Women in Insurance – A History – The 1960s

women 1960sThe 1960s were a turbulent time for the US. In 1961, John F. Kennedy was elected President, the youngest person at that time to be elected to the position. The remainder of the decade was overshadowed by the assassinations of President Kennedy (1963) and Martin Luther King, Jr. (1968), the Vietnam War, the on-going Cold War with Russia including the Cuban missile crisis, and the Civil Rights Movement.

As part of his larger legislative agenda, President Kennedy signed into law the Equal Pay Act of 1963. This legislation made it illegal for employers to discriminate job wages by sex for jobs requiring the same level of skill, effort, and responsibility. Congress stated the following in passing the bill (Sec. 2 of the Act):

The Congress hereby finds that the existence in industries engaged in commerce or in the production of goods for commerce of wage differentials based on sex:

(1) depresses wages and living standards for employees necessary for their health and efficiency;

(2) prevents the maximum utilization of the available labor resources; (3) tends to cause labor disputes, thereby burdening, affecting, and obstructing commerce;

(4) burdens commerce and the free flow of goods in commerce; and

(5) constitutes an unfair method of competition.

It is hereby declared to be the policy of this Act, through exercise by Congress of its power to regulate commerce among the several States and with foreign nations, to correct the conditions above referred to in such industries.

In 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act into law. This put an end to legal segregation in schools, theaters, restaurants, movie theaters, and in any action by state or federal governments. It also banned employment discrimination based on race, religion, color, sex, or national origin. It was a victory hard won after many protests, some of which had turned violent. There is an interesting debate over how “sex” became included in this bill. There are a number of stories suggesting that the senator who added this particular amendment did so in order to convince others not to vote in favor of the legislation. Regardless, it passed both the Senate and the House in 1964.

Throughout the decade the war in Vietnam divided the country. Riots, protests, and sit-ins took place across the nation. At the same time, the country was dealing with the escalation of the communist regime with the failed Bay of Pigs Invasion and the Cuban Missile Crisis. The assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1968 set off a number of riots and protests across the country.

Despite all of this chaos and violence, the decade closed out with the concert at Woodstock, where on a rainy weekend in August, over 400,000 people gathered to share peace, music, and love.

LIFE INSURANCE DURING THE 1960S

During the 1960s, the intense competition that had begun in the 1950s continued. Companies escalated their endeavors to introduce new products and new features.

In the early 1960s, the industry was facing competition from stocks and mutual fund investments, slowing the significant growth of the previous decade. This was reasoned to be due to growing sales in group insurance and continued inflation that might have reduced the real value of the life insurance. New life insurance sales (ordinary and industrial) totaled $59.8 billion in face amount that year. This brought the total amount of insurance in force to $585 billion, $175 billion of which was group life.

In 1966, life insurance in force crossed the trillion dollars mark for the first time, reaching $1,045 billion. New sales for that year were $122.5 billion, one of the largest gains in the history of the industry to date.

Face amounts of life insurance policies were growing. Massachusetts Mutual reported in 1960 that it had 40 policy holders with more than $1 million in coverage, three of which were women. Of the 40, seven individuals had greater than $2 million in coverage. In 1962, the company reported its largest benefit payment in its history, a $2 million benefit paid out on a business man. In 1960 New York Life reported 34 sales over the million dollar mark, three of which were women, and Equitable Life Assurance Society reported 14 sales over the same amount, three, again, which were women. At the time, the average size policy on an adult male was $11,300 and on an adult female was $3,000.

Credit insurance became one of the fastest growing segments of the life insurance industry. In 1966 over 70 million policies were issued for over $62 billion in coverage.

In the 1960s, the most successful black-owned companies were the life insurance companies. Surveys showed that 80% of black families held life insurance. One company at the time was fully integrated, that being Progressive Life Insurance Company, based in Red Bank, New Jersey. The company had several black executives (all male) serving in many areas of the company, although in 1964 the company as yet had not elected a black member to the board of directors.

WOMEN IN LIFE INSURANCE DURING THE 1960S

The number of women in the US workforce continued to grow throughout the decade much as it had over the last several years. By 1964, the number reached 22 million women workers, and by 1969, had reached 27 million. In 1963, white-collared women outnumbered white-collared men. These women largely filled clerical and lower paid jobs, but slowly but surely they were rising in the ranks. Already in 1960, the Census Bureau classified just over one million women as ‘managers, officials and proprietors’, up from 450,000 in 1940. Also, Harvard Business School opened its MBA program to women for the first time in 1963 to help train women for the higher ranking positions.

In the 1960s, the life insurance industry employed approximately 500,000 people, 1/3 of which were women. These women primarily filled clerical roles within the home offices. In 1963, 25 of the 1,325 fellows of the Society of Actuaries were women. By 1966, this number had only risen to 26.

Leadership and management were still largely a man’s world. Many times women were held back by the fear that they would soon leave the workforce to raise a family. Other times, it seems that women held themselves back, lacking the full confidence to deal with the struggles of getting ahead.

Women reported having to work harder than men to get ahead, and had to be better than men to retain the same rank. Some women clearly believed that to become an executive, a woman had to dedicate herself fully to her career, foregoing a husband and children. A Wall Street Journal article from 1963 quoted a female executive saying, “Men doing the same sort of work advanced more rapidly. They would climb two rungs up the ladder while I climbed one.” A Harvard Business School survey from 1965 found that 41% of business men “viewed female executives with undisguised misgivings” (Newsweek 1966).

Still, women did succeed. One woman, Margaret Brand Smith, a lawyer from Dallas, formed and sold a number of life insurance companies, finally, due to a merger, becoming president of Union Bankers Insurance Co. of Dallas. One employee paid her the compliment (?), “Talking to Margaret is just like talking to a man.”

Much like the 1950s ended, the 1960s began with a number of “first women.” Mrs. Viola G. Turner became the first women elected to the board of directors for North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Company. She was elected vice president and treasurer of the company at the same time. Lillian Hogue, an agent for New York Life, was elected the first woman president of the American Society of Chartered Life Underwriters. In 1968, Mrs. Amelia Reichert was the first woman elected to the level of vice president at New York Life.

In addition, there were regular updates in the press regarding the formation of the first woman’s life insurance company, Woman’s Life Insurance Co. of America, headquartered in Bethesda MD. The company was formed in order to address the fact that, according to a study conducted by the founders, “women would seem to be the most natural prospects for the life insurance product, yet only 13 percent of the $493 billions of life insurance in 1958 was owned by women.” The company began writing policies on January 1st, 1962.

The company was headed by Phyllis R. Biondi, a 36-year old woman who had worked as assistant to the general agent for another insurance company. Press releases indicated that while policies would only be sold to women, men would be represented in management and in the field force. In 1965, the company secured additional necessary funding. The president of the investor company, Inter-Ocean Insurance Company of Cincinnati, was quoted as saying, “We believe enough women will prefer to select their life insurance from a company managed by women and dedicated to serving only their financial problems enough to give this company every chance of success.”

In the industry, new mortality tables were developed that showed that women were living longer. In one article, this was described as a way to “flatter” women while saving her money. The article (Washington Post, Times Herald, 22 Mar 1960) reads:

New mortality tables developed by the National Association of Insurance Commissioners show that women live an average of six to seven years longer than men. The Insurance Commissioners decided that three years was a nice, safe – and, it might be added, still flattering – bonus for the ladies.

Companies were aiming their advertising more and more toward women. One example given in a Wall Street Journal article from Travelers Insurance shows a woman, Laura, who once shuddered at the idea of life insurance but now realizes that it is her husband’s way of protecting her and her son. In another ad featuring a women’s consultant, it reads “insurance is as much a woman’s business as shopping for tonight’s dinner” (Printers Ink, 1962).

Throughout the decade there were acknowledgments of the women’s market, sometimes referring to it as a “new market,” and sometimes as a “growing market.” One headline from Printers Ink (1962) read “New Ways to Reach The Women’s Market,” and opened saying “American women today represent a colossal market – one so large that a marketing executive recently described it as ‘a whole new country’ for many advertisers.” Later in the article the author addresses life insurance directly:

Portions of the life insurance industry have also discovered women and are engaged in an education program for women policyholders, both actual and potential…Insurance companies have become aware, too, that women can have an important influence on the purchase or nonpurchase of policies.

An article from the New York Times was headlined “Growing Market Noted Among Working Women.” Another headline shared the news, “Brochures on Insurance Are Written for Women.” This particular article pointed out that “women know more about family finances than they did twenty years ago and, as a result, are demanding answers to questions about insurance.” One article from the Wall Street Journal was titled “She’s the Boss; More Women Conquer Business World’s Bias, Fill Management Roles.”

The Atlanta Daily World printed an article in 1963 titled “Girls! Career In Life Insurance Beckons To You,” that talked about the wide variety of careers available to women in the insurance field. From high-schoolers to college graduates, from single to married women, from urban to rural dwellers, there was a job in the insurance industry for any “girl” or woman. The types of jobs suggested included electronic data processing, accounting, advertising, and others, but did not include any mention of management or executive opportunities.

At the end of 1965, women owned more than $130 billion in life insurance and were expected to reach $140 billion by year end 1966.

WOMEN AS LIFE INSURANCE SALES AGENTS DURING THE 1960S

Just as insurance companies were recognizing women as home office associates and sales targets, they were looking at women as sales agents as well. An article in National Business Woman from 1963 was titled “Life Insurance Welcomes Women.” The article begins:

As more and more women are awakening to the opportunities available in life insurance selling, life insurance companies are awakening to the fact that women can do the job.

In 1960, it was estimated that there were 200,000 full-time agents selling life insurance in the US, only 5,000, or 2.5% of which were women. Only 1% of these women were agency managers and assistants. This was a reduction from 1945, during the war, when women made up 5% of the total agents. By 1968, the number of female agents had risen to 11,000. An article in the Baltimore Afro-American newspaper from December 16, 1961 stated:

Although life underwriting [selling] is an occupation well suited to women, traditionally, very few have been in this area of work. Why this situation prevails is not clear. Women in the field are enthusiastic about life underwriting as a career…Insurance selling is a field of work in which women consistently earn at the same rate as men. Compensation schedules are fixed by each company. They appear in the contract and apply equally to both sexes.

BettylouA question and answer column in The Los Angeles Times (Nov 12, 1960) shows the rising consciousness of the women in this industry:

Question: It is indeed a pleasure to see life insurance problems discussed objectively in my favorite newspaper.

May I, please, however, make one suggestion. Several thousand women in the United States are now selling life insurance. I am one of them, and I believe I speak for the others when I say we will appreciate it if, in answering questions, you will find some way to avoid implying that life insurance information, advice and service can be obtained only from men.

Instead of “talk this over with a life insurance man,” couldn’t you suggest that the reader discuss the problem with an “underwriter” or an “agent?”

John Hancock formed an experimental training program in 1961 to train female agents. The intent was to provide additional access to the women’s market, believing that women would be more likely to purchase life insurance from other women. Metropolitan also launched an initiative in 1963 to recruit more women as agents. New York Life claimed to not have a specific program for hiring women, but boasted the highest number of women who qualified for the Women Leaders Round Table (sales exceeding $250,000) in 1962, and for the 18 years before that.

While women were certainly making strides forward during this decade, it is clear that the workforce was not yet welcoming them with open arms. A handful of women were successfully navigating the career ladders, but the path was difficult and certainly not clear. The language used around women, often referring to them as “girls” or “gals” as well as the tendency to see successful women as an aberration or singular situation continued, unfortunately, beyond the end of this decade.

Up next, the 1970s.

Sources:
Anonymous (1965). “$300,000 Invested in Woman’s Life.” The Baltimore Sun, Jan 24, pg. D14.

Anonymous (1960). “All Life Insurance Agents Aren’t Men.” Los Angeles Times, Nov 13, pg. E14.

Anonymous (1962). “Brochures on Insurance Are Written for Women.” New York Times, Jan 30, pg. 33.

Anonymous (1967). “Credit Life Insurance One of Fastest Growing Kinds.” Chicago Tribune, Nov 13, pg. E7.

Anonymous (1963). ” Girls! Career In Life Insurance Beckons To You.” Atlanta Daily World, Feb 5, pg. 2.

Anonymous (1962). “Growing Market Noted Among Working Women.” New York Times, Sep 23, pg. 167.

Anonymous (1962). “Life Insurance Firms Pays Biggest Claim: $2 million.” Wall Street Journal, Nov 13, pg. 12.

Anonymous (1961). “Men Too Risky, Insurance Firm Issues Policies for Women Only.” Boston Globe, Dec 23, pg. 12.

Anonymous (1960). “More People Buying Million Dollar Life Policies, Firms Say.” Wall Street Journal, Dec 12, pg. 8.

Anonymous (1962). “New Ways to Reach The Women’s Market.” Management Review, 51(6), pg. 20.

Anonymous (1968). “New York Life Names Woman Vice President.” The New York Times, Jun 5, pg. 68.

Anonymous (1960). “N.C. Mutual Life Insurance elects first woman to board.” The Baltimore Afro-American, Jan 30, pg. 19.

Anonymous (1963). “She’s the Boss; More Women Conquer Business World’s Bias, Fill Management Jobs.” Wall Street Journal, Feb 19, pg. 1.

Anonymous (1966). “Women at the Top.” Newsweek, Jun 27, pg. 70-73.

Anonymous (1961). “Women’s World: Life insurance underwriting open to mature, young women.” The Baltimore Afro-American, Dec 16, pg. 12.

Bromage, William (1967). “The Women’s Corner.” Chicago Tribune, Aug 14, pg. 6.

Equal Opportunity Employment Commission: https://www.eeoc.gov/laws/statutes/epa.cfm

Goodman, Oliver (1960). “First Woman’s Life Insurance Firm Set.” The Washington Post, Times Herald, May 8, pg. C12.

Haitch, Richard (1968). “Private Flying: Woman Finds Exciting Way to Sell.” New York Times, Mar 3, pg. 90.

McVicker, Vinton (1961). “Life Insurance Push: Sales Efforts Intensify As Growth in Individual Policy Business Slows.” Wall Street Journal, Sep 18, pg. 1.

Nichols, Edwin (1962). “The Women’s Corner.” Chicago Daily Tribune, Jul 9, pg. C10.

Reichert, Amelia E. (1963). “Life Insurance Welcomes Women.” National Business Woman, July, pg. 20-21.

Segre, Claudio (1963). “Life Insurers Hire Women Agents to Tap Large Distaff Market.” Wall Street Journal, May 9, pg. 1.

Todd, George (1964). “Progressive Life Insurance No Newcomer to Integration.” New York Amsterdam News, Feb 22, pg. 9.

 

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A frustrating day at work…what to do

frustrated at work

Ever have those days at work when you just want to scream?

I know I do.

Sometimes its something that happened before work – alarm didn’t work (or the snooze button worked too well), kids weren’t cooperating (“Mom, I can’t find my shoes!” “What do you mean I have to hurry?” “But I’m tiiiiired!”), or something at home goes awry (dishwasher, hairdryer, husband). While we all try to leave this stuff at the door, the emotional fallout from these encounters can follow us around all day.

Sometimes it is something that actually happens at work – a project isn’t going the way we would like, someone won’t make a decision we need to move our work forward, communication between departments has failed once again. We have all learned to control our reactions in these types of situations, but they can add significant stress to the day.

Then there are the times when the frustration is intense. We miss out on an assignment, we have to meet with that one person again (you know who I mean) and they still don’t get it, a decision is made and you know it isn’t right, or worst of all, you miss out on a promotion. Been there, done that.

Most of the time, its the small stuff that gets you. The other day, I was running late because my puppy dog decided to take some extra time with her morning routine. Then, traffic was terrible on the way in because, of all things, the city government had decided to do some tree trimming during the morning commute. I missed breakfast, probably spilled my coffee, and couldn’t find my ID badge to get into the garage at work. This, on top of the fact that my daughter had trouble sleeping the night before which of course means I had trouble sleeping.

By the time I got to work, I was a mess. That’s the day that, for some reason, I couldn’t log onto my computer. Something about profiles and VPNs and overnight updates and such – the very kind and knowledgeable people on our help desk got me back up and running, but not until I was late for a meeting (not their fault – I blame the tree trimmers). The meeting itself was awful. I don’t remember the topic, I don’t even remember who was there. All I know is I came out of the meeting feeling like my head was on fire. I was full of frustration and anger.

So, what to do?

If I continued on this way, the whole day would be ruined and I would only have myself to blame. I’d probably take that anger and frustration home with me and subject my husband, kids and dogs to a mean, ugly wife/mother/food-giver. This, in turn, would likely put them into a bad mood. Which would make me even angrier. Nobody likes angry people. And I don’t ever want to spread ugliness around.

It was at that moment I knew I needed to make a shift.

Here is what I did:

1. Deep breaths. I know this sounds obvious, but it feels so good! So often when we are tense we forget to take full, deep breaths. Sometimes we just need to stop and take a long, slow, deep breath in and then let it out, and the frustration goes out right with it. It’s magical!

2. Stretch. Again, probably obvious. Stretching puts the focus back on ourselves and helps us to relax and let go. If you can, try something outside your comfort zone. Close the door (or find a room and close the door) and stretch out on the floor. Use your desk or chair or bookshelf to do some crazy yoga poses. The point is to really let go. Maybe even laugh at yourself.

3. Vent. One of the most therapeutic techniques for me is venting. As Shrek says in his movie, “Better out than in!” That said, venting can definitely backfire if not used appropriately. Here are some basic rules for proper venting (this could almost be a post of its own!):

(a) don’t vent for very long; make it short and sweet, get it out and move on;

(b) vent to someone at your level in the organization and be sure it is someone you trust. I highly recommend you do not vent to someone above you – they should be used for coaching, not venting. Also, bosses are people of action and may respond to your venting in a way you were not expecting. Absolutely do not vent to someone below you (they will likely take your opinion as that of other leaders of the organization);

(c) be sure you make it very clear that you are just venting; failure to do so can result in some pretty dramatic unintended consequences (for example, a whole new job);

(c) be absolutely certain that you aren’t disclosing confidential information.

4. Change gears. If you are able, take a few minutes to do something you enjoy. It could even be other work stuff! (There are some reports I love to analyze. If I focus on them, my curiosity is triggered and my frustration disappears.) Or kinda work stuff. (Read a page or two from that self-improvement book you’ve been reading. I happen to be reading Callings: The Purpose and Passion of Work by Dave Isay right now). Or not work at all. (Find that recipe for tonight’s dinner.) The point is to redirect yourself in a positive direction.

5. Take a walk. In the middle of the workday, this might mean just doing a lap around the floor. This last time, I did tiny laps in my office. But if you can, head outside for a minute. The fresh air can work miracles. The exercise, too, will help you rid yourself of some of the anger. I add in some jumping jacks if I can – for some reason, these in particular always help me to dispel extra energy.

6. Practice Gratitude. You may have heard about this. I believe in it 100%. You just can’t be angry when you are thinking about everything you have to be grateful for in your life.

I recently listened to a podcast where a woman shared her practice of writing a short list every morning and each night. She talked about the significant change this had brought about in her life and in her health. I know that I start off on a happier, lighter foot when I remember to write my list in the morning.

Beyond this, there are other longer-term things we all know we can all do to cut down on our frustration levels. Exercise is at the top of the list. Getting enough sleep and eating right are also right up there. Keeping a journal is a wonderful practice if you can handle the writing/typing. I personally have a couple of them – both guided journals and plain paper journals. Listen to uplifting podcasts – right now my favorites for lifting my spirits include Wild Ideas Worth Living, Oprah’s Super Soul Conversations, and Good Life Project. I love that they get me thinking about new and different things. Try some meditation – I highly recommend the Headspace app if you are new to the practice. Meditation is exceptionally hard for me, but I still try to do a little bit when I can. Talk it out if the frustration involves others at work. Be brave and have those difficult conversations.

Finally, if things are tougher than all of that, I am hereby giving you permission to take the day off. Some of us need to be given that permission. I am a firm believer in “mental health days,” days where you stay home and get yourself back in the right frame of mind to be productive at work. Slogging through a huge pile of negative energy will likely only make you (and possibly those around you) suffer longer.

I did, finally, get my day back on track, and got quite a bit accomplished. So I know this stuff works! I hope this gives you a few ideas to try the next time work is getting you down.

As always, keep it positive and smile! I’d love to hear what tips you use to deal with frustration at work – please share!

Women in Insurance – A History – The 1950s

1950s

Following the end of World War II, the US experienced a post-war economic boom. Having dealt with rationing for several years, Americans were ready to spend. Consumerism expanded rapidly, as did the suburbs. Many women, having entered the workforce during the war, now found that they wanted to stay. This allowed families, now with two incomes instead of one, to increase their standard of living.

In 1950, the Korean Conflict broke out, and throughout the 50s the Cold War and McCarthyism continued to develop. Army General Dwight D. Eisenhower, a WWII hero, was elected president in 1952 and reelected in 1956. The space race began in 1957 with the Soviet Launch of the Sputnik satellite, followed three months later by the launch of the US satellite Explorer 1.

The civil rights movement continued its march forward. With the landmark Supreme Court case Brown v. Board of Education in 1954, “separate but equal” laws were struck down, paving the way for integration and the major civil rights movement activities of the 1960s. The role of women in business expanded. As the decade moved along, women’s roles in the working world became hotly debated in the public press. In addition, the beginnings of the “equal pay” rallying cry from the women began in this decade.

LIFE INSURANCE DURING THE 1950S

The life insurance industry experienced strong growth during the 1950s, benefiting from the economic boom as much or more than any other industry. In 1951 there were 609 legal reserve life insurance companies. By 1955 there were approximately 800 life insurance firms in the US, and by the end of the decade, there were well over 1,000 life insurance companies.

In 1950, US legal reserve life insurance companies had approximately $235 billion of insurance in force. The new sales in 1950 were estimated at $30.8 billion and included ordinary, industrial and group life insurance. The payments made to beneficiaries totaled $4.25 billion, 63% of which were paid to living beneficiaries. In 1955, new sales reached approximately $47.4 billion, resulting in $373 billion in force. In that year, it is estimated that 80% of US men and 62% of US women held some amount of life insurance. By the close of the decade, the industry had approximately $580 billion in force.

In 1957, the second largest company in the US and the world was Metropolitan Life Insurance Company with $14.8 billion in assets followed by Prudential Life Insurance Company with $13.3 billion in assets. They both followed the biggest company, American Telephone and Telegraph Company with $18.4 billion in assets. Quite literally, life insurance ruled the world.

While sales were growing, mortality was also improving. Advances in the medical field continued throughout the decade, helping insurance companies to price ever-more competitively and to realize greater returns on mortality.The National Service Life Insurance continued to manage an enormous block of business; approximately 6,000,000 policies, representing $36 billion in protection.

With the military action in Korea, the war clause again became a matter of concern for the industry. Competitive action, and legislative action by certain states resulted in many different responses ranging all the way from shutting down sales to members of the armed forces to simply restricting aviation coverage. Early on in the Conflict, a large group of insurance companies came together in an effort to negotiate the pooling of the war risk, but no such deal was ever realized.

Regulation continued to be an issue for the industry. Early in the decade, the salary stabilization legislation was still in effect, not ending until 1953. Tax laws continued to change with two different formulae in the first three years of the decade. Social Security continued to be seen as a threat, especially as benefits were increased and more people qualified for this coverage.

An important advancement in life insurance was the introduction of automation. The potential effects of the ‘electronic machines’ was debated in the newspapers beginning in 1954. In 1955 it was reported that LOMA (Life Office Management Association) had formed an Electronics Committee that worked with a similar committee of the Society of Actuaries. The intent of these groups was to study the impact this ‘potentially revolutionary’ technology could have on the industry.

The industry, continuing the trend that began in the 1940s, was highly concerned with the quality of the Insurance Agent selling their products. A significant amount of energy was expended in developing exams that could determine the likelihood of success of a particular recruit, and robust training programs were made for those agents already in the field.

Competition in the industry grew significantly during the decade. In a 1955 article in Barron’s National Business and Financial Weekly, John C. Perham discussed new policies introduced that year that charged less for higher face amounts, calling them ‘special’ or ‘cut-rate’ policies. Other new policy innovations were introduced including the ‘family policy,’ a policy intended to cover an entire family at a lower rate than the individual rates, the ‘business women’s policy’, intended to offer disability coverage to the working woman, ‘family income plans,’ where the amount of the coverage decreased as the family’s children grow up, and the ‘guaranteed insurability rider’ that insured a client can purchase additional coverage in the future. In 1959, Northwestern Mutual Life introduced lower rates for women, stating:

Northwestern Life Mutual has felt that it is every woman’s right to be considered younger than her age – years younger than a man who has lived the same length of time. Recent mortality statistics now validate this view, and the new rates reflect it! N.M.L. is the largest life firm to recognize lower female mortality rates by reducing gross premiums on female policies, and we are the first company in the United States to give special recognition to present women policy holders thru dividends.

(Investors Guide, Chicago Daily Tribune, 12 Jan 1959)

The Negro companies also continued to grow. Although they were started and initially grew serving only Negro customers (not by choice, but due to segregation), they were now becoming big enough to attract the attention of white customers. The largest companies included North Carolina Mutual, Southern Aid, Atlanta Life, and Supreme Liberty Life Insurance Company. In 1954, North Carolina Mutual hit a major milestone surpassing $200,000,000 in force by the end of the year. This put the company at #136 of all insurance companies in the US based on insurance in force, and #124 based on admitted assets. The company was #1 among the 66 Negro life insurance companies in operation in 1954.

An important study came out in 1950 showing that, despite years of thinking otherwise, race had no bearing on length of life. The insurance industry argued otherwise, stating that the mortality of blacks was 50% higher, and therefore a poor insurance risk. This debate was not settled until much later.

WOMEN IN LIFE INSURANCE DURING THE 1950s

Following the end of the War, the question of women in the workplace was a confusing matter. Many Americans expected women to go back home when the men returned to the workforce. The reality proved to be more complicated. In many cases, the need for workers had expanded to the point where women were necessary to fill all of the positions. And in many cases, women found that either their income was required to feed their children, or that they enjoyed work outside the home, and enjoyed the additional comforts for their families that were now possible with two incomes. This led to the question of what positions the women should and/or were capable of filling and how much the women should be paid, among other things.

The place of women in the workplace was debated in the press, most especially around the end of the decade. Headlines such as “Women Just Are NOT Good Bosses – Says a Man” (Chicago Daily Tribune, 27 Jan 1957), “Can Women Get Along Without Men?” (Los Angeles Times, 13 Oct 1957), and “Women in Business Advised Against Being Feminists” (Daily Boston Globe, 25 May 1958) show the contention that was beginning to surface in society.

Of great interest to the people of the times (based on the number of newspaper articles on the subject) was a dramatic shift in the number of married women, generally over the age of 35, working outside the home. In 1950, married women made up more than half of the female working population. One personnel manager suggested that this was in part due to the fact that the employers could pay married women less than single women (and single women less than men) because they had a husband bringing home his pay. Another shift saw more women working clerical office jobs than any other profession.

And yet, at the beginning of the decade, companies still were less inclined to hire married women, if they could avoid it. Some companies even had specific policies against hiring married women. The personnel director at Metropolitan Life Insurance Co. was quoted as saying, “It’s always been our general policy not to hire women who are married. But if they come to us single and get married later we’ll keep them as long as they want to stay.” The general reason given for these policies was that married women tended to miss more work than others due to their need to care for their children.

By the middle of the decade, opinions had changed. Companies were short on workers, and were willing to try new tactics to attract more. In 1956, Metropolitan Life Insurance Company and Aetna hired mothers for shorter shifts between 9am and 3pm so that the mothers could be home in time for their children to return from school. Prudential Insurance Company offered employees a paid day of vacation for recruiting their friends, and other insurance companies were paying bonuses for recruiting qualified candidates.

The total number of women in the workforce in the US rose to over 18 million in 1950. By 1955, estimates showed 20 million women in the workforce, and the number continued to climb throughout the decade.

In 1949, women doubled the amount of insurance they had purchased in 1940, reaching $39 billion in force, approximately 1/5 of all life insurance in the US. By 1952 it exceeded $45 billion. By 1957, the amount women held in life insurance exceeded $60 billion. Reasons given for this increase include the growing employment of women, their increasing understanding of their need to protect their families, and a desire for retirement income.

In 1954, Northeastern Life Insurance Company of New York introduced a special policy marketed as a special policy exclusively for women. Of particular interest is the statement in the press release that reads “the policy contains the same provisions and benefits as the company’s principle policy for men, a preferred life contract.” Not many companies at the time were advertising “men only” policies, so this is curious indeed.

An article from the Chicago Daily Tribune in 1955 emphasizes the need to treat women differently when selling to them. One agent “urges attempts to create appeals that acknowledge woman’s real importance and indispensability.” He states that “this would involve new advertising techniques based on a truer understanding of woman’s nature.”

A number of women were elected or appointed to important, high-level positions in the life insurance industry. Each one of the women highlighted below was a “first,” and their nominations were well publicized.

Miss Lucinda B. Mackrey served as Secretary and Director of the Provident Home Industrial Mutual Life Insurance Company, and was one of the very few African-American women to hold an officer position in a large life insurance company at this time. Mrs. Mae Street-Kidd held the position of public relations director for Mammoth Life, and Mrs. Bertha Nickerson was a member of the board of directors of Golden State Life Insurance Company.

In 1950, Mrs. Millicent Carey McIntosh was elected the first woman director of the Home Life Insurance Company of New York. The president of the company explained that this appointment was indicative of the fact that women now had an important place in American business, and that a great number of the personnel in life insurance companies are female.

In 1951, the John Hancock Mutual Life Insurance Company elected its first female officer, Sophie Nelson, assistant secretary; Penn Mutual Life Insurance Company appointed its first female officer, Mary Foster Barber as assistant vice president; Connecticut General Life Insurance Company promoted Mrs. Charlotte Cowan as the assistant comptroller and Leila Thompson as head of the legal department.

In 1953, Bernice Sanders became the Vice President and Controller of the Supreme Liberty Life Insurance Company, and also handled all company training. She held a bachelors degree from Wilberforce University and did graduate work in mathematics and physics at Radcliffe College and Ohio State University. Quoting from an article in the Chicago Daily Tribune (10 July 1955), “Today she is mainly concerned with the challenges racial integration has brought both to her company and her race. She feels a new process of education is necessary for preparation for the new era dawning.”

In 1955, Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Company appointed its first woman to the company’s board of trustees, Miss Catherine B. Cleary, a vice president of the First Wisconsin Trust company and former assistant treasurer of the United States. In the same announcement, the company shared that a woman, Mrs. Marie A. Stumb, placed second among 3,500 agents for sales in April.

In 1956, The Mutual Life Insurance Company of New York elected its first female member of the board of trustees, Mrs. Oveta Culp Hobby. She had served as the first director of the Women’s Army Corps, and the first Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare. At the time of her appointment, she was the president and editor of The Houston Press.

WOMEN AS LIFE INSURANCE AGENTS IN THE 1950s

Women were selling as much as ever. One estimate said that in 1950, there were approximately 5000 women selling life insurance. By 1954, three women (and 1237 men) had reached the life membership of the Million Dollar Round Table, selling over $1 million for three years in a row. Mrs. Grace Chow of Los Angeles was one, selling almost exclusively to the Chinese population in LA.

In 1957, the estimated number of women in the field had risen to 6,000 full time female agents with more than 275 women qualifying for the Quarter Million Dollar Round Table, and 13 women qualifying for the Million Dollar Round Table.

As with the executives in the home office, the success stories out in the field were often celebrated in the press, a testament to the singularity of the events. This decade certainly showcased more women than in decades past, but it was clear that successful woman were still a curiosity.

Miss Helen Ann Pendergast was a life member of the Women’s Quarter Million Dollar Round Table. She was quoted as saying that women did not normally enter the field before 30 because “you have to be a little bit older to tell a man how to provide for his family. But being a woman is no handicap, partly because men are accustomed to looking to women for advice all their lives about many things.”

Lesla M. Sabin, in 1951, was the only female general agent in Chicago. She had been in the business for 15 years at that time, and was the mother of nine children. She was nominated in 1951 for the Woman of Distinction by the Chicago Women Lie Underwriters in recognition of her leadership.

In 1953, Muriel Bixby Clark owned and operated her own insurance business in Los Angeles, and was the first woman named to the board of directors of the Insurance Association of Los Angeles, serving as Vice President. She said of the life insurance business:

You starve for the first two years…Really it is a wonderful profession for a girl. It requires a willingness to know your product and more than ordinary willingness to be of service…If you know more about your business and are willing to work just a little bit harder than your competitors, more power to you!

Another woman echoed these sentiments. Thelma Davenport, the national chairman of the National Committee of Women Life Underwriters, the distaff side, and life member of the Quarter Million Dollar Round Table, said in 1956:

The life insurance field is one of the real opportunities for career girls here and now…Women want to help people. They are interested in the welfare of the family, the protection of the home, the education of children – and life insurance provides for these things.

The Insurance Women of Los Angeles, one of 200 similar groups across the country in the 1950s, had the express purpose of elevating and expanding the role of women in the insurance industry. The president of the organization said, in 1954:

Women are receiving more and more recognition in the insurance field and are constantly finding new worlds to conquer…Although women do not often reach executive positions, many who start at the bottom do attain high supervisory capacities.

The 1950s were clearly a decade of significant growth for the life insurance industry and for the women in the industry, and the female customers of life insurance.

Up next, the 1960s.

Sources:

Anonymous (1955). “Insurance Notes.” Chicago Daily Tribune, Jul 25, pg C7.

Anonymous (1956). “Mutual Life Chooses First Woman Trustee.” New York Times, May 24, pg 44.

Anonymous (1955). “N. Car. Mutual Passes $200 Million Insurance In Force.” Philadelphia Tribune, Mar 26, pg 16.

Anonymous (1955). “The Women’s Corner.” Chicago Daily Tribune, Oct 10, pg. E5.

Anonymous (1959). “The Women’s Corner.” Chicago Daily Tribune, Jan 12, pg C4.

Anonymous (1959). “The Women’s Corner.” Chicago Daily Tribune, Aug 3, pg C6.

Anonymous (1951). “Women Buying Insurance.” New York Times, Jun 21, pg 42.

Anonymous (1951). “Women Make Good.” The Baltimore Sun, Aug 26, pg SO26.

Anonymous (1952). “Woman Rises From Clerk to Sec’y of Life Insurance Co.” Pittsburg Courier, Jan 12, pg 20.

Anthony, Julian D. (1952). “Running a Life Insurance Company is Fun.” Journal of Risk and Insurance, (19),1, 40.

Bachrach, Bradford (1950). “First Woman Director of Home Life Insurance.” New York Times, Dec 19, pg 54.

Barnes, Alerne (1954). “Insurance Group to Hold Annual Parley.” Los Angeles Times, May 23, pg D5.

B.M.W. (1953). “Insurance Woman is Philanthropist.” Los Angeles Times, May 10, pg C2.

Burns, Frances (1954). “She Works Just as Hard on Volunteer Jobs.” Daily Boston Globe, Oct 10, pg 69.

Clarke, M.C. (1950). “Insurance Executives Have Faith in Future.” Pittsburg Courier, Aug 19, pg 6.

Elston, James S. (1951). “Part II – Review of the Year: Life Insurance.” Journal of Risk and Insurance, (18), 1, 112.

Ford, Elizabeth (1956). “She Leads Women in Life Insurance.” The Washington Post and Times Herald, Sep 26, pg 28.

Galpin, Stephen (1950). “Women: They’re Grabbing Off a Greater Share of Jobs In Office and Factory.” Wall Street Journal, May 24, pg 1.

Ives, David O. (1956). “Companies Hire More Women, Part-Timers to Ease Office Pinch.” Wall Street Journal, Nov 28, pg 1.

MacKay, Ruth (1951). “Mother of Nine Trades Her Cookbook for Rate Book.” Chicago Daily Tribune, Nov 2, pg A8.

MacKay, Ruth (1952). “Women Turning More to Work Outside Homes.” Chicago Daily Tribune, Jan 7, pg C8.

Olsen, Lief (1953). “Americans Stock Up on Purse Protection with Record Rapidity.” Wall Street Journal, Sep 1, pg 1.

Perham, John C. (1955). “Premium on Competition.” Barron’s National Business and Financial Weekly, Jan 10, pg 3.

Stein, Sonia (1950). “Insurance Gives Distaff Side a Big Welcome.” The Washington Post, Jul 7, pg C4.

Wallace, S. Rains Jr. (1954). “Research in Life Insurance.” Journal of Risk and Insurance, 21(1), 22.

Williams, Carroll E. (1957). “More Women Attracted to Insurance.” The Baltimore Sun, Apr 3, pg 25.

A note to those who manage moms (and dads)…

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My kids playing office…in my office.

I recently wrote a post about being a mom and having a career. I found that as I was writing that post, I had to resist the urge to add in comments from the point of view of a manager. The solution – write another post!

The thing about being a manager/leader is that people see you differently. When you speak, you speak on behalf of your organization. I knew a senior manager who would often tell the story of walking into work with a bad headache one day. He had his head in his hand as he walked, and likely had a sour expression on his face. Within (seemingly) moments, he was getting questions like “Did our project go off track?”, or “Did the deal fall through?”

The lesson there – people in the organization take their cues from the management. Managers have to be sure the messages they are sending are accurate reflections of the situation.

This brings me to my first thought on moms. As I have mentioned before, women, no matter how many positive experiences they have had and/or read about, are nearly always scared to tell their bosses they are pregnant. This had me wondering why that would be.

When I went back through my own experiences and the stories that have been shared with me, I saw a glimmer of what might be going on. Here are some real statements that I have collected, all from seemingly well-meaning managers:

“She’s going to be out on maternity leave in July? That’s the worst possible time for us to be short staffed.”

“You will be out the whole month of December? Again?” (I had three kids at the end of the year)

“She is pregnant again? I sure wish I could take three months off.”

I even have one for the men: “He’s taking paternity leave now? In the middle of the project?”

The thing is, as managers, we all probably think this way. Being short-staffed, especially at the busiest time of year can be an enormous burden. I can see how it might look like I wanted out of year-end craziness three different times. Three months off does seem like a vacation. And being off in the middle of a project is never convenient.

One thing I know for sure – kids are rarely convenient.

These statements, made by managers, are dangerous. They send a message that the leadership of the company is not supportive of people in this situation. And that is definitely bad for business and bad for the employees.

We need to watch what we say, and better yet, how we think.

In most instances, we managers have plenty of time to plan for these absences. Usually six months or so at least. That is an incredible amount of time! When a person quits, they give us two weeks notice. When they get sick, they give us two minutes. With six months, we can use that time to work with the employee to develop a plan. We can engage the employee in training exercises and documentation. We can turn something that might have been scary into a developmental exercise that empowers the employee rather than sidelines them.

When I was pregnant with my second child, I was a front-line manager. I spent that time developing what I called the “MMP,” or “Melinda’s Maternity Plan.” I empowered myself and my employees to develop a way to cover all of my duties while I was out. My manager was incredibly supportive of this, and in the end, my associates got a chance to develop their leadership skills, and my manager had very little concern over my time out of the office.

This language problem persists after maternity leave. Here are some management quotes that illustrate what this sounds like:

“Her kids are sick again?”

“Doesn’t she have a husband? Can’t he help?”

“He is always leaving early for his kids. Why is he always leaving early for his kids?”

I am not saying we should not hold people accountable. In fact, I think we should do a much better job of holding people accountable than we do today. What I am saying is that words matter. When we say things like this, we show a strong lack of support for families and our employees. This, in turn, will lead to dissatisfied workers, and in the end, a potentially harmful corporate culture.

Here is another thing to watch for – benevolent sexism. Ever hear of this? This is when we think we are doing something nice, but really we are doing something that shows prejudice and/or bias against women. This is always done with good intent, so it can be very hard to detect. It can come from women or men, and it sounds like this:

“With her three young kids, do you think she can handle it?”

“She just got back from maternity leave. I don’t want to overwhelm her.”

“That is going to take some travel – I don’t want to take her away from her kids.”

The very, very important piece that is missing in all of these comments is any discussion with the woman herself. Start with the assumption that she can handle it, she is not overwhelmed, and if it’s going to take some travel, assume she is up to the task. Perhaps she can’t handle it – ask her first. Perhaps she is overwhelmed – check with her first. Perhaps she does not want to travel – discuss this with her to find out, if you have any concerns.

In the end, what we all want is a place to work where we feel supported and valued. As managers, we have the power to make this happen for our associates. Give some thought to how you think and speak about the parents on your team, and be sure your actions show that you support and value them.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this – leave a comment or send me a message!

As always, keep it positive and smile! TGIF!!

Women in Insurance – A History – WWII

wwii

World War II broke out in Europe in 1939. During the first few years of the war, the US remained, or attempted to remain, neutral. The economy was significantly improved from the days of the depression, and even as Americans watched the horrors unfolding across the ocean, life was returning to normal.

That all changed, of course, on December 7th, 1941, when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, and the US declared war on Japan the very next day. Suddenly jobs shifted from civilian to war efforts. Taxes were raised and precious war-time commodities were rationed. Men from all walks of life were pulled into service, and the landscaped of the American workplace was changed forever.

LIFE INSURANCE IN THE EARLY 1940S

Life insurance faced several hurdles in the 1940s. One particular impediment was the renewed fight over the New Deal, and whether life insurance was a federal or state concern. In a particularly impassioned article from 1940, written by Frank Gannett and entitled “Now Is the Time to Act: Save the Nation from Chaos,” he writes:

Life insurance has built in the short span of one century the greatest social security system that any people have ever known. Life insurance is the very embodiment of democratic ideals of individual responsibility….The total amount now in force in the United States is approximately 114 billion dollars. No wonder the Washington bureaucrats, having exhausted their genius for inventing new taxes, are itching to get their fingers on this 30-billion-dollar-prize…

Another difficulty was, quite obviously, the war. With the outbreak of the war, life insurance companies acted quickly to add the war exclusion rider to all sales, thereby protecting themselves from excessive claims due to war-time casualties. They were, of course, still liable for all policies purchased prior to the implementation of the war exclusion.

Because of the war, the industry suffered a shortage in salesmen and home-office employees. One particular specialty recruited to the war effort were the actuaries, needed for their mathematical skills. There was also a shortage of medical doctors. This put additional pressure on new life insurance sales. In response, companies began to extend their non-medical limits, allowing more life insurance sales to be placed without an examination.

To help those men and women who enlisted in the armed forces, the government stepped up, and by 1943 was the largest life insurance “company” in the country.

It is important to note that the Jim Crow laws were still in effect during this decade, and the life insurance industry was no exception. Much like the “white” companies, the negro companies weathered the Depression well, and came into the 1940s as strong as ever. In fact, these insurance companies were on the front lines of racial issues, as Dr. P.P. Cruezot, President of the National Negro Insurance Association, shared on a radio program the “manner in which forty-odd Negro life insurance companies are pioneering in the education, training, and higher standard of living for several million young men and women, and galvanizing the confidence between companies, the policyholders and the public.”

In 1940, the admitted assets of US life insurance companies totaled $30.8 billion. This was up from $15.9 billion in 1928. One interesting statistic: in 1940, throughout the US, there were 9 life insurance claims over $1 million, 2 of which were over S$2 million and 2 of which were over $3 million.

By 1942, sales had slumped due to war-time tax increases, decreases in the insurance workforce, and the gasoline rationing that made insurance sales much more difficult. Sales rebounded in 1943, and in 1944 sales reached a new peak of $148.4 billion in force. At the same time, claims and other benefit payments were also rising due to wartime losses, but the industry remained as stable as ever.

WOMEN IN INSURANCE IN THE EARLY 1940S

In general, the 1940s were a boon to women in the workplace. With men deployed oversees, women were sought to fill the vacancies men left behind. Even married women were being recruited to positions previously unimaginable for them. A Chicago Tribune article from 1942 reported a 300% increase in demand for female workers.

Women were even moving into top leadership positions where needed. An article from the Washington Post in 1942 discussed this, and also shared the downside of the situation – the fact that the men would return, and the women would be a problem when they did. One expert in employee relations was quoted as saying:

If this war lasts another year or two, women will move in large numbers into important executive and managerial positions. Then there’ll be the puzzler of what to do about it when the war is over and men come back.

The Metropolitan Life Insurance Company handled the situation in this way:

“In the last war Metropolitan moved women into executive positions. No successful method was found for demoting or advancing them when it was over. And, in the cases of some who still hold those jobs today, the situation is neither very satisfactory for the women nor the management. This time Metropolitan is not attempting to fill war-created vacancies job-for-job.”

Some saw the problem as self-correcting; women, they felt, would naturally leave the workforce to marry and become housewives just as the men were returning from war. Two surveys, both conducted in 1944, reflected the differing opinions. One survey of 50,000 employed women indicated that only 6% of these women intended to keep their current positions after the end of the war, and another 19% who would keep their jobs only if it did not replace returning service men. Another survey, conducted by the women’s advisory committee of the war manpower commission, reported that 71% of women intended to stay in the workplace and only 17% planned to return home.

By 1946, demand for female workers had dropped dramatically, and had shifted back to traditional jobs for women including teaching, secretarial work, and clerical positions.

In stark contrast to the previous decade where women were nearly invisible, women came back into focus in the life insurance industry as customers, sales representatives, and home-office workers. The industry now had a “whole new market” with so many women now entering the workforce.

Women purchased over 900,000 ordinary life policies in 1940, accounting for 20% of all sales. Over 50% of these purchases were made by business women, and 1/3 were housewives. Most frequently, the policies were purchased by women under the age of 30. By 1942, women accounted for 30% of total life insurance sales, and in 1943 sales to women were up to 35% of total sales. By 1944, women were buying 83% more life insurance than they did in 1942. Although the percent did increase over time, in general the amount of insurance purchased by women was roughly 50% of the face amount purchased by men.

One major step forward took place in 1947 when New York Life Insurance Company announced the election of their first female director. Mildred McAfee Horton also served as the president of Wellesley College. Upon her election, George L. Harrison, president of New York Life, stated “With a large number of women holding insurance or named as beneficiaries in policies, it is only natural that they should be represented on the directorate. The selection of Mrs. Horton indicates that my associates and I agree on the importance of having a woman on the board.”

WOMEN AS LIFE INSURANCE AGENTS

An article published in 1940, entitled “A Portfolio of Insurance Women,” profiled 13 different women who were forging their careers in the insurance industry. Quite obviously, these women had been engaged in insurance prior to 1940, and yet it is exceedingly difficult to find any mention of them before the decade turned over. These women were all agents (one managed the women’s division in a home office), working for companies such as Equitable in New York, Boston’s John Hancock agency, Fidelity Mutual, Penn Mutual, and Massachusetts Mutual. The article begins this way:

‘Insurance selling – what a job!’ So says Beatrice Jones, CLU (standing for Chartered Life Underwriter), New York insurance woman, supervisor of the women’s division of the Wilson Agency of the Equitable Life Assurance Society, chairman of the women’s division of the National Associate of Life Underwriters, and educational vice president of the New York Life Underwriters Association….’Selling life insurance,’ she says, ‘has put me to the test as no other work I ever did began to do, and yet I wouldn’t exchange it for anything.’

Insurance women

Another article from November of 1940 put the number of female life insurance agents in that year at 4,000, and citing a survey conducted by the Women’s Committee of the National Association of Life Underwriters, stated that these women had written policies on 956,000 people, providing $2.4 billion of life insurance protection for their families. The study showed that most women selling life insurance at that time were in their late 40s and sold 43% of their business to men.

In 1944, an article appeared in The Washington Post titled “Woman Agent in Insurance Here to Stay.” The author states:

Among the important changes that have taken place [during the years of the war] are: …The realization, on the part of life insurance agency executives, of the place of the woman agent in our business. Although there have been successful woman agents in life insurance for many years, and some have attained high honors, it took the war and the consequent manpower shortage to cause companies to recruit and train women in large numbers. There is nothing temporary about “women in life insurance” because they are being trained on a career basis.

There was still a strong bias against women’s financial competency and ability to conduct business during this time. Most men assumed that after the war women would return to their kitchens and living rooms. One particular lawyer, speaking to the American Society of Chartered Life Underwriters in 1944 highly recommended the practice of putting life insurance and other assets into family trusts in order to “protect [women] from their own weaknesses.”

In another talk, given to the women employees of Metropolitan Life Insurance Company in 1946, the speaker claimed that the great tragedy of the war was the breakup of the home, and stated that “the key to peace was to be found in ‘three great roles’ for women, in the home, in the community and in seeking equity rather than equality.”

An interesting study was published in 1940 (Seder) looking at the differences between the vocational interest of professional women, and whether they differed from men. One of the test samples was of insurance salesmen and women, where she found that there was no indication of any difference between the two genders. In other words, contrary to thought of the day, women and men, when engaged in the same occupation, were likely to have similar interests. This was an important step forward in the women’s movement.

So, while women in general took a huge step forward during the war, then a small step back after the war, women in insurance continued to solidify their place in the workforce. The business still viewed them as “other,” but continued to recognize their importance to the future success of the industry.
Sources:
Anonymous (1947). “Head of Women’s College Elected to Directorate of New York Life.” New York Times, Aug 21, 35.
Anonymous (1946). “Job Prospects for Graduates Termed Good.” Chicago Daily Tribune, Jun 24, 28.
Anonymous (1941). “Life Insurance Payments in Chicago Rise.” Chicago Daily Tribune, May 16, 29.
Anonymous (1942). “New Graduates Get Many More Offers of Jobs: Pay Is Much Higher; Women in Demand.” Chicago Daily Tribune, Oct 17, 25.
Anonymous (1941). “Women Big Buyers of Life Insurance.” The Washington Post, Sept 13, 13.
Anonymous (1940). “Women Gaining as Underwriters.” The Washington Post, Nov 6, 16.
Associated Press (1940). “Life Insurance Assets Top 30 Billion Dollars.” Chicago Daily Tribune, Dec 7, 23.
Gannett, Frank (1940). “Now is the Time to Act: Save the Nation from Chaos.” Delivered to the Connecticut Council of Republican Women, at the Bond Hotel, Harford, Conn., April 30.
MacKay, Ruth (1944). “White Collar Girl.” Chicago Daily Tribune, Mar 34, 17.
McCullough, Trudie (1942). “Women Now Hold Top Jobs In Business.” The Washington Post, Jul 12, R7.
Mitchell, Robert B. (1944). Review of Life Insurance in 1943. Journal of Risk and Insurance, 11(1), 61.
O’Donnell, Charles W. (1944). “Woman Agent in Insurance Here to Stay.” The Washington Post, Jan 2, R4.
Whitney, L. Baynard (1940). “Calvin’s Digest.” The Plaindealer (Kansas City, KS), 5-31, 7.

Being a mom and having a career

Being a mom is hard.

Having a career is hard.

Studies have shown, and those of us in the thick of it can attest, trying to have both is confounding and difficult.

Are these two things even compatible? Assuming they are, since so many of us are doing both, how do we as women balance this? Is there a such thing as balance? How do we make it all work?

Through the stories of my experiences and those of women I have interviewed, I hope I can offer you all some insights, some tips, and most of all, some comfort that you are not alone. At the end of this post, I offer you four important tips to make this all work.

From the very start, motherhood is an intimidating proposition at work. I have heard story after story of women who were afraid to tell their boss they were pregnant. Nearly all of them reported positive stories when they finally did, but it does not seem to help alleviate the fear.

I’ve had three kids, and each time it was as different as my children are from one another (trust me, they are different!). The first time, I hadn’t been with the company for very long. For this reason, I wasn’t overly invested in my career, and although I waited awhile to tell my boss, and I only took 6 weeks off because of financial concerns, I wasn’t too nervous about my pregnancy.

The second pregnancy was completely different (see photo below). At this point, I was in management and was fully invested in my career. Despite the fact that I was violently ill with this pregnancy, I kept it from my boss and my teams for months. I was terrified of missing work, of missing promotions, of being held back because I would be out of the office. The funny thing is that when I finally told my team, they all laughed in relief and said that they had been concerned for months over how sick I had been! With this kid, I took 2 months off – still not the full amount of time available.

The third pregnancy, I discovered I was pregnant 6 weeks into my MBA program my company was paying for. Total panic! This time, there was no keeping it from the boss – I was showing almost immediately. I had to do some serious maneuvering but I managed to take the full three months off this time.

The next step – the actual maternity leave – can be fraught with danger. We hear stories of leaders in tech and politics returning to work only a week or two after giving birth – what will happen when we take 6 weeks off? Or the full 12 weeks we are allowed under FMLA, assuming you even qualify for FMLA?

When you come back to work, that is when the real fun starts. Let’s start with the logistical issues. The baby needs to get to the sitter. The baby needs to get to the doctor for check-ups. The baby needs diapers and wipes and food and clothes. And the baby gets sick. Not to mention, many of us moms breastfeed our babies, so there is the need to deal with that at work.

The breastfeeding situation is no joke. First there is the uncomfortable conversation with your boss – made much worse when your boss is a man. Scheduling the times, understanding whether you need to make up the time or not, all of that has to be worked out. Then there is the problem of where to pump. With my first two kids, we had a “medical room” often frequented by those employees with headaches or tummy aches that, if not occupied, was a decent place to pump. By the third kid, we had an actual lactation lounge and could book time in it. Many (most?) women are not so lucky.

Then there are the emotional issues. Leaving your baby in the hands of someone else every morning is more difficult than you can ever prepare for. When that sitter doesn’t work out? Even worse.

I had a terrible falling out with our first sitter when my son was 18 months old and I was pregnant with my second. It stemmed from a misunderstanding that festered for several months, and exploded on her driveway at pick-up one day in the middle of the week. To say it was awful would be the understatement of the century. I cried and cried and then spent the next three days driving all over the city looking for a new solution. (We found one, and it worked well for all 3 kids).

A wise person once told me that the challenges with kids never lessen, they only change. As the kids get older, new issues pop up. There are baseball tournaments, play practice, piano lessons, swim lessons, and they all start at some unreasonable hour – like 5pm. Someone please tell me how working parents are supposed to get their kids to practice on time?

One thing I want to address here: how we “leave” work when we have a child-related event and/or emergency. I am torn here between the need to be authentic and own the fact that we are mothers who work, and the need to avoid attention directed to the fact that we are mothers. Studies have shown that bosses tend to see “mothers” as less engaged with their work and careers. The less we call attention to that particular label, perhaps the more we will avoid the negative repercussions. Perhaps.

An example from my life: I was in a high-level meeting in our board room one afternoon. The meeting was scheduled to finish at 4:30. At 5pm, I noticed that the older gentlemen in the room showed no sign of slowing down. My sitter required me to pick up my son by 5:30, and I was looking at a 20 minute commute. What do I do?

One genius idea a good friend of mine shared with me is to simply announce that you have to leave for a board meeting. What I did, after madly texting my husband under the table to see if he could get to the sitter (and discovering that he could not), was to simply lean over to the gentleman next to me and say, “I need to get to my next meeting,” and then get up and leave as inconspicuously as I could. I have no way of knowing if this was the right thing for me, but it seemed to work, so I offer it as a suggestion.

And that brings us back to that thing called a career. With all of the above going on, how do we have time and energy and focus for a career? Frankly, as I sit here and think about it, my mind boggles at the idea of it. When people ask me how I have done what I have done, my go-to answer is: “I just do it. I decide I want to do it, and I do it.”

Not much help, is it? So let’s break this whole thing down.
How do we do the mother and career thing at the same time?

1. Confidence – We need to have confidence in ourselves. We know exactly what we need as both a mother and a career woman, and we need to trust in that. When something doesn’t sound right or feel right, we need to have the wherewithal to call attention to it.

Example: I am by no means perfect at this, but I do remember one particular conversation I had with a senior executive, some months after the birth of my second child. I was feeling unchallenged at work, and so I approached the senior executive to tell him I was ready for something new. He told me (in a kind way) that I needed to go home and take care of my family. I could have let it go right there, but instead I said, “I take care of my family when I am at home, and I need to be challenged while I am here.” It wasn’t long before I was promoted.

2. Communication – We need to be honest and open in our communication. We need to ask for what we need and stand strong in our demand for it – from our boss, from our partners, from our family.

Example: One woman I spoke with shared the story of going back to work after the birth of her second child. The logistics of balancing two children were becoming overwhelming, so she went to her manager to request a more flexible schedule, allowing her to work from home two days each week. At first, the answer was no, but she kept talking to her manager, showing her the benefits and eventually she got the yes. After proving herself, she was promoted to a management position.

Another Example: Early in my career, I sat down with my husband and we talked about division of labor when it came to the kids. This helped us to split the duties with the kids, with him often taking a larger portion of the during-the-workday interruptions. We are both open and honest about what we can and cannot cover.

3. Commitment – This is the “just do it” part of things. Once you decide you are going to do something, stick with it. Get it done. Find the goal line, set your sights on it, and go. This is just as important at home as it is at work.

Example: When I found out I was pregnant with my third child six-weeks into my MBA program, I had a choice to make. I decided I still wanted to finish my program, and I wanted to do so on-time. In order to account for the time I would need to be out to give birth, I decided to accelerate my program. My daughter, being the accommodating soul that she is, was born just in time for winter break, so I was actually able to graduate early.

Another Example: Two years ago, my daughter expressed disappointment that I was not participating in her class parties and field-trips. I made a commitment to her that I would be there for her, and then I immediately blocked my calendar. I had so much fun attending those parties with her, and she now knows that she is my priority.

4. Support – This is so important. We need to support each other. Mothers in the workplace must support other mothers. Women must support other women. We do this by speaking up for each other, for advocating for each other, for listening and understanding each other.

Example: When one woman in a meeting gets cut off, bring the attention back to her by asking her if she would like to finish what she was saying. When drawing up an invitation list for an event, double-check to see that enough women have made the list. When evaluating the work of your associates, double-check to ensure that you are using the same criteria for everyone. When you see a woman hesitate to volunteer for something, encourage her to push forward.

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One final thought – there is no such thing as “balance.” Or rather, work and kids will never be “equal.” We each have to find what works for us, and realize that this will change over time – maybe even day by day. Sometimes, hour by hour! If we pay attention, ask for what we need, commit to our ourselves and support each other, anything is possible!

I am here to support you! Let me know if you have other tips for being a mom at work!

As always, keep it positive and smile!

Women in Life Insurance: A History Part 5 (The Depression of the 1930s)

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The 1930s were a difficult time for Americans. After the market crash in 1929, the Great Depression set in and continued throughout the decade. Americans and others throughout the world experienced skyrocketing unemployment, drastic reduction in trade, a significant fall in prices, taxes, and profits, and a widespread failure of businesses across industries. The day-to-day lives of Americans changed dramatically.

By all accounts, the women’s movement, which had gained so much momentum in the first three decades of the century, took a rather significant step backwards during this decade. In general, women who worked outside of the home were seen as ‘stealing’ those jobs from men who needed to support their families. Norman Cousins was quoted as saying:

“Simply fire the women, who shouldn’t be working anyway, and hire the men. Presto! No unemployment. No relief rolls. No depression.”

The employment situation became so dire that nepotism legislation was passed allowing only one spouse to hold a government position. This, in effect, kept wives out of this part of the workforce. In addition, 26 states passed laws prohibiting the employment of married women. Even working women supported this way of thinking, encouraging married women to stay home. One woman who worked for Metropolitan Life Insurance Company, while explaining that married women should not be working, stated:

“Marriage is a business which needs good hard work and much attention if it is to be a success…All girls are old fashioned even now, in their home-loving instincts, and they generally prove it after marriage.”

The first-hand accounts from this time describe a complex web of families trying desperately to make ends meet. Sometimes families could not do this on just one salary. Other accounts show men so distraught over their continued unemployment that their wives were forced to find work to feed the family. Because of the significant prejudice against women holding “men’s” jobs, these women were forced into lower-paying domestic careers such as teaching, nursing, sewing, and cleaning. The further harm done to women was in the fact that even in these “women’s” jobs, women were paid less than men for the same work. This was done to further discourage women from taking these jobs away from men.

As a result, the role of women as homemakers and mothers was emphasized in all aspects of life in the 1930s. Even so, there were prominent women in politics and society doing what they could to support women. First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt was the most prominent, advocating for benefits for women within the New Deal. She helped to create the women’s division within the Federal Emergency Relief Administration, and helped to nominate a woman to run it. She also held the White House Conference on the Emergency Needs of Women in 1933, bringing to light the needs of working women during the Depression.

Women, as in the previous decade, continued to control much of the wealth in the US. According to an article written in 1935, women were the beneficiaries of over 80% of all life insurance policies, controlled 65% of all bank accounts, and held 40% of all real estate. In addition, they paid over $5 trillion in taxes each year.

INSURANCE COMPANIES DURING THE GREAT DEPRESSION

The life insurance industry weathered the Great Depression better than most other industries, largely due to the requirement of holding more conservative investments and large reserves.

Requests for surrenders and loans were certainly much greater than in decades past, and there were companies that failed. Early in the decade, newspapers were filled with stories of consolidations, failures, scandals, and most unfortunately, some suicides of insurance executives. In addition, fraternals and secret societies died out due largely to men being unable to make their dues payments. Social Security took the place of these organizations.

A report from 1933 showed life insurance in force falling from $109 trillion in force in 1931 to $103 trillion in force in 1932, and from 68,000,000 lives insured in 1931 to 65,000,000 lives insured in 1932. In 1931 one US life insurance company paid over a million dollars more in suicide benefits than in 1926.

The second half of the decade saw the life insurance market begin to improve. The headline in the New York Times in January of 1936 stated “$2,500,000,000 GAIN IN LIFE INSURANCE, Rise, Largest Since 1930, Makes Total in Force $101,000,000,000, Says Ecker. SALES VOLUME UP 1.5%.” The headline in January of 1937 reads, “RECORD YEAR SEEN FOR LIFE INSURANCE, Lincoln says Public’s Faith in Stability of Institution Is Basis of Prediction.” And finally, the headline from January, 1939, “NEW RECORD SET BY LIFE INSURANCE, High Marks in the Average Amount Carried and in Total Coverage Attained in Year.”

Things were looking so good for the industry, William Frederick Biegelow, the Editor of Good Housekeeping, penned a letter in a 1939 edition in high praise of life insurance. He titled his letter “Looking Forward to Tomorrow,” and in it he gives lengthy descriptions of the current statistics around life insurance and then states:

“In other words, the people of this country believe in life insurance. They believe in it because, except in isolated instances, it has not failed them. It is the greatest cooperative enterprise the world has ever known….What is our interest in life insurance? Just the belief that it is one of the things that no man should overlook when he is planning his future…Just the hope that this form of protection, of peace of mind, will soon be the possession of every family in America.”

WOMEN IN INSURANCE IN THE 1930s

Given the economic environment and the societal shift toward women working in the home, it is not unexpected that we find little information on women working in the insurance business during this decade. Where we do read about them, the emphasis is very clearly on clerical work.

Despite the lack of information on women in insurance during this decade, there are references to Women’s Departments buried in the literature. In an article from 1932 on advertising, there is reference to a set of conferences sponsored by the women’s department of the Wisconsin National Bank of Milwaukee. Another article from 1937 announced a radio broadcast “sponsored by a group of insurance women,” that discussed “insurance security for women.” The host of the broadcast was quoted as saying:

“There is no need for any woman to face insecure old age or sickness which she cannot afford. I am profoundly impressed by the stability of insurance companies during the depression, when most other large business institutions were rocked to their very foundations and all too many crumpled and crashed.”

An insurance ad from 1932 reflects the perception of the lack of sophistication of women and finances. The Guardian Trust Company Ad reads:

“It hasn’t been easy for you to build your insurance estate…You’ve shouldered the burden gladly to assure your loved ones peace and comfort if anything should happen to you. Someone must take up the burden when you are gone. Will it be carried by the inexperienced, grief-bowed shoulders of your wife or by the broad, sturdy, experienced shoulders of this great bank?”

Another Trust Company issued a booklet in 1932 entitled “Can Women Learn to Manage Money?” The purpose of the brochure was to educate women on how to best manage their households and avoid the financial mistakes of their parents and overcome their own previous mistakes.

An article on positions in life insurance from 1931 seem to offer hope to women seeking employment:

“The college graduates of 1931 are going to find that the business depression, which we all hope is passing, has seriously interfered with the usual demand for those who are willing to start on a modest salary. Many, therefore, will be glad to learn about openings in the business for which the chief requirements are a good character and the willingness to work. The life insurance companies of America offer college graduates an opportunity to win their way to the front solely on their own ability.”

Unfortunately, later in the article the author refers to “college men” only, and discusses life insurance as necessary “in the greatest emergencies of life – in old age, or when a family has lost its husband and father…” thereby negating any importance women would have in the industry.

If it seems as though I have pieced this all together, I have. As I mentioned above, it was extremely difficult to find any primary sources that spoke of women in the insurance industry during this decade. It seems that the golden era of women’s suffrage in the 1920s was completely snuffed out by the Great Depression. By the end of the decade, the country was emerging from the Depression, but unfortunately, it seems the women’s movement took an enormous step backwards.

Next, we will look at the 1940s and insurance during World War II.

Sources:
Anonymous (1932). “How Banks are Advertising.” Bankers’ Magazine, 124(3), 361.

Anonymous (1937). “Hails Insurance Security for Women Late in Life.” New York Times, May 18, 39.

Anonymous (1931). “‘Mother’ to 13,000 Will retire Jan 1.” New York Times, Dec. 17th, 14.

Bigelow, William Frederick (1939). “Looking Toward Tomorrow,” Good Housekeeping, 8 (5), 4.

Dublin, Louis I., Bunzel, Bessie (1933). “To Be or Not to Be, A Study of Suicide.” The Living Age, 345(4406), 276.

Hirschfeld, Gerhard (1935). “The Facts behind Economics.” America Magazine, June 8, 206.

Lindsay, L. Seton (1931). “Life Insurance.” The North American Review, 231(6), 562.

Moran, Mickey (1988). “1930s America – Feminist Void?” Loyola University of New Orleans Department of History Outstanding Paper for the 1988-1989 academic year.

Patch, B.W. (1933). “Life Insurance in the Depression.” Editorial Research Reports, Vol. 1.

Woolner, David B. (2009). “Feminomics: Breaking New Ground – Women and the New Deal.” Roosevelt Institute, 12/15, http://rooseveltinstitute.org/feminomics-breaking-new-ground-women-and-the-new-deal/. Accessed 6/24/2018.