Crista Walker, vice president of agent engagement, Liberty Mutual and Safeco, spoke with Independent Agent about her experience in the U.S. Army, building relationships with agents, and tiny houses.
Vice President of Agent Engagement
In 2014, Safeco was looking for a leader for the agent communications team. With her background in journalism and the military, Crista Walker was the perfect fit.
Leading a team on the digital front lines of communicating with independent agents, Walker brings a mixture of marketing and leadership experience to her role working with agents across the country as part of the property-casualty carrier.
How did you get into insurance?
I started my adult life and career in the U.S. Army as a broadcast journalist and a non-commissioned officer. I learned an awful lot about leadership, about pushing myself and about doing things for the greater good, as well as what that feels like. After that, I transitioned into becoming a reporter for a television station, went on to work for a couple of Bill Gates' companies, and was also involved in a startup. I found my way into Safeco Insurance through a friend.
I knew from conversations with my friend that insurance is an exciting and dynamic industry. And when anybody who's outside of insurance asks me why I work in the industry, I tell them exactly that—it's exciting and dynamic. That's how I made my way into insurance and I'm not looking back.
What's your favorite thing about working in insurance?
It's about providing peace of mind. That feels good. It feels like we're providing a service to people who need it. We're making them whole again when they experience loss.
But it's also about the people. It's about the relationships I get to build with agents from around the country. It's about the people I get to work with who are really in this business for good reasons. When I came to Safeco, I felt connected to the people and felt like this is a good place to both build a career and to help people.
What makes the insurance industry a great career choice for women?
Insurance is a great place for women. We recently did a survey on the state of women in the independent agency channel and one of the main reasons women cite for being in insurance is flexibility. If you have flexibility in where and how you work, especially during COVID-19, it really helps working women and especially working moms.
What we also know is the “Great Resignation" spared no industry, ours included. We saw a record number of employees in the U.S. quit their job during the pandemic and women were more likely to quit, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Approximately 2.5 million women left the workforce during the pandemic. It put additional pressure on women and the many roles they hold in their lives. At agencies and carriers, we're really finding that flexibility helps with those issues.
If you could change one thing for women in the industry, what would it be?
I'd like to see more women in leadership positions. We have an opportunity as an industry to better embrace gender diversity moving forward. This holds true in other industries too. Women are underrepresented in leadership positions.
Within our research, we found that women make up about 96% of customer service representatives (CSRs) in any agency. We also found 68% of producers are women. Some of that is crossover, but when you get into leadership agency principals and owners that drops to 31%.
Insurance is a traditionally male-dominated industry. I think we often go forward with what's brought us success in the past, but now is a great time to change, particularly with this pipeline we're seeing of CSRs and producers who are women.
We have a great opportunity to open leadership opportunities to women and to really bring those unique women-centered ideas, processes and leadership into agencies and carriers across the country.
What's interesting in the research that we've done is that more than one-third of our female agency principals say that they are often the only woman in the room. Being the “only" in anything—the only black person in the room, the only woman in the room, the only gay person in a room—that's a really hard place to be. And it makes it harder to find your voice when you are the only one, and so I think we have a lot to do in this industry to change it. I think, however, we have the commitment to do that at the carrier level.
What's your biggest piece of advice for other women in the insurance industry?
To seek opportunities to invest in ourselves. That's hard to do. But if we want to grow, we need to look for opportunities to do that through professional development and connecting the community of women within an industry through finding a mentor, men or women, who can help you grow in your career.
This is something our RISE Conference, held virtually on March 8, promoted: providing opportunities for more women to do that. As we started to think about what the conference could be and what it could look like, we started to ask some agency principals as well as women leaders in our company and across the industry for advice.
We found an enormous generosity among the women to say: I have been there, I understand what you're feeling right now, let me lend you some advice, let me connect you with this woman or this mentor. It's so powerful to see what happens when women come together.
What's your favorite hobby?
I am really into tiny houses. I have been for years. When I started at Safeco, I was living in a 3,000 square foot house. I have since moved to a 1,500 square foot house and now I live in a 620 square foot cabin. I really like small living. I love the concept of a place for everything and everything in its place. It's easy to clean and it just helps you prioritize what you have in your life.
That's when editing your life into the essentials becomes more and more important over time. It keeps you close to your loved ones.
I also have a big 1971 school bus on my property that when I have the time, I will turn that into a functioning tiny house space as well. I don't think I'll move into it. I think 620 square feet is about where I draw the line.
What is an interesting fact about you?
While in the military I was stationed in Germany, I was in the first Gulf War, deployed with the 3rd Armored Division, I lived in Italy and spent three years at the United States Military Academy.
Olivia Overman is IA content editor.
This article is the final installment in a three-part series that profiles women insurance leaders to celebrate Women's History Month.