Women in the Workplace – Lack of Fit

This post is going to require some work on your part. Don’t worry, it won’t be difficult. But before moving on, I’d ask that you open a blank Word document or grab a pen and paper before you read on.

Your first assignment: Picture a CEO. Jot down some of your thoughts regarding the image in your mind. Just a few sentences or adjectives will do. DO NOT overthink this, just go with your first impression. We’ll get back to this later.

Now for a story. Have you heard this? Its an oldie-but-goodie. A man and his son are out one night, driving along a dark, winding road when suddenly a major storm moves in. A deer jumps out of the woods in front of their car, and the father, in an attempt to avoid the deer, swerves and smashes into a tree. The emergency personnel rush to the accident and tragically pronounce the father dead at the scene. The young boy, badly injured, is rushed to the hospital for emergency surgery. As he is wheeled into the operating room, the surgeon looks down at the young patient and exclaims, “I cannot operate on this boy. He is my son!”

How can this be? If you are like most people, the first time you heard this story you were confused. Didn’t the dad die at the scene? Does the boy have two dads? No. In fact, the surgeon is the child’s mother.

Why is it that our instinct is to assume that the surgeon is a man?

Back in 1973, an astute social scientist named Virginia Schein was asking questions about why more women were not being promoted into leadership roles. At that time, Dr. Schein worked as a manager for MetLife in New York. The prevailing answer to her question at the time was that women simply did not wish to be leaders. Dr. Schein believed there was more going on below the surface.

In a series of research papers published in the Journal of Applied Psychology, Dr. Schein asked research participants to list the most important traits of a successful leader.

Go ahead and do this for yourself. You can simply add to the CEO traits you listed above, or if ‘Leader’ brings to mind something new and different, make a new list.

Next, she asked participants to list the most common traits associated with men.

Do this yourself as well.

Then, she asked participants to list the most common traits associated with women.

Again, jot some ideas down.

Finally, she compared the lists. What she found uncovered an uncomfortable truth – the list of the leadership traits and the male traits were very similar, while the list of the leadership traits and the female traits varied significantly. This led to the ‘Think Manager-Think Male’ theory that has been proven in many studies since then.

One of the interesting parts of the initial research – all of the participants were men. Likely she had a problem similar to the one I faced in my attempt to include women of color in my studies – she just could not find enough female leaders to include in her studies.

But it does highlight another problem – the dominant culture will be the group to define the rules of the game. Research seems to indicate that it isn’t that male qualities are the best leadership qualities, but that since men are in leadership, they will necessarily believe that their qualities make for the best results.

Opinions on the “best” leadership qualities have changed since the 1970s. Back then, words like commanding, or assertive, or even aggressive were common. Nowadays, you likely included something along the lines of collaborative, or even supportive, or perhaps even inclusive.

And yet, even with leadership qualities that are more aligned with the female stereotype, I’d ask you to look back at your description of a CEO. Did you picture a man or a woman? Some of you did, in fact, picture a woman, and you are wonderful for that. Most people, however, pictured a tall, white, older male. If you did, don’t worry – you’ve just uncovered a hidden bias! Now you can work on adjusting it.

The impact of the ‘Think-Manager, Think-Male’ phenomenon is significant. It means that when company leaders are looking to fill a management position, their inherent bias toward picturing men in the position will lead them toward male candidates more readily than female candidates. This is true no matter the gender of the hiring manager.

It means that men will be considered for roles they aspire to while women will only be considered for roles they have already proven themselves in. It means that men will be supported despite failures and a woman’s failure will be seen as inevitable.

The solution to this issue is a catch-22. To get more women (or any other minority, for that matter) into leadership roles we need more women (or other minorities) in leadership roles. If the images we see when the letters CEO are uttered are not just white males, but truly reflect the diversity of our society, then we will disrupt the ‘Think Manager-Think Male’ paradigm. To get there, we need to recognize our inherent biases and actively work against them. When choosing our leaders, we need to ensure we are intentionally looking in all directions for the best candidate, regardless of their personal qualities.

For a final assignment, I encourage you to consider ways in which you might stretch your mind when considering candidates for the next leadership role you will help to fill. Write them down. And then when the time comes, use them.

As always, keep it positive!

Selected further reading:

HBR – Alice Eagly: Women as Leaders. Dr. Eagly is an expert on gender and leadership.

Fast Company – The Gender Divide

Psychology Today: Why Women Make Better Leaders than Men

Inc. Magazine: 7 Traits of True Leaders

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Women in the Workplace – Are women their own worst enemies?

Meryl Streep in The Devil Wears Prada

When talking with men in the workplace (and even some women) about why women are not making it to the CEO level, I sometimes heard the phrase, “Women are their own worst enemy.”

I bristled every time I heard this remark. I had certainly seen women behaving badly toward other women, and in fact had been the victim of a particularly vicious woman. But certainly this was a singular occurrence, right? What men were doing to hold women back, either consciously or unconsciously, was much worse, right?

It turns out there may be some truth to that quote. In fact, it has been given a name: the Queen Bee syndrome.

Before I go on, let me say this: while this article argues that the Queen Bee does still exist in our workplaces today, my studies show that this plays just a small role in keeping women from reaching the top of organizations. There are many other forces, discussed in previous and future posts, that are bigger culprits. However, it is important that women are aware of the Queen Bee syndrome so they can both prevent themselves from becoming one and protect themselves against them.

First, let’s define Queen Bee syndrome. The term was first introduced in a paper by G.L. Staines, T.E. Jayartne, and C. Tavris in 1973. A Queen Bee is a woman who has risen to at least some level of power and then acts to protect her position, treating female subordinates more critically than male subordinates.

Hollywood has given us several examples of Queen Bees, several of which have become cult classics. Films such as Heathers and Mean Girls show what this phenomenon looks like in high school. Beyond high school we have The Devil Wears Prada, Clueless or countless others. In each of these films, women who are in power go to considerable lengths to keep other women from reaching their level. In this context, it is almost a shame that the Queen Bee makes for such great movies.

In the corporate world, most often the Queen Bee operates from a position of scarcity, believing that there is space for only one woman at the top. This means that the target of her protectionist actions are most likely other women. At the very least, she does nothing to support other women. At the worst, she actively works to thwart the advancement of other women in the firm. Most often, she shows incivility and rudeness to other women in the workplace.

Some social scientists have suggested that the Queen Bee sees the only way of reaching the top is to act like the men who have gone before her. In this way, she overemphasizes the male trait of disliking women – or more generally, the feminine stereotype. She sees “feminine” as a form of failure.

The discussion on whether the Queen Bee still exists in today’s workplace is hotly debated in academic institutions and in the press. Some say she still exists. Others say the Queen Bee is now extinct. A study in 2015 by the Columbia Business School showed that the Queen Bee was now nothing more than a myth. The same results were found in a Brazilian study conducted in 2018, looking at 8.3mil workers across the world.

And yet, a study done at the University in Arizona in 2018 is cited repeatedly in the news, with varying titles such as, “The Tyranny of the Queen Bee,” or “Proof that Queen Been Syndrome Exists in the Workplace.” The original article was titled, “Incivility at Work: Is Queen Bee Syndrome Getting Worse?” In this study, it was shown that women are more rude and more uncivil to other women in the workplace.

Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, had an interesting and provocative response to this study. She claimed that women are held to different standards, and that when they are not “nice,” they are seen as uncivil when men are not. This could be true – there is certainly plenty of evidence to show that women are punished when they act outside of their stereotypical roles. Because of this, and our tendency to quickly judge, we should exercise considerable restraint when naming an individual as a Queen Bee.

That said, my personal experience shows that there is a strong case to be made that Queen Bees still exist.

What is behind this Queen Bee syndrome? It is largely attributable to a lack of confidence and security in female leaders. They may have faced

So, are there still Queen Bees out there in the world?

My personal experience, and first hand stories from women I have interviewed and spoken with say that yes, the Queen Bee is alive and well. Sometimes she is as blatant as she has always been. And in some cases, she is more insidious than ever before, hiding behind an exterior that would suggest she wants nothing more than to raise women up.

Real-life stories of the Queen Bee sound like this:

  • When asking for a promotion that has been earned (and was (much) later granted), she says, “The best workers often don’t make the best managers. Maybe some other time.”
  • After a year of accomplishing major goals, saving the company significant money, and obtaining several industry educational designations, she also promotes a man who has done none of these things, saying “I think he will do a great job going forward.”
  • In a meeting with high-level officers of the company, she tells her female manager that her data is incorrect, and when the manager attempts to explain, she loudly tells her to “Shut Up!”
  • She belongs to several women’s groups, invites young women along, but then promotes men into the important roles in the company.
  • She coaches women to exacting standards on non-essential skills while coaching men on standards that matter to the business.
  • She picks one or two women to support and does so in a very public way, and treats other women with incivility, often out of the public view.

What do we women do when we encounter a Queen Bee? Here are some thoughts:

  • If the Queen Bee is your direct manager, the best advice is to find a new boss. She is not likely to change or to find more confidence. Save yourself a significant amount of effort and time, and find a boss who will support you.
  • When this is not possible, find ways to support her without threatening her status. This is part of the technique called “managing up.” For example, before presenting something to a larger group, be sure to first run it by her and then to give her some of the credit when presenting it (one assumes she will have added a contribution when you run it by her).
  • When the Queen Bee is not your direct manager, but you need to interact with her, always be professional and do your best to develop a relationship with her. Where there is trust, she will not, most of the time, undermine you.

Women will only get to the top levels of our organizations in large numbers when we are able to recognize that when we support each other in the workplace, we all win.

As a reminder, Queen Bees are not the norm. There are fewer and fewer of them in the workplace, to the point that there are studies showing that their number is quantifiably insignificant. Until they are all gone, however, we need to continue to educate ourselves on this.

Have you experienced a Queen Bee? What techniques did you use to help navigate this situation? Please be sure to share.

As always, stay positive, and have a great day!

Women in Leadership – A Question of Ambition

This article is part of a series based on the research described in the doctoral dissertation by Dr. Melinda G. Hubbard where she studied why women continue to face challenges reaching the top level of organizational leadership.

I had a colleague say to me, during a heated debate on the question of equality in the workplace, “If women wanted to be at the top, they would be there.” You might guess, and you would be correct, that this colleague was a white male who was over the age of 55. At first, you might be like me, and simply dismiss him out of turn as a product of his generation, as ridiculous as he sounded and not worth the time and effort to even consider.

This particular colleague, however, was a highly educated man, and a person I respected greatly, so I decided to give him a chance to explain himself. What he said was intriguing and worth discussing.

What he then went on to describe was the seemingly endless number of executive women, who, having reached a certain level, seemed to disappear from the corporate landscape. Some quick online research of our mutual acquaintances showed that some of them had moved to a new company (clearly only disappearing from our landscape). Some of them had left to open their own businesses. Some we knew had left to take care of children or parents. Some had left to do something entirely different.

There is some research on this – the act of ‘opting-out.’ In fact, over the last several years there have been several sensational articles in the press about this phenomenon and the popularity of it among women leaders. The original article was written by Lisa Belkin in 2003 for the New York Times Magazine. In this article, Belkin interviews women who opted out to do something completely different, largely raising their children, giving up on successful careers and expensive educations. Subsequent articles build from here, though, showing that there is much, much more to this opting-out.

Was it a by-product of the glass ceiling? Was it fatigue from fighting a battle they were unlikely to win? Or fatigue from playing by rules that made no sense to them? Or was it, as my colleague suggested, a question of ambition?

Do women really want to lead?

I’ll save you the suspense. The answer is clearly and overwhelmingly, YES. Women want to be successful. Women want to be in charge. Women want to get ahead. Women want to lead. In study after study, researchers have shown that in professions across the board, from judges to scientists to sales professionals to academics that women have just as much, if not more, ambition than men. They want to lead, they want to be successful, they want to get ahead.

In my research study completed for my doctoral dissertation, I urged the women I interviewed to discuss their ambitions for the future. In only one case did I have a woman suggest that she was not interested in continuing to move up the corporate ladder. And the reasons that one woman gave were incredibly interesting in and of themselves. She felt that she would not be adequately supported if she were to move up, and so desired to stay in the role she had.

The rest of the women I spoke with, and the data I collected quantitatively, all reaffirm what the previous researchers have shown: Women are not lacking in ambition. Women want to lead.

This article is the first in a series. In future articles I will explore some of the reasons both my research and the research of others offer for the lack of women in the highest level positions. We will cover personal traits of women leaders, the current corporate environment and social forces that may keep women back or cause women to ‘opt-out.’ Stay tuned!

As always, stay positive!

Women in Insurance – A History – the 1990s

Life Insurance advertisement circa 1995

The 1990s were generally a decade of peace and prosperity in the US, with some notable exceptions. The economy was in a relative state of expansion after the recession in 1990. The stock market was booming, and unemployment rates remained low for much of the decade.

Bill Clinton was in office for most of the decade after winning the election in 1992, taking over from George W. Bush who had been in office since 1989. Notable events during the decade include the official end of the Cold War in 1991 with the collapse of the Soviet Union, the signing of NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) that went into effect in 1994, and the formation of the WTO (World Trade Organization) in 1995. In addition, Operation Desert Storm (the First Gulf War) took place in 1991, the Rodney King trial was held in 1992, and the US suffered several high-profile bombings at the World Trade Center in 1993, the Federal Building in Oklahoma City in 1995, and the Centennial Olympic Park in Atlanta in 1996.

Technology advances exploded during this decade. The World Wide Web made its debut in 1991 and quickly took the world by storm. By the end of the decade, the dot-com boom was in full swing. Advances were also made in the area of genetics with the birth of Dolly the sheep, the first cloned animal. Both of these advances would have a significant impact on the life insurance industry.

In general, women were doing better economically than they had in previous decades. A Korn/Ferry study published in 1994 reported that 67% of companies responding to their survey indicated they had at least one woman appointed to their boards, up from 59% in 1989. The overall numbers, however, were still low – only 6.2% of the Fortune 500 company board seats were held by women in 1994.

A major national survey of working women conducted by the Women’s Bureau in 1995 revealed important truths about women in the workplace at that time (Nussbaum, K., New York Times, 1995). Over 79% of the women reported liking or loving their job. Nearly all of the women, however, reported the need for improvements in several areas. These included:

  • Pay equality – women with similar educations were making 71.5 cents to every man’s dollar
  • Access to male-dominated professions – 60% of working women were siloed in traditionally female dominated professions where the pay was significantly lower
  • Access to senior-level positions – over 95% of senior managers were white males
  • Retirement funds and other benefits – a vast majority of the positions held by women did not come with benefits

During the 1990s, life insurance sales declined. A report in 1992 showed that 46% of men and 40% of women carried life insurance, a significant decrease from past decades. In 1997, reports showed 11.1 million policies sold, a 37% drop from 15 years prior. According to an A.M. Best report in 1998, less than half of American households held coverage beyond the minimums provided by employers.

One new area of sales that opened up and grew quickly only to fall off dramatically near the end of the decade was the viatical sales market. In this market, viatical companies would purchase life insurance contracts from sick (often those suffering from AIDS) or elderly policy holders who either needed money right away for hospital or treatment costs, or no longer had a need for the policy death benefit. These companies would then continue the premium payments and collect the death benefit when the policy holder passed away. They were, in effect, gambling on the death of these individuals. On the flip side, this provided much needed money to those in need.

In 1996, there were roughly 60 such companies who bought between $400 million and $500 million worth of policies annually. Near the end of the decade, some traditional companies fought back against these viatical companies through their design of the Accelerated Death Benefit, a rider that offered policyholders a way to access their death benefit early when a doctor had certified that death was imminent.

The traditional life industry had become highly competitive, not just within the industry but from forces outside the industry. Mutual funds and other investments were diverting sales. In addition, the arguments over whether to buy term or permanent insurance raged on, with term winning in most advice columns during the decade due to the strong economy bringing lower premiums to the companies. Certainly, during this time of economic boom, higher returns were easily found outside of the permanent insurance space. In addition, people were living longer lives which in turn helped them to postpone thoughts on mortality and therefore purchases of life insurance.

The Life Insurance industry’s reputation took a significant hit in the 1990s. This was largely due to the competitive pressures put on the sales agents by the economic forces in play. Life insurance sales representatives began relying on unscrupulous tactics to make their sales. Many resorted to the sales practice called “churning” where they used the cash value built up inside an insurance policy as a loan to buy another policy for their clients. These policies were sold as a “no cost” way to purchase additional insurance coverage. At the same time, these policies generated additional commissions for the agents and bonuses for their sales managers. Unfortunately for the client, often all of these policies would eventually run out of money, and all coverage would lapse leaving the client with no coverage at all. Or worse still, upon the death of a loved one, an insured would find that the loan on the policy would nearly (or entirely) eclipse any death benefit left, leaving them with little or no insurance.

Another common sales practice of the times was the “vanishing premium” policy. In this case, a life insurance sales representative would produce a policy illustration that showed the need to pay premiums on a policy for a set number of years. In reality, these illustrations were often based on unrealistic interest rates and returns, and policy holders would find themselves paying premiums for many years more than originally planned.

Due to the fallout from these sales practices, nearly every major company found themselves paying significant settlements to their customers. Metropolitan Life alone paid over $100 million in fines and restitution. This amount was increased to $1.7 billion in 1999. New York Life settlements were estimated at $65 million, State Farm at $200 million, Nationwide at $100 million, John Hancock at $350 million, and the list goes on. Quite obviously, these suits did significant damage to the reputation of the industry.

Near the end of the decade, the larger insurance companies took action to address the concerns of the public and organized the Insurance Marketplace Standards Association, a compliance organization built to address unscrupulous sales practices. Another measure many companies took was to severely reduce their sales forces. Prudential reported cutting from 20,000 agents down to 9,000.

Companies were also dealing with some significant high-profile harassment lawsuits. In one case in 1997, two female employees of CNA Life Insurance alleged significant harassment from the president of the company, who was then forced to resign along with his deputy. Comments from news articles at the time claim that just a few years prior, the company would have likely swept such an incident under the rug. Another major suit alleging rather sensational harassment claims was settled in 1997 against Monumental Life in the US District Court in Maryland.

Another byproduct of the slow-down in sales was a consolidation in the industry. This included mergers and acquisitions along with many insolvencies. In the first half of 1991, 12 companies went under including Monarch Life, Mutual Benefit, and Mutual Security Life, among others. Many companies sold divisions that were non-core businesses in order to focus their concentration. In 1995, over 20 deals were made involving non-core business sales. Analysts that year estimated that a full 20% of the 1500 companies in existence were facing consolidation.

As mentioned above, technology brought about a major change to the industry. Carriers began selling term life insurance on the internet. Several quoting engines popped up on the scene giving consumers the ability to shop for low-price term on their own. Suddenly the long-held belief that life insurance had to be sold, not bought, was put center stage and debated fiercely in the media. One of the biggest disrupters in this area was Charles Schwab, a company that introduced both online sales and a toll-free number customers could call to purchase insurance. Only a very few traditional insurers joined in the online sales in these early days, including USAA and Ameritas.

Women and Life Insurance During the 1990s

The number of women in the workforce continued to grow. In 1993 there were over 58 million women in the US workforce representing 45.6% of the labor force. This growth can be attributed to the changing desires of women who wanted to forge their own careers, the economic pressures on families, and the continued increase in the divorce rate.

Women-owned businesses were on the rise as well. Estimates made in 1998 showed that women were on pace to head 1/3 of all family firms by the end of the century. Only ten years prior, women would not have likely risen to the top of family owned businesses, instead seeing male relatives put into that position. In fact, women-owned businesses were the fastest growing segment of the US economy in 1998. Times were changing, which meant that more women needed insurance.

In order to bolster sales, the industry again turned to underserved markets, including the women’s market. In 1993, the American College joined with the Life Underwriter Training Council to hold several seminars across the US to discuss the opportunities to be found in marketing to minority groups, referring to these groups as a “growing demographic trend.” One study reported that only 14% of men pursued women as a market.

It was still the case that during the 1990s women were underinsured compared to men. An article from 1992 cites a LIMRA (Life Insurance Marketing and Research Association) study that shows that on average women were purchasing $52,000 of coverage while men were purchasing $103,000 of coverage.

American Demographics, Vol 18, Iss 1 (1996)

Nationwide Mutual Insurance Company in 1994 launched a program called WINS (Women in Nationwide Sales) in an effort to recruit women as sales agents. The program intended to appoint women to at least 1/3 of new agency manager positions.

Several companies simply added female-targeted advertisements, including a Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance ad that read, “All the women who won’t outlive their husbands don’t need to read any further.”

In 1997, Cigna rolled out their program, “Achieve: a Financial Independence Program for Women.” The program included nationwide seminars and written materials intended to help women better plan for retirement.

A study in 1996 by the IIAA (The Independent Insurance Agents of America), conducted to understand the women’s market, concluded that women were not confident when it came to making financial decisions causing them to often avoid the subject entirely. Less than half of the women surveyed indicated they had contacted a financial representative for help in the last year while 76% of them indicated that working with a professional would be beneficial. There is no data on how these numbers compare to the corresponding male population. Another omission of note – there is no data on how often these women were contacted by a representative offering advice.

An article in Best Review (Feb 1999) entitled “The 51% Niche Market,” opens with the following sentence, “As life insurers continue to focus on ever smaller marketing segments, some are rediscovering the largest segment of all: women customers.” The article details several new marketing efforts, nearly all of them less than two years old. The article quotes a sales manager from one company who is responsible for training on the women’s market: “It was hard for the [sales agents] to pull back and look at something new. We asked them, ‘How many women business owners do you currently do business with?’ Many of them did not know.”

This same article outlines the differences in working with women:

  • “Women use a different buying process. Men are transaction-oriented buyers while women are relationship-oriented buyers. They want to trust the person selling to them and know the relationship will continue after the sale.
  • Women covet information. They seek advice and insight from others such as a qualified agent, but will often stop to consider their decision before they commit. However, if the agent follows up, the sale is usually made.
  • Women are often more loyal customers, but that loyalty depends on maintaining a relationship.”

Some other tips given to attract the women’s market included:

  • “Don’t tweak the product or put it in a new package and call it new and improved. Change how you create business relationships instead.
  • Don’t think only female agents can reach this market.
  • Don’t sell life insurance only to the husband; consider the wife as a breadwinner too;
  • After spending lots of money on advertising to attract the female market, make sure your organization treats them as economic decision-makers.
  • Don’t assume all women are alike. That will get you into trouble.” (Best’s Review, 1999).

A LIMRA survey in 1996 indicated that 72% of life insurance companies felt that diversity programs were some of their most important objectives. Approximately 44% of life insurance companies stated that they had these objectives in written form. The reasons the companies gave for the creation of these objectives included it being the right thing to do and to help them increase their market share. Most of the programs shared in the survey targeted cultural minorities with bilingual services/non-English language marketing materials. None of the programs targeted women directly (Managers Magazine, 1996).

Women’s fraternal societies were still in existence, serving the women’s market directly when other companies struggled to reach this market. In 1997, Royal Neighbors was the largest with $548 million in assets and a board of directors that was exclusively female. Other women-focused fraternals included Loyal Christian, Women’s Life, Degree of Honor, and Catholic Ladies of Columbia. Many of these fraternals credited their on-going success to their personalized service to the women they served, along with their ability to offer other services that built strong relationships with their members.

Women in Life Insurance Sales

Several surveys, including one conducted by LIMRA in 1995, showed that women in life insurance sales sold largely to women. This resulted in income disparity due to the fact that women, as mentioned above, were purchasing roughly half the amount of insurance as their male counterparts. It was also the case that in general, female producers did not sell to high-income earners, further reducing their incomes.

A study conducted in 1997 by the National Association of Insurance Women shared some insight into why this might be. Their survey concluded that “women working in insurance sales are more likely to be motivated by a need to meet the needs of their customers, than by the challenge of the job” or the pay afforded them in this career (Esters, 1997). The compensation women earned was significantly higher for those working in insurance compared to other vocations.

Women reported difficulty in making the important business connections in order to grow their businesses. In one article, women discussed the advice given to them by many men to “learn to play golf.” These women found that even after learning to play, they still had trouble integrating with men in a meaningful business way at the sporting events. Women found it difficult, no matter what, to break into the old-boys network.

Despite the challenges they faced, the retention rates for women in life insurance sales were on the rise throughout the decade, with one-year retention rates often higher than those of men, and four-year retention rates nearing those of men.

At the turn of the century, women had made considerable in-roads into the life insurance industry, but still had a long way to go to reach parity with their male colleagues. The female side of the equation had once again been rediscovered this decade, but whether the attention paid to it would have meaningful results is something to be investigated in the next article.

Sources:

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Anonymous (1997). “Cigna pitches annuities to women as route to financial independence.” Best’s Review / Life-Health Insurance Edition,Vol. 98 Issue 5, p86.

Anonymous (1993). “Cultural Diversity and Its Impact upon the CLU/ChFC Movement.” Journal of the American Society of CLU & CHFC. Mar1993, Vol. 47 Issue 2, p88-88.

Anonymous (1996). “Diversity the focus.” Managers Magazine, Jan/Feb 1996, Vol 71, Issue 1, pg. 4.

Anonymous (1998). “Why Women are Different.” US Banker, Feb 1998, pg 13.

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Esters, S.D. (1997). “Insurance women surveyed.” National  Underwriter  Property & Casualty – Risk & Benefits Management. Jul 21, pg 4.

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Sherrid, P. (1996). “Enter the virtual agent.” US News and World Report,
Vol. 121 Issue 13, p64.

Shook, D. (1998). “Fraud Suits Make Life Difficult for Major Life Insurance Providers.” The Record, 12/13/1998.

Treaster, J. B. “Death Benefits, Now for The Living.” New York Times, 27 Sept. 1998.

Treaster, J. B. “Life Insurance Loses Ground As Investment Options Grow.” New York Times, 8 June 1998.

Vatter, R.H. (1994). “Women in the labor force.” Statistical Bulletin-Metropolitan Life Insurance Company, July-Sept 1994.

Four Non-Traditional Leadership Development Tools

There are many traditional tools out there for growing your leadership skills. There are books, seminars, videos, workshops. They will teach you how to listen, to delegate, to strategize, and to make decisions, and many of them are worthwhile.

There is another aspect that leaders need to develop and I would like to offer some non-traditional methods to develop it. I believe that an excellent leader constantly develops her deep knowledge of herself. This is critical in order to lead authentically. Knowing yourself helps you to truly understand and articulate your values, and to stand confidently and surely in front of your teams each and every day and lead.

Over the past few years I have been introduced to many different techniques to help me understand myself better. Some of these techniques were familiar and easy to implement. Others were a little bit out there (what we lovingly refer to as ‘woo’), but still can be very useful once you accept the strangeness of the experience.

Here are four non-traditional techniques for you to try:

Journaling

Why journaling? There is something about writing things out that helps us to process. It helps us to think things through and get to the bottom of our feelings. Formulating our thoughts into cohesive sentences can aid in the organization of our thoughts and plans. Sometimes, getting our thoughts out of our heads and onto paper helps us to see things differently and can help us to be more objective about ourselves and our decisions.

This is an easy technique for anyone to pick up and try. Simply grab some paper or open a word document and start writing. The tricky part might be in figuring out what to write. For that I have a few suggestions:

  1. Write whatever is on your mind. What was the last thought you had? What is a current problem you are trying to solve? Write it out, and then write out whatever occurs to you next. Keep in mind journaling is just for you, so don’t worry about grammar or punctuation or organization or cohesion. Just write.
  2. Find some prompts online. There are several places to look for these. One online journal I happen to like is penzu.com. Sometimes just answering answering the question “How am I feeling today?” is enough to get you started.
  3. Buy a journal that comes with journal prompts. For some people, this could be constraining, but for others it can help you to get started.
  4. Ask yourself ‘why’. Then ask yourself ‘why’ again. And then again. And again until you feel you have really reached a meaningful answer.
  5. Make it fun. Go somewhere different to do your writing. Try a park or a museum or a coffee-shop. If you like colors, buy yourself some colored pens. Add some artwork. Ask yourself some crazy questions. I am happy to offer suggestions if you need them!
  6. Make it a daily habit. You’ll learn so much about yourself and your leadership challenges.

Cost: $0 (or cost of a new journal/nice pen)

Time: 10 minutes a day

Meditation

I will be the first to admit that meditation is hard. My mind is always going a thousand miles per hour, so asking it to stop completely is impossible. But I have found several ways to work with this, and when I do, some of my most brilliant thoughts appear.

It is like those moments in the shower, or while driving, or while on the massage table (my personal favorite) when your mind is calm and clear and the answers seem to appear from out of nowhere. Meditation can give you that any time, any where.

Meditation is also tied to mindfulness – being aware of what is happening in the present moment, both with ourselves and in our environment. This has been shown in many studies to be an important part of successful leadership. Leaders who practice mindfulness have lower levels of stress, are better able to adapt to changing environments, and create better environments for their teams.

To get started, I highly recommend using guided meditations. These are free and easy to find. You can find a bunch of them on YouTube or simply by googling “guided meditations.” The best tool I have found out there is the popular website/app Headspace. You can access the website from your computer or download the app for free on your mobile device. I would often use these quick guided meditations right in my office during my lunch hour.
If you prefer an in-person experience, there are also classes you can take. The easiest places to look are at local yoga studios (or again, Google). You can also check for classes at your local community centers or holistic healing centers.

What is important is that you give this a shot, find what works for you, and then keep at it to build a daily practice.

Cost: $0 (or cost of a class)

Time: 10 minutes per day

Oracle Cards

Have you ever heard of oracle cards? Perhaps you’ve heard of their more well-known cousin, tarot cards? These are cards that can be used by anyone, anywhere, for whatever purpose you would like. In this case, I suggest you use them for personal growth through self-reflection.

Plus you can get a deck on Amazon or eBay for less than $20. There are some pretty fun decks out there! (One suggestion: go for the Oracle decks, not the Tarot decks. Much easier to interpret and use for beginners).

I realize this is a stretch for most people in the business world. It certainly was for me until I gave them a shot. But stick with me for a second, and I think I can show you how they might be helpful. I, myself, find them a fun, creative way to work on my development. An example might help.

First, I shuffle my deck while pondering a particular question. I might be asking myself, “What do I need to concentrate on today?” Then I spread out my cards and pick one. Sometimes I linger over the cards, thinking hard about my question and sometimes I just pick one right away; it doesn’t really matter. But this step can help you practice mindfulness. Let’s say I pull the following card:

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Next, consider the card. What meaning can you pull from having selected that card? You could use this as a journal prompt. Explore how you can apply what is on the card to your question. If you feel the impulse to reject the card – something like, “this has nothing to do with me today!” – explore that feeling. Why do you feel like this isn’t important?

In this case, when I pull the “Play” card, I might think about how I plan to incorporate some fun into my day. Or I might journal about whether or not I am making time in my life currently to have fun. Or I might consider whether or not I allow my team members to include fun in their work. I could take this any number of directions. Perhaps this came up for me today because I haven’t taken a day off in a long, long time, and I really need to do so.

The important thing here is that you expand your mind, think in new directions, and consider possibilities that you hadn’t before. Plus it is always fun to see what comes up!

Cost: $15-$30 for a deck (or borrow one from a friend, or find free sites on line)

Time: 10 minutes

Leadership Coaching

So, let’s say you are a tennis player, and you are pretty good, but you are looking to get to the next level. You could continue to practice on your own, but chances are that in order to make a significant improvement, you’ll need to hire a coach.

The same thing is true in leadership. If you want to move to the next level, you might do well to find yourself a leadership coach. This type of coach can help you navigate tricky situations in your career/workplace, can help you build on your strengths and can help smooth out your weaknesses. She can work with you to set ambitious goals and then define tactics to achieve them. In short, she can help you get to the next level.

As with your tennis coach, you’ll need to exercise some judgement in hiring a leadership coach. Not all coaches are created equal. You will want to be sure you are hiring someone who can actually help you. And personalities matter. You’ll want to be sure you can work well together. Keep in mind, this will not be an inexpensive endeavor, but will be worth it in the end.

I have worked with career coaches myself and found them to be inspiring, challenging, and well worth the time, effort and money. I am now working as a leadership coach myself (part-time), and enjoy this side of the relationship even more. I’m happy to share my experiences with anyone who has interest or questions.

If you’d like to explore working with me as a coach, reach out! I’d love to have a conversation with you.

Cost: Variable

Time: Variable, generally 2 conversations/month

In general, anything that takes you outside your comfort zone is going to help you grow in new and different directions. I encourage you to try something new. Experiment with something you’ve never tried before. Grow, dream, and accomplish amazing things!

I’d love to hear if you have other alternative ways of developing your leadership skills. Be sure to share!

And as always, keep it positive!

Job Searching…Tips to Help You Through

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Tip #0.5: Eat More Chocolate Chip Cookies

Searching for a job is hard work. As it would happen, I am the queen of hard work. The tougher the challenge, the harder I work. Finding a new job after a layoff appears to be the most difficult challenge I have faced yet.

I wasted no time getting started. In other words, I panicked.

Tip #1: Don’t Panic. You will want to panic. Do your best not to.

The day I learned I was being laid off, I immediately posted an update on LinkedIn. I sent messages to a few recruiters I had come across in my time at my previous company, and reached out to a couple industry contacts. That afternoon I had heard from several contacts within my network and I was off and running (key word: running).

Tip #2: Walk, Don’t Run. This is a marathon for which you have not trained.

From there, the weeks have raced by in a blur of phone calls, interviews, and many, many emails. I have met wonderful people from industries across the spectrum. I have reconnected with old friends and have made several new friends.

What I have found is that people genuinely want to help. I cannot begin to express the gratitude I have for the people who have known me for a long time and have offered their support and assistance, and for the people who barely know me and still have gone out of their way to help me.

Tip #3: Ask For Help. People want to help you.

For five or six weeks now I have been running. Every single morning, I have pulled myself out of bed and gotten dressed for work. I often leave the house early in the morning and do not get home until early evening.

I had thought I would get to play the part of ‘stay at home mom’ for my kids. I thought I would bake cookies to be ready for them when they walked in the door, and would have a clean, shiny house I could finally invite my friends to visit. I would finally get all of my paperwork organized, my email box in control, and the laundry on a regular schedule.

Tip #4: Discard All Expectations of what life will be like while job searching.

This has decidedly not been the case. I have not yet baked any cookies, the laundry continues to pile up and my email – well, let’s just say that the unread count in my inbox has grown exponentially.

This past Monday I hit a wall. I no longer had a full week of meetings/interviews/phone calls scheduled. I was tired – exhausted, actually – and started to feel something like… lost.

Tip #5: Take Breaks. Take Breaths. See Tip #2.

I began to question what I was actually looking for. Meaningful work. That’s what I want. I want to be able to contribute in a meaningful way. I want to use the gifts and talents that I have to make the world a better place.

How do I find this in a job description? How do I express that in a resume, a phone call, an interview? What job title am I looking for? What industry do I consider? What person do I reach out to?

I wrote a post earlier this year cautioning us all not to put too much pressure on our jobs to provide us with our meaning in life. This, somehow, is hard to keep in mind when searching for a new job. This is a chance to start over, to try something new, to truly find my passion and my purpose. But do I really need to fit all of that in to my next job? Probably not.

Tip #6: Do Your Homework on Yourself. What do you need out of new job? That is what matters now.

Since hitting the wall this past Monday, I have been trying to take some time for myself. I finally made it to the gym. I got a massage, took myself out to lunch, and I spent several hours one day meandering around my city, going wherever the breeze took me. I only dressed for work two days this week.

I have asked the Universe to provide me with some answers. Apparently, she needs to get back to me on that.

In the meantime, I will be trying to balance things better. Instead of working around the clock, I will schedule time for job searching. I will also schedule time for family (I can’t wait to make those cookies), and will certainly schedule time for myself.

This is a unique time in my life. I have worked my entire life, whether in a job or in school (often both at the same time). It is no wonder that I am feeling lost with neither currently under way. I need to embrace this and make the most of it.

Tip #7: Celebrate Along The Way, no matter what it is you are feeling.

I have been working with a coach and in our last session she asked me to consider the question: What is powerful about being lost? I plan to spend some significant time considering this question. Perhaps this will be the topic of my next blog post. If you have any thoughts, I’d love to hear them!

To all of you on a similar journey, I wish you the power to balance, the patience to wait for the right thing, and the resilience to make it to the other side.

As always, keep it positive!

Networking: A Critical Skill for Leaders

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Networking is tough. It takes energy. It takes focus. It is essential for leaders across all industries and at all levels. And it is critical that all leaders continuously develop and deepen their networks. This is important for several reasons:

  1. You never know when you will need help. In my case, my recent layoff required me to reach out to my network to help me find new opportunities;
  2. Leaders must maintain a healthy outside perspective in order to bring new and different ideas into their work, and a network provides this;
  3. A leader needs balance in life in order to be fully effective, and even the process of building a network can provide this.

One of the best moves I made was probably 8 to 10 years ago. At that time, I discovered that what other successful people had and that I did not have was a network. I sat down and planned an attack to increase my network in three different directions: within my company, within my community, and within my industry.

I did not have to do much to increase my network within the company – it was already rather strong. What I did do, however, was to find opportunities to volunteer and participate in activities, committees, projects, or other events with individuals from all the various business units at the company in order to meet people I did not interact with on a regular basis.

I made an effort to establish deeper connections with people I talked to regularly. Sometimes this happens in the normal course of business. Sometimes you have to help it along. One thing I did was to form a women’s group to help us connect and to build support for one another across the business. This was successful, so I helped to form a similar group of women at a different level of the organization so that they could experience the same.

I scheduled lunches with many different people and always had delightful, inspiring, meaningful conversations with people when I did. I stopped to talk with people during the day. Some of my favorite times at work are the serendipitous hallway conversations I have with my colleagues. Building my network within my company not only made my work days much more pleasant, but helped to ensure work was completed more quickly, more easily and with fewer meetings.

To grow my network within my industry, the first thing I did was join an industry group that met twice each year. I established relationships with these individuals much as I had with my coworkers back in the office. Next I attended industry conferences and networked purposefully. It can be easy to retreat to the hotel room during breaks or to spend the time on your phone, but instead you need to be meeting people and exchanging business cards. Another place I found useful to grow my network was with our partners and vendors. I got to know our reinsurers and established strong relationships with them (side note: reinsurance people are some of the best people in the world!).

By growing my network within the industry, I brought value to my company and myself by being better informed on products, strategies, new technologies, and a broad range of topics. I also cultivated resources I could reach out to with questions and developed a broader range of understanding of what was possible.

To grow my network within the community, the obvious place to start was volunteering. I love volunteering. I also participated in leadership training through an organization in town called Artswave and through them was placed on the Board of Directors for a local arts organization. From there, I just kept saying “yes.” I ran the Artswave campaign for my company. I joined Zonta Club of Cincinnati, a women’s philanthropy group dedicated to advancing the status of women through service and advocacy, and now serve on the Board. I also serve on the Steering Committee for our local Women United group. I keep in touch with as many of these people as possible and count them as dear friends.

Each of these experiences brought me new friendships and a deeper connection to my community. I also gained new insights that helped me to solve challenges within the workplace and gave me new ways to grow my leadership skills.

One unexpected area I did not originally intend to explore or expand but that has brought me more personal satisfaction, support and connection, was my personal network. Over the last three years, I have met some incredible friends who are now my biggest support net as I go through my current transition. Both through my doctoral program and my personal development efforts I have established a stronger personal network than I have ever had before in my life. I am grateful every day for these beautiful friends who have taught me so much and helped me grow.

From my networking efforts, I offer you the following suggestions:

  1. Be intentional. Build a plan. Nothing too intricate, nothing too specific. Be sure to include SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and timely) goals, but make sure you stay flexible. Keep in mind that networking is more an art than a science.
  2. Look in all directions to build your network. I looked at company, industry and community, but you might also consider your hobbies, your religion, or your personal network.
  3. Use every opportunity you can, but be gentle with yourself. As I mentioned, it is so easy to retreat back to the hotel room at conferences, but instead you need to push yourself to use that time to make connections. Sit down next to someone and start up a conversation. Introduce yourself to a vendor. Then take the breaks you need. Remember that the goal is to form meaningful connections, not just exchange business cards.
  4. Say Yes. Put yourself out there. Volunteer for events and speaking engagements. Take meetings and talk to new people. You never know where the next great idea is going to come from so keep reaching out.
  5. Be open to new and unexpected opportunities. Sometimes the most valuable connections will come from the most unexpected places. Let the universe work its magic for you!

I would love to hear your thoughts on networking. Please share!

Good luck! And as always, keep it positive and smile!

The End of a Chapter

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I had several other topics planned for my next posts, but I think it would be disingenuous to ignore the current situation – my layoff this past week from my company. It’s a hard thing to talk about, but already I have found help in others who have been through this before me. I think, therefore, sharing my experience might help others.

Let me say this first. I bear my (now previous) company no ill will. Whatever the reasons for the layoff or the reasons my particular position was eliminated, this is, after all, just business. One of the most oddly comforting things anyone said to me was when my friend John asked, “Is this just your first layoff?” It is powerful knowing that you are not alone.

The news of my layoff came to me in a rather unusual way – by phone, in the middle of a presentation I was giving at a conference out of town. Many people asked if we had any warning. The short answer is no. At least, not the specifics.

The longer answer – there had been rumors circling for months and all manner of suggestions had been offered. That’s the way so much of this goes. Actions have to be taken but explanations cannot be offered. That leaves everyone to fill in the blanks with speculation.

A week out I am experiencing what the handy transition workbook I have been given calls “an emotional rollercoaster.” In fact, those are the exact words I have been using. Normally I love rollercoasters, but in this case, not so much.

There are moments when I am scared as can be. I have cried, I have had a panic attack or two. I have had moments of self-doubt and anger. As the main breadwinner for my family, the feeling that the futures of my children are in jeopardy can be overwhelming. Also overwhelming – the well-meaning comments that keep coming that say I will certainly find something incredible, something amazing. What if I don’t?

To find a new job, I suddenly find I need a clear vision of what I want for the future. Having to instantly articulate who I am, what I want out of a career…not easy stuff on a good day.

At other times on this rollercoaster, I am up. I am dreaming, scheming, networking, and planning for a brilliant future that may never have been possible without the layoff. I feel free. The world is my oyster. My family and I can go anywhere we want. While the kids do not want to move, we are all coming around to the idea that this inevitability could be an exciting (if daunting) possibility. I am generally a positive, don’t-look-back kind of person. I am fortunate this way – more of my time is spent in this space.

For the last week, I have been busier than I have been in a long time. I have been reconnecting with old friends and acquaintances. I have been talking with recruiters. I’ve been meeting with coaches and participating in all of my non-profit organizations. I’ve been continuing my research. And I have been driving my children around the city seemingly non-stop (I’m considering adding Pro-bono Uber Driver to my resume).

I am grateful for all of the opportunities I have had up to now. I have met so many incredible, wonderful, exceptional individuals, and worked alongside some of the most brilliant minds I have ever met. The teams I worked with were extraordinary. I’m sure many of these friendships will survive this.

And I will survive. The workbook says that unemployment can feel the same as the loss of a loved one. All of the stages: shock, fear, anger, depression, acceptance (many of them appearing simultaneously) are all there. I can confirm this.

I’m trying to learn now how to take things one day at a time now. I realize this is a whole new world for me and I am bound to make some mistakes along the way. I accept that. I am working to ensure I am not concerned about the expectations of others and that I keep the expectations of myself in line.

I am excited. I am scared. I am empowered. I am nervous. I am full of ideas. I am overwhelmed.

And I will continue to keep writing. I hope all is well with you!

What it takes to be yourself in corporate America…

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One piece of artwork I have in my office

This has been an incredibly difficult article to write. I am curious about your experience in finding yourself in corporate America. Please, if you would, share your experiences by leaving a comment on this post.

While I believe that corporations are evolving and that individual expression is becoming more acceptable than ever before, I believe we still have a problem. Certainly, some corporations are significantly further ahead on this than others. In many, though, the rules of the game demand that individual expression be left at the door.

What I want to share here is my personal journey and experiences I have had over my career. In doing so, I hope to offer others some guidance and if I do this right, some hope.

I have been doing quite a bit of thinking on the topic of what it takes to be yourself in corporate America lately. Over the last few years, I have been on a journey to ‘find myself.’ Or perhaps I mean I have been looking for my purpose in life, or my true happiness, or my mission.

Whatever it is, what I do know is that It can easily be lost in corporate America. This may not be true for everyone, and may be true for those outside of corporate America. What I know is that I lost part of myself somewhere along the way, and am now working hard to bring her back.

Before I go any further, let me say that what has lead to my success thus far may have been necessary. It seems to me that there is a pretty clear recipe for success in corporate American. Many people may not like this part of what I have to say – I honestly don’t like it myself.

Most of us, in joining the corporate world, begin at the bottom in an entry level position. We are one of many. In this position, we have to find ways to differentiate ourselves from everyone else. How we go about doing this determines whether we rise or whether we stay.

The best way to differentiate yourself is quite obvious – work harder, work smarter, and work politically. Notice that none of this says anything about being yourself. In fact, I would argue that all of this asks you specifically to subvert your uniqueness. This is, of course, true only if you are looking to move up the corporate ladder. If you are content where you are and have no ambition to climb higher, I believe corporate America will willingly take you as you are. We need people like you.

But if you are trying to get ahead, advance your career, earn more money, have a greater influence, you are going to hit some road bumps. You are going to find situation after situation where being yourself just doesn’t feel possible.

That may be your truth for a time.

You may find that you have to cover those tattoos, forego the bright blue hair color, save the crazy shoes for the weekend, talk more quietly/loudly, write your blog under an assumed name. You may have to play the game. For a time.

I am here, though, to tell you it won’t always be that way. Not completely.

I have found that when an individual has proven their skills and has earned the respect and admiration of their colleagues, that door cracks back open. Those parts of you that were stashed away can come back out to play. As your success grows, your ability to fully share your uniqueness will grow as well.

Before I share some examples from my own career, I want to address the need to be authentic to be a successful leader. I believe firmly in the need to be authentic. I believe that even when hiding away important parts of yourself, you can still be true to your ethics and beliefs. I believe that what I am suggesting here is not in opposition to being authentic. It is simply finding a way to be authentic while playing a game with rules written by someone else.

Here are some examples from my career:

I am an artistic sort. As such, I love to add color to anything I do. While managing a number of different teams, I was sending out emails that had updates for each team color coded. Team A was in blue, Team B was in pink, and so on. My manager had a rather violent reaction to this (he felt that I had produced something that belonged in a kindergarten classroom rather than a business office), and henceforth, I withheld color from all emails, and from most of what I did in the office. This was 10 years ago or so.

Whether he was right or wrong does not matter. What matters is that I had learned a rule of the game – when working for this manager (and others like him), do not use color. Got it.

Recently, I felt pulled to bring color back into all areas of my life. Taking a huge risk given the conservative industry in which I work and the conservative town in which I live, I added a few pink streaks to my hair. Then a few more. Before I knew it, I had a large swath of purple hair on the left side of my head. It felt amazing!

The exciting part – the only comments I got at work were positive ones. From there I have been adding other elements of creativity and color back into my work life – my office is decorated with different and crazy art and I have been intentionally buying brighter colors for my wardrobe.

Another example:

When I was first promoted into management, my manager pulled me aside and said this: “You need to be careful who you spend your time with during the day. You would do yourself a favor by choosing new lunch companions. Who you are seen with will reflect back on you.” I remember at the time being thoroughly confused – my friends were wonderful people, as far as I could tell.

The lesson there, though, was that people like to paint with wide brushes. Apparently, the folks I was eating with were not viewed as management types, and were, in some cases, seen as ‘difficult.’ If I continued to associate with them, I would risk being painted the same. What a horrible thing, and yet it was the truth.

Today, however, I have lunch with whomever I want – many, many different people – and I enjoy every one of them. I am not worried any longer about being painted one way or another – the privilege of my position protects me from that.

Final example:

Anyone who knows me knows my laugh. I love to laugh! I love to talk with others and share fun and delightful stories. I like to get to know others, hear about their lives, share in their joy. Early on, however, I learned that being loud and boisterous was not seen as having ‘executive presence.’ It was crass and unprofessional.

I have heard managers, regarding other associates say things like, “I need to get her to clean up that wardrobe,” or “She really needs to be wearing makeup,” or for men, “I really need him to shave/trim/get rid of that facial hair.” I even heard a comment at a recent event on workplace dress that all women who wish to get ahead should wear skirts and high heels every day. All of this in service to the rules of the game.

Nowadays for me, however, very few days go by without a loud, hearty haHA! and I feel much better for it. And I rarely wear high heels anymore. They hurt my feet!

So, what changed? From the early days to today? Time, effort, dedication, and proof that I am here, I am all-in, I am a leader, and I am serious. Despite (terrible word) the colored hair, the crazy artwork, the loud laughter, I am invested in the success of my organization and my employees.

In a word, I have earned privilege.

So what gives? Are we, the ambitious leaders of corporate America, doomed to a life of repressed self-expression? Of subverting our wishes and desires for the greater good?

The hard answer is, in many ways, Yes. The purpose of the corporation is to provide a return on investment to the owners, not to allow space for the personal expression of all employees. We win the game by playing the game.

But once you begin to climb, the freedom comes. You just have to insist on it.

I look forward to hearing your thoughts on this. Please share!

Have a great Wednesday!

Women in Insurance – A History – The 1980s

 

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From the disillusionment of the 1970s, the 1980s moved America to the right with the conservative politics of President Ronald Reagan. Elected by an overwhelming majority in 1980, despite his conservative views, Reagan oversaw the nomination of the first female Supreme Court Justice (Sandra Day O’Connor), saw the first American woman to go to space (Sally Ride), and ushered in the end of the Cold War with the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. When Reagan left office in 1989 he had the highest approval rating of any president since FDR.

Inflation that had risen significantly during the 1970s continued to rise in the 1980s. In 1982, the United States experienced the worst recession since the Great Depression. While the economy recovered rather quickly, another stock market crash on October 19th, 1987, highlighted to investors that the economy had entered a new era of volatility.

In terms of women’s rights, the legal battles over discrimination continued. In 1984, the US Supreme Court found it illegal for clubs such as the Kiwanis and Rotary Clubs to discriminate based on sex. In 1986, the Supreme Court found in the Meritor Savings Bank v. Vinson case that sexual harassment was a violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and as such was a form of illegal job discrimination.

In 1980, the first woman was elected to Congress without following a husband or father into the position. In 1981, Sandra Day O’Connor was appointed to the Supreme Court. In 1984, the first woman was nominated to be vice president on a major party ticket.

The 1980s saw the rise of the yuppie, the emergence of MTV, the introduction of the blockbuster film (E.T., Return of the Jedi, Raiders of the Lost Ark, to name a few), and the birth of the 24-hour news cycle.

LIFE INSURANCE DURING THE 1980S

The demographics of the US were changing dramatically during this decade. The traditional family, with the husband as the primary (and only) breadwinner was gone, and in its place were single-mother families (approximately 33% of all households in 1984), divorcees, new immigrants, people who chose never to marry, married couples with no children, and retirees. The population had grown 60% since 1960 to 236 million people. These demographic shifts had a marked impact on an industry built on the foundation of the traditional family with a father who needed to protect his family.

Life insurance sales had been flat throughout the prior decade, and the trend continued into the 1980s. In 1960, 64% of all individuals in the US carried some form of life insurance; in 1984, it was 63%. In 1960, 72% of all households owned life insurance purchased through an agent; in 1984 this had dropped to 56%.

In 1981, $371 billion in individual life insurance was sold. Group life insurance sales brought the total to $544 billion. Products shifted during this decade. The “family plan” policy that was popular in the 1960s virtually disappeared. Term insurance took on significant popularity. Due to the increase of women in the workplace, families covered by group life jumped by 12 million between 1976 and 1984.

One LIMRA study showed that replacement activity (dropping one policy in place of a new policy) jumped from 36% of all households in 1980 replacing a policy to 56% in 1984. This marked increase was attributed to agents working their existing market and neglecting new, hard-to-reach markets. Another contributing factor was the industry tendency to recruit existing agents that were more likely to sell to their existing customers rather than reach out to a new market.

Inflation continued to be a major issue for the industry. Loan activity was higher than ever, with policy holders able to earn significant gains by withdrawing their funds from their whole life policies and investing them elsewhere. This inflation along with the recession saw many consumers turning to term insurance and shunning the whole life policy that had been so popular for decades prior. Early in the decade, term insurance accounted for over half of the volume of life insurance sold.

Hotly debated during this decade was the tax-free build up of the accumulating cash value within life insurance policies. President Reagan’s tax plan would have eliminated this provision, and the life insurance industry would have “died a slow death” (New York Times, 1985) as the value in purchasing cash value life insurance dried up. Fortunately for the industry, after all the debate, the cash value was protected from taxes.

In 1985 the news was dominated by the debate in the insurance industry over the use of gender to determine insurance rates. That year, the National Organization of Women filed a lawsuit against Metropolitan Life Insurance Company accusing the company of discrimination in both life insurance and disability insurance pricing. Organizations throughout the industry took sides, and legislatures across the country debated this hotly contested issue.

In March of that year, the American Council of Life Insurance took out a full-page ad in the Boston Globe and other newspapers across the country in order to defend the industry against NOW. The advertisement read: “Some people would charge women more than their fair share for insurance and call it equality. Sound like a good idea to you? We hope not.” The implication here is that if unisex rates were to be implemented, women would have to pay more to compensate for the higher mortality rates of men. Advocates for the unisex rates and NOW’s lawsuit claimed, “The insurance industry is the only industry that practices sex discrimination overtly [by setting rates based on gender].”

Montana was the only state to have implemented the unisex rates when the Massachusetts legislature began to seriously consider mandating unisex rates for all types of insurance. It is important to note that this issue was larger than just life insurance. At the time, women were paying higher rates than men for health, accident, annuities and disability income insurance, but lower life insurance rates. In the end, likely due to the intense lobbying efforts by the industry, Massachusetts did not include life insurance in the legislation it passed. In 1987, a similar law was struck down in New York.

In 1987, the AIDS epidemic hit center stage for the US and for the life insurance industry. In that year, a test was developed for life insurance applications, and rules were set regarding when and where such a test could be required. Companies added new questions to their applications regarding AIDS, and a new era of medical testing was introduced.

In that year, AIDS-related claims reached $487.2 million, a 67% increase over the year prior. This was thought to be an understatement of the effect on claims given that insurance companies rarely investigate the cause of death beyond the incontestability period (usually the first two years of the policy). In terms of claims counts, in 1987 1.2% of all individual life claims were attributed to AIDS, up from 0.9% the year prior.

The advent of AIDS introduced the industry to “living benefits,” although the concept was already in the introduction phase when the epidemic hit. The ability and willingness to pay out a portion of the life insurance proceeds to aid a person who is terminally ill came about at the end of the decade. Initially these benefits were offered to those with cancer, Lou Gehrig’s disease, and complications of AIDS. There were some initial concerns over this benefit, with many companies worried such a payment would be subject to taxation, that medical diagnoses could differ between doctors, and that some beneficiaries may disagree with the arrangements. Despite these concerns, this practice quickly became standard in the industry.

WOMEN IN LIFE INSURANCE DURING THE 1980S

In the beginning of the decade, over half of all adult women in the US were employed, and the vast majority of them were employed full time. The number of single women delaying marriage and/or having children was growing, as was the number of single mothers. This, in turn, meant that the number of female heads of households were increasing, reaching 7.7 million families in 1980. In 1981, women made up 54% of the workforce, and the numbers were increasing.

While women had started to climb the corporate ladder, they were well behind men in terms of pay. A study conducted near the opening of the decade showed that in the 1,000 largest industrial companies in the US, 28% of the officers were women. However, nearly two-thirds of these officers were earning less than $50,000 per year, and a third of them were paid less than $30,000 per year. The average business woman in 1982 earned $10,000 per year, while the average man earned $17,000 according to a report from a study done in Chicago. In 1984, 64% of the largest American companies still had no women on their boards, and only 8% had two or more women on their boards.

In the insurance industry, a study by the ACLI in 1987 showed that only 2% of the women working in this industry made more than $25,000 per year while 42% of the men did. Reasons given for this phenomenon included the possibility that men at the highest ranks of the companies had not yet grown comfortable with women in leadership roles, and that women in life insurance may have concentrated themselves in self-segregated groups, keeping them from the mainstream where jobs paid more.

One important issue causing trouble for working women was that childcare options were not keeping up with the change in women’s status. As more moms went to work, they had to battle a system that simply had not kept up. The number of daycares was extremely low, many had inconvenient hours, and the cost, if a woman could find one, was prohibitively high.

As women continued to gain access and higher level positions in the work place, they were still, in terms of life insurance, underinsured or in many cases not insured at all. In 1980, 65% of all adult women held some kind of life insurance, but this was nowhere near the 80% of adult men who held life insurance. In addition, the average face amount for women’s policies was $7,680 compared to men’s at $29,000.

The Life Insurance industry continued to recognize the importance of the women’s market. In one article the author stated, “Women are important enough as buyers and decision makers for insurance companies to be concerned with them” (Wexler, 1980). A marketing magazine suggested that the women’s market was a “special” market, and as such, deserved “special treatment.” Although what this treatment would entail is not defined, the author does indicate that there is a difference between single women and married women.

Nearly everyone was saying the same thing about the Women’s Market – it was new, it was something separate from the “mainstream,” and it was something worth paying attention to. The Boston Globe announced, “For the industry, there’s the prospect of an almost entirely new market.” A representative from Travelers Life stated, “We noticed the status of women had changed. Women were economically more valuable. They had a life insurance value” (Saltzman, 1980). Manager’s Magazine wrote “The last great untapped market is the women’s market” (Myers, 1983). Metropolitan Life was quoted as saying, “We think its [the women’s market] going to be a tremendous market…Traditionally insurance companies would talk to the so-called head of the household, the breadwinner…but with more women in the workplace…the distinction between earner and dependent has often ceased to apply” (O’Connor, 1981). The Globe Mail stated “Many industry insiders still consider women an untapped market…It would be utter folly to ignore such a vast market potential” (Stinson, 1982).

Some strides were made in reaching the women’s market. In 1981, John Hancock Mutual Life sold 32% of their policies to women, up from 20% in 1971. In 1989, AIG Life launched their Women’s Group, a network of female agents challenged with reaching the women’s market. While they do not present statistics on how effective the effort was, they did report that the first printing of their marketing material went out of stock extraordinarily quickly.

Sun Life introduced a product named HER, the main feature being that the rates were based on a separate mortality table for women instead of the setback method used in decades past. These new tables claimed to save women up to 40% on their life insurance premiums. Sun Life was not alone in adapting pricing for the new mortality gains recognized for women. Equitable Life Assurance developed a new classification for women based on new mortality tables, and Manhattan Life instituted discounts on the male 3-year setback for women.

An article in a 1983 edition of Manager’s Magazine encourages salesmen to avoid female stereotypes such as (1) women are basically emotional; (2) successful women are tough, pushy and less than feminine; and (3) woman’s place is in the home (Myers, 1983). Women were, in fact, looking at life insurance differently. A focus group in 1989 revealed that the main reason women purchased insurance was to help fund the education of their children. Women wanted more information on their options and how their life insurance would help them reach their goals.

WOMEN AS LIFE INSURANCE SALES REPRESENTATIVES

A prediction from an article in 1980 claims “During the 1980s, women will play a greater part in the distribution of insurance products…Currently the percentage of women in the agency forces has increased dramatically, due primarily to social and government pressures and good experience with women in sales” (Weech, 1980).

In some places, women were finally being seen the same as men. One author wrote, “Women will generally fail and succeed in the same ways as men, provided that they are selected in the same manner that is used to select males.” The women that were successful reported great satisfaction with their jobs. One agent for Metropolitan Life, June Visconti, said insurance sales was “one of the most financially and personally satisfying careers a woman can embark on.”

In 1980, Mutual of New York’s Pittsburgh agency formed a Women’s Unit, and found it to be a success. The company found that by capitalizing on the natural skills of women, including teaching, listening, nurturing and influencing, women were successful in reaching female customers. In 1981, 13% of the sales agents with both John Hancock Mutual Life and New York Life were women. In 1982, Sun Life of Canada, a company that had stepped up recruiting efforts in the women’s market, boasted 24% women in their new recruits.

One report stated that in 1983, there had been a significant increase in US women selling life insurance. A LIMRA report from 1984 stated that 12% of the agency force was female at that time. By mid-1986, it had risen to 18%. The reasons given for the increase in the number of female agents included the fact that no particular education level was required for the profession, that the pay had no ceiling and was the same regardless of gender, and that life insurance was rewarding for those who were looking to doing something good for other people.

In the 1980s, the retention of women agents increased to equal that of men, however most of the women entering the field were new. According to the 1984 LIMRA report, 40% of the women agents that year were in their first year of selling.

There was recognition that selling life insurance to women would require a different approach. Women typically needed more information and more time to make decisions. Companies and agents alike were called on to provide additional information and services in order to attract the female market. Women also were believed to trust other women, and were believed to be the decision-makers in the home when dealing with financial concerns.

As we move closer and closer to present day, it will be harder to generalize on the women’s market. We will try, however, to look at the 1990s next.
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