human resources teams: Try going to a different well for new talent. Better yet, find creative outlets for sourcing promising female candidates.
Women can also boost themselves in the workforce by taking part in networking and educational events, where they can learn more about their potential, receive actionable advice, get to know more capable people, make new connections and get noticed.
Without HR’s vision and support around a diverse people strategy, the executive mandate for diversity can become a flavor-of-the-month initiative.
The journey typically starts with data. Once you have data, the story tells itself. Where are we now and where do we want to be? How do we compare to our peers? What should be our focus? Once the picture is clear around the what, the how starts to click into place.
My agency formed a diversity and inclusion task force with resources from field offices to lead the initiative. The task force started with unconscious bias training for leaders and focused on recruitment strategies to deliver a higher percentage of women and ethnically diverse candidates. If we have a slate of five men to interview for a position, we also gather five women, especially for higher-level roles.
The final selection is based on merit, but moves like this help ensure better outcomes for women, as well as for the agency as a whole.
4) Agency leaders
There’s a grassroots movement toward creating a more diverse workforce. But grassroots need to be nurtured and role-modeled at the top.
In addition to developing a vision and strategy, everyday details demonstrate your agency’s intent. For example, what do clients, employees and job candidates see when they walk into your office? What pictures are hanging on the walls? What does each interaction convey about your ideals and values?
Earlier in my career, when I was being recruited by a large conglomerate to be an internal strategy consultant to business unit CEOs, I was assured of a women-friendly environment. All candidates—men and women—received a token gift of appreciation at the end of the interview cycle: a tie clip and cufflinks! I couldn’t join a company where their actions were so disconnected from their words.
What can agency leaders do to create this welcoming, diverse corporate or agency culture?
- Agency leaders: Set the tone from the top and share your goals and strategy for building a more diverse organization. Explain the why, then cascade the message so that everyone is aligned to do their part.
- Senior leaders: Create a climate of transparency, learning and openness so that everyone feels free to express themselves and reach their full potential.
Meaningful change is all around us. There is a role to play for everyone in fostering a more diverse and inclusive workforce. Women can pull up other women. Men can help by publicly supporting and actively engaging in diversity and inclusion initiatives.
We’re at the start of this journey, and the agencies that can pick up the pace and make real progress will attract high-caliber talent and demonstrate a positive impact on not only their communities, but also their financial results.
Christina Mott is COO of Marsh & McLennan Agency, LLC, an insurance broking and risk advisory firm. To learn more about the industry’s diversity and inclusion initiatives, join her at IICF’s Women in Insurance Global Conference, to take place June 12-14 in New York City.
Paying It Forward
With women in leadership roles, a virtuous cycle develops:
- Successful female role models inspire and empower other women so that they can visualize themselves in future leadership roles at the agency.
- Women create more diverse teams. Female-led teams are 50% female, while male-led teams are only 25% female, according to Gartner.
Our parent company, Marsh & McLennan Companies, is furthering efforts on gender diversity through memberships in the Bloomberg Gender Equality Index, which collects and tracks data to promote gender equality in the workplace, and the 30% Club, an organization devoted to boosting the pipeline of women professionals at various levels. —C.M.