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RISE Conference: Empowering Women in Insurance

On International Women's Day, Liberty Mutual and Safeco hosted the inaugural RISE Conference, featuring presentations from women insurance leaders and a keystone address by international human rights lawyer Amal Clooney.
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rise conference: empowering women in insurance

On Tuesday, Liberty Mutual and Safeco hosted the inaugural RISE Conference—an invite-only event featuring presentations from female leaders across the insurance industry.

On International Women's Day, opening remarks by Tyler Asher, president, independent agent distribution, Liberty Mutual and Safeco, and Crista Walker, vice president of agent engagement, Liberty Mutual and Safeco, outlined what the event and RISE is aiming to achieve.

 “We've seen how independent agencies—and especially women-led independent agencies—can be a fantastic place for women to grow and thrive," Walker said. “We all have two things in common, insurance and the love of insurance and we really have a desire to connect, learn and be inspired by some incredible women. RISE is about exactly that—empowering women in insurance."

“As companies adapt to the big shifts in the workplace in the aftermath of the pandemic, it's really a great time for independent agencies to reexamine how to create workplace cultures that make every employee feel like they belong and like they are valued and where every woman has the same leadership opportunities as their male counterparts," she said.

The event was underpinned by the release of Agent for the Future's “State of Women in Independent Insurance Agencies," which illustrated that the insurance industry is a great place for women to work and has made strides in gender equity—but there is still room for improvement.

“We have a lot of work to do to break down barriers and create the opportunities that women in our industry deserve," Asher said. “Today is day one for the RISE community. It's day one for our shared journey to do better for all of the women in the channel and, in many ways, it's day one for Liberty Mutual and Safeco as we formally introduce RISE and publicly commit to offering the resources, education and connections women need to thrive in the independent agency system."

These remarks were followed by three breakout sessions. “Leadership, a work in progress" with Pat Falotico, leadership development expert, Pathbuilders, and Ashley Whitney, president and owner, Harbor/Brenn Insurance Agencies; “Can I speak to the owner?" with Dawnyel Smink, owner of Canyon Lands Insurance; and “Want to successfully lead an agency? Find a mentor. Be a mentor" with Kristin Garlow, president/owner, Mountain State Agency Alliance.

In “Leadership, a work in progress," Whitney and Falotico discussed the journey to leadership and how a deeper understanding of the four stages of leadership development—from entry-level, then functionally proficient, then managing key assignments and finally leading organizations—can create opportunities for growth within the agency for principals and their teams.

Whitney also talked about how joining the Big I Michigan Young Agents Council was essential for her leadership journey. “The Young Agents Council was phenomenal," she said. “By far the best thing that I did at that point in my career. I found friends and networks of people, I was getting in front of the senior leadership of insurance companies and communicating … across the industry and gaining confidence as an individual." 

Smink explored the gender biases faced by female businesses owner and provided strategies to overcome them, noting that women in leadership positions are often more likely to be interrupted and underestimated, as well as adding that it gets worse the higher up the corporate ladder.

Smink discussed the importance of being a pilot. “Amelia Earhart is a great example of that. She led a path for women pilots, and we can be the pilot for ourselves, for organizations and for the people that we serve. But we have to decide to put ourselves in the cockpit and not give up that position to those that use microaggressions against us."

Garlow explained how an unkept promise early in her career shaped her approach to leadership. “The way that I've always looked at it is that everyone plays a part in an agency's success, which means everyone is rewarded as well," she said.

She also shared how her mentor allowed her to balance career growth with starting a family, neither of which “would have been possible without a strong female leader and mentor," she said. “If I didn't have her as a mentor, I would've had to make the hard decision to either be a great mom or great employee. I never once thought of looking for a different career path because of it—I knew that I was valued and appreciated where I was."

Garlow also emphasized that mentorship is critical because it sets into motion a leadership channel inside the insurance industry. “If you want the best and brightest people, you have to develop the relationships that allow personal and professional growth to happen," she said. “It's our responsibility, as female insurance agency leaders, to support and develop female inclusion within our industry."

The day rounded up with two keynote speakers. First, during “Create and maintain a thriving culture to win the war on talent that costs next to nothing," Laura Sherman, founding partner, Baldwin Krystyn Sherman Partners, highlighted how developing agency culture is crucial to attracting and retaining women in insurance.

“Change has been forced, extreme and unpredictable," Sherman said. “But out of this disruptive change came something pretty extraordinary: We learned to work in an entirely new way. We had to collaborate, we were agile, we were flexible."

“Through small changes, we can ensure a thriving culture that is dynamic, more inclusive and resilient. We are all responsible for culture. No matter our role. Whether you are the CEO of your company or you just started at the firm yesterday, if you have five people or ten thousand, if you're remote or you work in an office," she said. “And I'm going to challenge all of us to start taking responsibility for being part of that cultural solution."

Amal Clooney, international human rights lawyer, co-founder of the Clooney Foundation for Justice, rounded up the event with the final keynote address.

Will Jones is IA editor-in-chief.

Friday, April 8, 2022
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