Senior Vice President, Central Region
How did you get started in the insurance industry?
I was working in a small software company in the mid-80s. That world was changing very quickly and I was looking for something stable. I saw an opportunity in insurance and thought, “What could be more stable than insurance?” I applied for a role at a small company in Dallas and here I am 35 years later. I guess it proved to be pretty stable.
What’s your favorite thing about working in the industry?
Working with independent agents has been such a special gift. I work with agents who are colleagues but also friends. There are agencies where I’ve worked with the grandfather and then the successor who’s my age and now their children. I feel like I’m part of their families.
If you could have any superpower, what would it be and why?
The ability to quickly update a person’s ideas of inclusion in one zap. It’s about women, it’s about people of color, but it’s also about the inclusion of the unique ideas that every one of us has. I think that would solve a lot of the world’s problems.
As a woman, what are some of the challenges you’ve had to overcome or are overcoming in the industry?
I talk about being the “only.” You walk into a room and you’re the only woman and the only person of color, and at the beginning that was a big one to get past. I would have thought that in today’s environment it’s not as frequent. However, I was at a woman’s event recently and we were discussing that and young women that are relatively new into the industry still feel it.
The big one is being heard. You can be speaking in a meeting but that doesn’t mean you’re being heard. That took a very long time for me to establish. I’m not a shy person, so it wasn’t like I wasn’t trying, but in some cases, women may feel like they don’t have the authority to try. That’s a big hurdle women are all still trying to overcome.
What are some of the unique opportunities women insurance agents have in the industry?
Women are purchasing insurance and the ability to relate to our customers is profound. I also think that many women have been running agencies for many years. They may not have been the owner, but they’ve been running the operation. As people retire and move on, there’s a tremendous opportunity for women to become leaders in insurance operations and relate to the consumer in ways that hasn’t been there up to this point. The same is true for people of color.
What progress have you seen in gender equality?
There’s very little tolerance now for a leadership team that’s made up completely of white men. Women are raising the flag and asking why it looks like that. I think that’s a fair question, but I also think we need to be asking each leader: “Who is your next person in line?”
We can’t expect Fortune 500 companies not to hire the absolute best talent for those roles, and I think we need to give them the benefit of the doubt that’s been done. The decision we need to think about is who’s next in line.
If you could change one thing for women in the insurance industry, what would it be?
Women need to embrace men as allies and men need to know what that role is. We have an industry that has been predominantly white male. The world is changing, and quickly. I love the independent channel. But for it to thrive, we need to be prepared for what that change looks like. There are lots of women that are going to need men as allies to help them transition into these roles as owners and leaders.
What advice do you have for other women in the industry?
Understanding the difference between a mentor and a sponsor is very important. I’ve received incredible coaching and mentorship from many different individuals and many men. But I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for the people who stood up and said, “Here is a person that you need to hire and advance,” because they believed in me. Clarify who will put their name on the line for you. Get familiar with the practice of inclusion, and if others around you don’t understand it, help them get there.
Also, know your story and be willing to share it. It’s empowering to not only know it yourself and feel good about where you came from and how you got where you did, but also to share it with other people. It’s inspiring and genuine. Don’t overlook that.
Was there a woman mentor or role model who helped shape your career?
I’ve had the pleasure of working with many talented women. Twenty years ago, support was very different than support today. Twenty years ago, if I was getting some mentorship from another woman, it was very much about fitting in and assimilating, which was great advice 20 years ago. But today, women truly know who they are, what makes them unique and how they can contribute.
We sometimes talk about the importance of women supporting women. I feel like that’s sort of a given, but if I think of early in my career versus today, it’s way more prevalent now. We’ve really turned the corner. Every single person needs to have a voice at the table. Once you start looking through that lens, it’s not even about man or woman—it’s just about every individual.
What’s your favorite success story?
We were talking about a new female agent owner who was struggling a little in a new agency ownership role and had some challenges. The question was, “How do we help support her?”
I made the comment that I’ve attended many conferences full of men and that before my career is over, I would love to attend a conference all about women agency owners. We started that journey and held our first event—Independent Agent Women’s Conference: Celebrate, Elevate, Transform—four years ago, and it was fantastic. Women were supporting and helping other women, and we created a network that carried on even after the event. So many special stories came out of that meeting. Next year we’ll be conducting our fourth event.
We also did some phenomenal work around Inclusion in Action, which discusses the skills you need to create an inclusive environment. It was transformational for our organization.
AnneMarie McPherson is IA news editor.