Women in Insurance – A History – The 1980s

 

met life advert 1980s

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.
Sources:
Allen, Frank (1980). “Women Managers Get Paid Far Less Than Males, Despite Career Gains.” The Wall Street Journal, Oct 7, pg 35.
American Council of Life Insurance (1985). “Advertisement: Some People Would Charge Women More.” The Boston Globe, Mar 25, pg 5.
Anonymous (1983). “Did You Know?” Atlanta Daily World, Jul 15, pg 3.
Anonymous (1989). “Life insurance cash for terminally ill.” Chicago Tribune, Jun 15, pg 9.
Anonymous (1980). “The life insurance industry’s relationship with women.” PR Newswire, Sep 16.
Anonymous (1980). “Recruiting Women Agents.” Manager’s Magazine, 55(8), 32.
Anonymous (1981). “Rewarding career for women.” New York Amsterdam News, Jun 13, pg 22.
Anonymous (1981). “Tells WLUC of Disparity in Cover for Women.” National Underwriter, 85(37), 14.
Arndt, Sheril (1986). “WLUC Exec Says Role Models are Key.” National Underwriter, Life & Health Insurance Edition, 90(40), pg 2.
Barnes, Don (1987). “The Woman in life Insurance.” National Underwriter, Life, Health, Financial Services Edition, 91(2), pg 17.
Brostoff, Steven (1989). “AIDS-linked claims jump dramatically.” National Underwriter, Life & Health – Financial Services Edition, 10, pg 1+.
Brozan, Nadine (1980). “Insurance: New Policies Toward Women.” The New York Times, Sep 22, pg. A24.
Burrows, Julie A. (1987). “Start Selling to 50% of the Population!” Insurance Sales, 130(12), pg 20.
Gerstenberger, Paula P. (1981). “The Women’s Unit.” Manager’s Magazine, 56(10), 29.
Jamison, Kent S., Retzloff, Cheryl D. (1987). “What the Numbers Show.” Best’s Review, 88(4), pg 36+.
King, Carole (1984). “Female agents: a progress report.” Best’s Review – Life-Health Insurance Edition, 85, pg 132+.
Kleiman, Carol (1982). “A Portrait of Chicago’s Working Women.” Chicago Tribune, Mar 7, pg J22.
Knox, Richard A. (1987) “AIDS test readied for life insurance.” The Boston Globe, Sep 12, pg 17.
Landes, Jennifer (1989). “AIG Women’s Grp. markets ins. to working mothers.” National Underwriter Life & Health – Financial Services Edition, 50, pg 7+.
Lewin, Tamar (1984). “Women in Board Rooms Are Still the Exception.” The New York Times, Jul 5, pg C1.
Lipson, Benjamin (1980). “Improvements coming in insurance for women.” The Boston Globe, Nov 3, pg 22.
Myers, Ann (1983). “Selling to the Woman on Her Way Up.” Manager’s Magazine, 58(5), 34.
Myers, Ann (1983). “Selling to the Woman at the Top.” Manager’s Magazine, 58(4), 12.
Nussbaum, Karen (1983). “9 to 5: women’s role has changed.” The Boston Globe, Jun 28, pg 48.
O’Connor, Bob (1981). “Beneficiaries to buyers: Women are growing market for life insurance.” The Baltimore Sun, Sep 27, pg T1.
Ross, Nancy L. (1987). “Women’s Group Dealt Setback On Insurance.” The Washington Post, Jun 25, pg F1.
Saltzman, Cynthia (1980). “Troubled Life-Insurance Companies Try Mass-Marketing tactics to Increase Sales.” The Wall Street Journal, Dec 19, pg 50.
Stinson, Marian (1982). “Increasing Financial Clout of Women Attracts Insurers.” The Globe and Mail, May 31.
Weech, C Sewell Jr. (1980). “Internationally Speaking…Women in Life Insurance Sales.” Manager’s Magazine, 55(8), 36.
Wessel, David (1985). “Insurers Battle to Stop Massachusetts From Adoption Gender-Neutral Rates.” The Wall Street Journal, May 20, pg 20.
Wexler, Beatrice L. (1980). “Marketing to Women: Women Really Do Count as Buyers and Decision Makers for Insurance Companies.” Insurance Marketing, 81(6), 26.

Women in Insurance – A History – the 1970s

prudential 1970sIf the 1960s were a tumultuous decade in the US, the 1970s were simply a continuation of the chaos. With the protests against the war in Vietnam, the continued push for the Equal Rights Amendment, the fervent backlash to that legislation, and the resignation of a President under the threat of impeachment, the decade was full of controversy.

In 1972, Congress amended Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to allow the EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) to go directly to court to enforce the civil rights legislation. This resulted in significant litigation and settlements with companies reaching hundreds of millions of dollars. Many companies worked hard to comply, but sometimes the discrimination was so ingrained in a company’s culture, it was not easy to fix.

This increased litigation led to significant push-back on the EEOC and the aims of the agency. The criticism came from many directions. On one hand, the complaints coming in from employees who were reporting discrimination were so great in number, a backlog of 130,000 had amassed by 1977. This meant that most employees never saw their complaints addressed. On the other, corporations certainly did not want to face settlements or judgments that would cost them significant amounts of money.

In one instance that caused significant disturbance in the press, John Hancock Mutual Life Insurance Co. made what the Wall Street Journal referred to as a “surprise move” in 1978, and refused a request from the EEOC for personnel recorders for an examination of compliance with the anti-discrimination legislation. A government official is quoted as saying, “John Hancock…fears what the records will reveal. Historically, insurance has been a white male profession at the managerial level, a white female profession at the clerk level.” Meanwhile, John Hancock maintained that the government was overstepping it’s authority, and had not followed its own rules in making the request. Additionally, an official from the company stated the dispute was just another instance of “additional, continuing, increasingly oppressive…government intrusion that is counterproductive” (Wall Street Journal, 17 Feb 1978).

If women and minorities fought at the highest levels (legislation, etc) to reach equality during the 1960s, it was the 1970s when they began to insist and truly fight for those rights on the ground.

INSURANCE DURING THE 1970S

The growing inflation during the 1970s was a significant issue for the life insurance industry, now comprised of over 1,700 firms. Rising from 4% in 1971 to over 13% by 1980, policy owners saw the value of their insurance eroding as the cost of living grew. Insurance companies and their agents had to find new and innovative ways to sell their products. Because of the rising interest rates, loan and surrender activity grew significantly. Policy owners found that they could withdraw their money and reinvest it elsewhere for greater returns. Tax laws were undergoing significant changes, and insurance company investment strategies had to be restructured to meet this new economic environment.

In the middle of the decade, the amount of life insurance in force had reached over the $2 trillion mark. This continued to climb as the face amounts of policies increased, largely due to inflation. By the end of the decade, it had climbed to over $3 trillion. By 1974 and through the end of the decade, it was estimated that over 90% of all husband-wife families carried some amount of life insurance. Average amounts of coverage for this group were $25,200 per family, where the family had a mean disposable income of $11,200. The number of policies in force reached a plateau in the middle of the decade, climbing only slightly by the end of the decade. This slow-down in growth of policy numbers foreshadowed a decline in the number of policies in force in the 1980s.

The life insurance industry now found itself in considerable competition for household savings, given the higher yields investors could reap in alternative investments. Whole life insurance was no longer the attractive investment it had been for the last many decades. It is precisely this environment that gave birth to a new type of policy, the Universal Life Insurance policy. It was also this environment that gave fuel to the debate over whether an individual should buy an “ordinary life” (or whole life) policy or a “term life” policy and invest the difference.

The number of insurance agents during the decade was estimated at 135,000 at the beginning of the decade, growing by almost 100,000 by the end of the decade. The retention rates for these agents were, however, dangerously low. One study found that two year retention rates were at 39%, dipping to a very low 13% by year five of the agent-company relationship. Many reasons were given for this very low rate, including a lack of training offered to new recruits, a lack of continuing education for those already hired, and the unstable income of agents when they first began their careers.

New types of employment opportunities began to develop in the industry. With advances in technology, companies were now looking for computer operators, programmers, and system analysts instead of the file clerks and assemblers of the past. Overwhelmingly, these new positions were filled by men while the clerical and administrative work was nearly 100% handled by women. Overall, there were approximately 1.5 million insurance company employees nationwide.

WOMEN IN LIFE INSURANCE DURING THE 1970S

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In the 1970s, women were graduating from college and joining the workforce in ever-increasing numbers. Because of the limited number of possible occupations for women, this led to a significant issue. A Labor Department report from 1970 cautioned that if women did not expand the range of careers for which they prepared, strong competition would develop in the female labor market. The same report spoke to a coming shortage of chemists, dentists and physicians, careers typically filled by men.

By 1973, more than 19.8 million married women were a part of the workforce, and from 1961 to 1973, there was an 86% increase in the number of married women who had both children and a job. In 1976, there were nearly 35 million women in the workforce, and 60% of them were married.

At the same time, businesses were beginning to understand the importance of a diverse workforce. In one article in The Baltimore Sun, the CEO of a mid-west mutual fund company was quoted as saying “It makes good business sense to bring interested and motivated women into the financial services industry. After all, our products such as life insurance and mutual funds represent security to millions of Americans. Who knows more about security than a woman?”

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Companies that were not as successful in understanding the need to employ minorities faced major lawsuits. A landmark settlement in 1973 with AT&T called for an immediate payment of $15 million in back pay to women and minority employees, and an additional $23 million budgeted for future wages and promotions. Overnight, recruitment for women and minorities went up dramatically across all industries. A year later, however, women were still not making it to the executive suite, in most cases seeing their careers stall out at the middle management level. In 1974, there were 268 seats on the boards of directors for the largest insurance companies. Of those, not a single one was filled by a woman. In 1976, 97% of the individuals earning a salary over $15,000 were white males. In 1978, the EEOC settled a sex and race discrimination suit against Farmers Insurance Group for $1.5 million. One of the issues holding women back from the executive suite: in 1974, only 5.5% of all graduate and doctoral business students were women.

In 1970, the Institute of Life Insurance put out a publication entitled, “Your Financial Worksheet, a Guide for Women Returning to the Job,” with the purpose of helping women determine whether they could afford to work. The guide suggested a woman take into account taxes, child care, lunches, additional wardrobe, grooming, transportation, among other things, before she decides to return to work. While certainly meant to be helpful, a contemporary perspective shows this to be counter to efforts toward equality for women, encouraging them to stay home.

In decades past, the life insurance industry seemed to stay out of the social and political drama of the times. In the 1970s, this changed. The Equal Rights Amendment affected the industry directly and the industry was forced to react. In 1971, the largest companies operating in New York made a joint announcement that they were committed to at a minimum ‘doubling the number of minority group members and women in technical, sales, professional and executive jobs in two years.’

Some companies reported having already begun addressing the inequality of minorities in hiring and promotion activities. Equitable claimed that in 1971, 40% of new hires came from minority groups and of those, 13% were in executive training programs. Equitable found particular value in hiring black women, and worked to recruit and promote them. Metropolitan Life reported efforts to visit black college campuses in order to recruit minorities to that company. In 1977, they launched a major campaign to recruit minorities, especially women, into their sales force.

Regarding the purchase of life insurance, an interesting article in the New York Times reported that while young business men were typically receiving a call from an insurance salesman once every month, young business women, whether married or single, were never approached. It is not surprising then that in 1972 women carried on average $9,700 in insurance while men carried an average of $20,000 in insurance. The article makes the following statement: “…It gives the insurance man a new approach – selling insurance to the wife for her own benefit,” as if it were a new and novel concept. Another article from 1974 states, “…Very little attempt is made to sell insurance to women. The industry admits that agents (who are predominantly male) often do not take women seriously about insurance and will make their presentations only when the husband is at home.”

Thelma 1971

By 1978, the situation may have been changing. Insurance companies seemed to be awakening to “The Female Market.” Single women were now reporting more calls from agents, and some agents were beginning to understand the value of selling to working married women. Awareness of the fact that it would take more than a new marketing campaign or new product was growing. It would, however, take a major attitude shift to reach the women’s market.

In 1978, Monumental Life Insurance Company released a kit to help agents sell to the female market. Among the helpful hints the company urged agents, “If [the prospect] is single, don’t imply she will not marry…Expect many questions – Generally a woman will ask more questions than a man since she has had less opportunity to discuss life insurance.” These comments certainly seem funny from today’s perspective.

Throughout the decade, however, the amount of insurance carried by women was still significantly below that of men. In 1976, the amount of insurance carried by single women had increased to $28,400, but single men had also increased the amount of insurance they carried, up to an average of $31,000. At the beginning of that year, women owned $325 billion of life insurance, a new record, and a 150% increase from a decade earlier.

In addition, an old debate continued. Should a married woman carry insurance? In a column of the New York Times, Personal Finance, the reporter shared arguments from both sides, two years apart. In 1971, she discussed the need for “wife insurance,” arguing that the value of a wife had increased to a point where it should be insured.

In 1973, she shared that in many families, the money that would be spent on insurance was instead being spent on training and educating the wife for a career. Other reporters throughout the decade shared other opinions on the difficulty in the determination of whether to insure a wife. One life insurance agent explained, “It is fine for a woman to have full coverage, but, generally, if a working woman dies, her husband can get along okay as long as he can work…If he needs a loan, it’s easier for him to get one than it is for a woman.”

Mary Roberston 1972

In 1975, due to the increased attention on sales to women, insurance companies began to examine the life expectancy of insured women. At this point many of them decided to increase the set-back from men’s policies to 4 or 5 years, from 3 years as they had done in the past. This meant premiums became even lower for women. By 1978, separate mortality tables were being developed for women.

The data indicates that more women were purchasing more term insurance than ever before; over 4.3 million women took out term policies in 1972, a 20% increase from a decade earlier.

WOMEN AS LIFE INSURANCE AGENTS IN THE 1970S

women ins 1970.png

The number of women selling life insurance in the 1970s had not shown marked increases from decades past. In 1977, there were approximately 4,000 women selling life insurance out of a total of 135,000 agents. The women who did choose the profession, however, seemed to do well.

In 1975, the “Top Salesman” for Prudential Life Insurance company was a woman, Mrs. Estelle Holzer. That year, she sold $2.4 million of life insurance and garnered the prizes that came along with the award. In an amusing article in the Los Angeles Time, a company official explained that the award consisted of a silver trophy in the shape of a man carrying a briefcase, a men’s suit with three tie tacks and a pair of cufflinks, among other ‘male-oriented’ items. Clearly, they were not expecting a woman to win. Mrs. Holzer was quoted as saying:

Men, both co-workers and clients, don’t think we women are in this seriously…Men assume that because you are not the breadwinner in your family, you are working because you have nothing better to do or because you’d simply like a little extra spending money. Therefore, a woman has to work much harder to prove her worth and ability.

In 1975, only three women in Maryland held the CLU (Chartered Life Underwriter) designation. By 1977 nationwide approximately 770 women had earned the CLU, with approximately 125 new women qualifying each year. In 1972, 490 women qualified for the Women Leadership Round Table ($350,000 in sales or higher), 38 of whom qualified for the Million Dollar Round Table. In 1976, these numbers had jumped to 985 for the Women Leadership Round Table and 78 who qualified for the Million Dollar Round Table.

A New York Times article from 1975 (Aug 24, pg 78), reminiscent of similar articles from decades past opens:

Steady, men. That friendly woman’s voice on the telephone may not be the life insurance agent’s secretary. It may well be the life insurance agent herself.

Slowly – and activists in the field contend, far too slowly – life insurance companies are awakening to the marketing potential of women agents.

A similar argument for women entering the field was presented several times throughout the decade. In 1978, an article in the Chicago Tribune read:

The advantages of a career in insurance sales for women is that it lacks discrimination in both earning potential and public acceptance…In insurance sales, a woman can enjoy unlimited earning potential – agents are paid on the basis of results, not seniority or sex.

Sources:

Anonymous (1978). “An Insurer Accepts $1.5 Million Accord In Job-Bias Dispute.” The New York Times, 4 Jan, B4.

Anonymous (1972). “Black Woman Appointed to John Hancock Board.” Wall Street Journal, 9 May, 32.

Anonymous (1970). “Chasing Women Viewed as Good for Business.” The Baltimore Sun, 11 Dec, C13.

Anonymous (1976). “Insurance Can Mean Happily Ever After.” Atlanta Daily World, 1 Jul, 16.

Anonymous (1971). “Insurance firms agree to fair promotion policy.” The Baltimore Afro-American, 25 Dec, 3.

Anonymous (1974). “Marriage or Career? ‘Both’ Cry Women.” Atlanta Daily World, 11 Oct, 5.

Anonymous (1973). “More Women Buying Term Life Insurance.” Los Angeles Times, 9 Aug, C2.

Anonymous (1975). “Mrs. Tall, first woman in state to hold CLU.” The Baltimore Sun, 13 Sep, A13.

Anonymous (1971). “United Mutual Names First Woman Director.” New York Amsterdam News, 3 Jul, C16.

Anonymous (1970). “Women’s Career Market.” The Washington Post, Times Herald, 6 Dec, F3.

Anthony, Toni (1971). “A woman’s niche in a growing field.” Chicago Daily Defender, 29 Jun, 18.

Auerback, Alexander (1974). “Women Aim Sights at ‘Chauvinist’ Insurers.” Los Angeles Times, 3 Feb, H1.

Bralove, Mary (1974). “Where the Boys Are.” Wall Street Journal, 18 Apr, 1.

Brookins, Portia S. (1977). “Metropolitan Recruits Minorities In Sales.” Atlanta Daily World, 30 Jan, 2.

Caralmela, Edward J. (1973). Staffing and Pay Changes in Life Insurance Companies. Monthly Labor Reivew, Aug, 66-68.

Carmichael, Carole A. (1978). “Diverse groups find opportunity in insurance.” Chicago Tribune, 17 Dec, ND1.

Cray, Douglas W. (1977). “Life Insurers Putting Premium on Women.” New York Times, 24 Aug, 78.

Curry, Timothy, Warshawsky, Mark (1986). “Life Insurance Companies in a Changing Environment.” Federal Reserve Bulletin; Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, July, 449-460.

Fowler, Elizabeth M. (1973). “Women May Find Numerous Benefits Are Possible Through Life Insurance.” New York Times, 8 Mar, 55.

Johnson, Thomas A. (1971). “Rights Accord Set on Insurance Jobs.” New York Times, 11 Dec, 1.

Kleiman, Carol (1970). “Does it Cost You to Work?” Chicago Tribune, 26 Apr, F15.

Maynes, E. Scott, Geistfeld, Loren V. (1974). The Life Insurance Deficit of American Families: A Pilot Study. The Journal of Consumer Affairs, Summer, 66-81.

McElheny, Marge (1975). “Top Saleswoman in ‘Man of the Year.'” Los Angeles Times, 23 May, F16.

Mills, Kay. (1976). “Single Women Found Underinsured.” Los Angeles Times, 14 Mar, F19.

Rousmaniere, James A. Jr. (1978). “Women’s Insurance Gains New Status.” The Baltimore Sun, 19 Feb, K7.

Stuart, Reginald (1975). “Personal Finance: Women’s Policies.” New York Times, 4 Sep, 48.

Taylor, Angela (1974). “To Women, Insurance Companies Are at Fault on Many Things.” New York Times, 9 Feb, 35.

Umble, M. Michael, York, Paul F., Leverett Jr., E.J. (1976). Agent Retention Rates in the Independent Agency System. The Journal of Risk and Insurance, 481-486.

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.

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.

Women in Insurance, a History, Part 4 The 1920s

votes for women

One of the most significant steps forward in the battle for women’s equality took place on August 20th, 1920, when the 19th amendment to the US Constitution allowing women the right to vote was certified into law by the US Secretary of State. This had been a long time in coming. Women had been fighting for this right for nearly one hundred years through marches, protests, campaigns, and political maneuvering.

Women were making progress in other areas as well. In 1929, women controlled approximately 41% of the individual wealth in the United States. The report by Lawrence Stern and Company included impressive statistics:

  • Women [were] the beneficiaries of 80% of the $95,000,000,000 of life insurance in force in the US
  • Women [paid] taxes on more than $3.25 billion of individual income annually
  • Women millionaires, as indicated by individual income tax returns, [were] as plentiful as men
  • Women to the number of more than 8,500,000 [were] gainfully employed

Women were entering the workforce in greater numbers than ever before. That said, women were not generally accepted as equals in the workplace. Blatant sexism was common. In a Forum article from April/May 1920, an argument was put forth that women were, as a rule, incapable of success in business. The author stated “There are more reasons than would fill these pages why women fail in business.” He claimed that women who achieved any level of success did so through pure luck.

One particular statement gave me pause because it may, in fact, be true. Regarding successful women, the author stated:

“And we read about these women over and over again, simply because they are the rare exceptions which prove the rule that women, as a whole, are notoriously unsuccessful in business.”

While I disagree wholeheartedly with the premise of the statement, I worry at the idea that we still read of these singular women today. This, though, is a thought for another post.

In some places knowledge of the nature of the inequality of women was emerging. An interesting 1919 article from the Lancet reads:

“No one has ever denied that a woman is handicapped on account of her potential motherhood, but this handicap is, as a rule, far greater than is necessary… Only in very rare and exceptional cases is it possible to compare with any degree of fairness the ability, both physical and mental, of men and women. Their upbringing has been different and their training and development have been forced along different lines.”

The essay explains that the difference in the responsibilities placed on a young woman at home necessarily puts her behind her male counterparts in terms of education and thereby impedes her abilities to achieve high levels of success throughout life.

WOMEN IN INSURANCE

Women were entering the insurance industry home offices in ever increasing numbers. The vast majority of these women were employed to handle stenography, bookkeeping, and other routine, clerical jobs. Very few women advanced beyond this level. An article from 1924 stated “Men, as a rule, fill the posts requiring extended training, because the majority of women employees take positions only for a limited period between school days and marriage.” According to one report, only 25 officers in the insurance industry were women in 1927.

Although women were insuring their lives at a greater rate than ever before there were still objections to the purchase of life insurance. One woman, describing her own situation, stated that when her husband proposed to buy insurance on his life, her reaction was similar to that of her friends:

“I don’t want my husband to spend money on insurance for me; I think it would be wrong to insure his life; besides, he is in perfect health.”

Not all companies were willing to write business on female lives. Those who did most often included some sort of physical hazard waiver against pregnancy, protecting the companies from a death directly or indirectly related to pregnancy. Some companies included this as a clause covering the first policy year or years. Others outright excluded any deaths related to pregnancy.

One important advancement however, established by the Supreme Court, determined that pregnancy, in and of itself, was not a violation of a warranty of good health. In other words, a woman who is not asked about pregnancy during an application for life insurance, and signs a statement of good health, but then dies shortly thereafter due to complications related to pregnancy cannot be denied benefits.

WOMEN AS LIFE INSURANCE AGENTS

A report from the National Association of Life Underwriters estimated that in 1927 there were approximately 202,000 men and women licensed to sell life insurance in the US, and that 85% of the business was written by 15,000 men. The life insurance business was clearly a man’s business, as exemplified in this quote from a female agent:

“There is a great dovetailing of business. Men give concessions to other men.”

Another woman is quoted as saying:

“Undoubtedly this correlation of business and exchange of patronage does exist. Then, too, men prefer to deal with men when they buy insurance.”

There were certain groups of women who found success in this industry during this decade when they might not have found it elsewhere. Those were women who wished or needed to work part-time, women who were older, and women who were not college educated. Most insurance companies at this time would not employ women under 30, and while college education was desired, it certainly was not required.

Retention of women agents was a concern. Many of the older women recruited into the industry were not able to handle the early lean years almost universal in the industry. Most of the time these women were entering the workforce because of an immediate and acute need for funds that could not be provided in the first few years of an insurance sales career.

Some women were successful. An article from 1927 highlighted several successful women in the life insurance industry. Mrs. Florence Shaal and E. Marie Little are profiled as the only women to head all-female agencies (The Equitable). Mrs. Shaal is credited as the first woman to be elected to office in the National Association of Life Underwriters, and was named the manager of the first ever women’s department in the country.

Emma Ditzler (Connecticut Mutual Life), who wrote policies almost exclusively on women, was “believed to have established a world’s record for her sex in insurance by writing at least one application a week for life insurance for 150 successive weeks.” Sarah Crannell Wells (New York Life) wrote enough insurance to qualify for the Two Hundred Thousand Club, and is credited as one of the most successful insurance women in New York. She is quoted as saying, “I believe women have a special field in family work in insurance…It’s hard work. It means new shoes, or at least new soles every month.”

Another female agent warranted a full page story in a 1924 edition of National Business Woman. Elizabeth Kenney, widowed at a young age, entered the work force as a school teacher in Iowa. She joined the local Business and Professional Women’s Club and became one of the most active members. After attending a national convention of this organization one summer, she was inspired to become an insurance salesperson, working for the Mutual Life Insurance Company in New York. She experienced immediate success, doubling her annual salary in her first six months on the job. Her manager is quoted as saying:

“With practically no experience, she wrote more applications during the third quarter than any other representative in this Agency, comprised of 45 counties, besides having many other duties to engage her attention.”

She was quickly thereafter promoted to district manager over four counties. Her friends said of her:

“Much of her success as a businesswoman rests on the fact that she is so human herself and has such a deep understanding of human nature….[she] gives of herself freely and impartially whenever needed, and brings inspiration to all with whom she comes in contact.”

As in decades past, the life insurance industry has recognized the desire for attracting women both as insurance agents and as policy holders. The industry has not, though, figured out the best way to do this.

Next up, the 1930s. As always, keep it positive and smile!
Sources:
Anonymous (1928). “Insuring the Future.” National business woman, 8(7), 340-341, 380-381.
Anonymous (1929). “Women Control 41 Per Cent of Nation’s Wealth.” Bankers’ Magazine, 118, 5.
Anonymous (1919). “Women in Industry.” The Lancet, July 26, 167-169.
Anonymous (1927). “Women in Insurance.” National business woman, 12(6), 17, 45.
Bruere, Henry (1924). “Number One Madison Avenue.” The Independent, Dec. 27, 113, 3891.
“Excepted Risks in the Law of Life Insurance: Part II.” (1925). The Central Law Journal, 98(20), 350.
Norman, Henry (1920). “The Feminine Failure in Business.” Forum, April/May, 455.
Ravlin, Bernice (1924). “Elizabeth Kenney Insurance Underwriter.” National business woman, 2(8), 11.
Wallace, Eugenia (1927). “Business, Altruism and Insurance.” National business woman, 12(6), 14-16.

Women in Life Insurance, a History: Part 3 (1890-1913)

1910-Fashion

The turn of the century was an exciting time for women in the United States. As mentioned in an earlier post, women were gaining more rights and independence all the time. They were entering the workforce in greater numbers than ever before, further fueled by start of World War I. Women could be found in offices across the country, entering fields as diverse as one can imagine.

All of this independence and freedom meant that women were now controlling their own money, or at the very least, taking a significant interest in their financial futures. Life insurance companies were not unaware of this change, and stepped in to take advantage of this new market.

There are many newspaper articles from this time that speak directly to the idea of women and life insurance. Not surprisingly, there were significant barriers to this market, but companies and life insurance agents did their best to address these and to adjust for new information. For example, in an article published in the periodical The Independent in 1894, there is a discussion of the fact that the rates for women were higher than for men (based on rate tables that were 25 years old), meaning that the insurance companies expected women to die sooner than men. This was likely due to the hazards in that day of child birth. This idea, however, was changing. From that same article:

“All authorities seem agreed that a female, if thoroughly examined, is fully as good, if not a better risk than a male.” (The Independent, 1894)

Women also were believed to hold a “lingering prejudice against the insurance of their own husband’s life in their individual favor” (The Independent, 1908). Some writers at the time held that women believed that insuring their husband’s lives and listing themselves (or their children) as beneficiary was akin to wishing their husbands dead.

On the flip side, most articles encouraged women to take advantage of life insurance:

“Women nowadays enter into business pursuits, contract bills and write notes just as men do….there is scarcely a better way for the wage-earning woman to provide for her future than by means of life insurance” (Massachusetts Ploughman, 1900).

“If [life insurance] is a good thing for men and if it is approved and patronized by the wisest and best business men all over the country there is no possible reason why women should not enjoy its benefits if they so elect” (The Independent, 1908).

Even wealthy women are adopting life insurance as the most desirable investment for their money, and one hears more and more of women of means who take out policies simply as investments” (Ladies Home Journal, 1900).

The business or professional woman, in sheer self-defense, ought not to neglect the matter of life insurance. The money it signifies will be equally welcome whether she is married or single when the endowment matures” (The Independent, 1910).

WOMEN AS LIFE INSURANCE AGENTS

It is around this time that we start to see more articles on women as life insurance agents. As more women moved into the workforce, it seemed to be a natural fit for them. The hours were flexible, the start-up capital minimal, and the nature of the sale was congruent with women’s desire to care and protect their friends and families.

Even back in 1894 there was a prediction of women’s entrance into this field:”…women are soon to bear an important part in life insurance as policy holders, solicitors and medical examiners.” An article from 1903 leads off in the opening paragraph with the statement “Life Insurance offers a most attractive field to a man or woman who is fitted for the business,” (The Independent, 1903, emphasis added), and later states:

“Many women entering into this field have found it exceedingly profitable, but women agents find that diplomacy is quite as essential, in so far as they are concerned, as it is with their brothers.”

And in my favorite article from this time period, a Mrs. M.T. Rodgers of Dallas, Texas, was interviewed regarding her career as a life insurance agent, which she happened into by chance. Her husband had passed away, leaving her with four children to raise on her own. After working in an office for a small weekly wage for seven years, and realizing her pay would never be great, she enlisted in business school. In the interview, she was asked if she felt it was harder for women to succeed in life insurance sales than men, and she states:

“No, I don’t think it is. A woman is as well adapted to solicit life insurance as a man, and the beauty of it is that in life insurance she gets the same pay as a man. This is not true of any other business in which women work. I always wonder why more women don’t go into it. I think it is one of the noblest professions, and that life insurance goes right along with a woman’s religion. She comes in contact with the best people; in fact, she can select those with whom she wants to deal. I have never met with insult or rebuff in the thirteen years I have been selling life insurance. I have always been treated courteously. That can’t be said of many businesses in which women engage for far less than they would receive in life insurance” (The Independent, 1913).

It is difficult to track down any numbers regarding how many women were selling life insurance around this time. The closest hint I found indicated that there were “thousands of women” selling at least some life insurance in 1913. What is clear, though, was that the women’s market was already an attractive target for the life insurance industry as far back as the 1890s.

As always, keep it positive and happy Thursday!

Sources:

“Insurance for Women” (1894). The Independent, 46, 238. July 19. Accessed 6/13/18.

“Should Women Insure Their Lives?” (1900). The Ladies’ Home Journal, 17(3), 16. Accessed 6/13/18.

“Women and Life Insurance” (1900). Massachusetts Ploughman, 59(28), 4. Accessed 6/13/18. 

“Diplomacy as an Equipment for the Life Insurance Agent” (1903). The Independent, 55, 2845. June 11. Accessed 6/13/18.

“Insurance for Women” (1908). The Independent, 64, 310. Accessed 6/13/18.

“How Women May Save” (1910). The Independent, 69, 3235. December 1. Accessed 6/13/18.

 

 

 

 

Leadership Recommendation….MOOCs

Image result for woman scholar

This is an unpaid, unsolicited, yet passionate recommendation for a leadership tool I suggest for all leaders looking to improve their skills at work, in the community and at home. The tool is a MOOC, or a “massive open online course”. More details on these below.

There is one particular course I would like to draw to your attention. That is:

Women In Leadership: Inspiring Positive Change

from Professor Bilimoria of Case Western Reserve. This is a course all leaders, women and men should investigate. Today. Here is the link:

https://www.coursera.org/learn/women-in-leadership/home/welcome

In this course, Professor Bilimoria does an extraordinary job of traversing the many aspects of women in leadership. The course is divided into 5 weeks of work, each week covering a different topic in leadership. For each week, there are videos (lectures), readings (incredible – worth checking out just for this), and discussion prompts. Throughout the lessons, the professor also encourages reflection exercises and homework assignments designed to inspire you to look within and internalize the lesson. There is also a quiz for each week – this is not available unless you pay the fee for the certificate. I found that I lost nothing by skipping these quizzes.

 

The entire course is worthwhile to all leaders, regardless of gender, but I’d like to point out just a few topics that are important for men and women to consider.

In Week 2, Professor Bilimoria discusses the current state of women in leadership. She discusses the different barriers that women face in the workplace, including organizational, interpersonal, and individual barriers. All of this is thoroughly and thoughtfully researched, yet I would expect that some people would be surprised by what they hear! She discusses the difference between 1st generation bias (overt sexism, harassment, things you can clearly identify as bias) and 2nd generation bias (lack of access to networks, gendered work and career paths, and the ‘double bind’ women face). It is critical that we all become aware of these barriers in our workplaces as this awareness is the first critical step to rectifying it.

In Week 4, the topic is Leadership Tools for Women, and here the professor gives important information and advice on negotiation. While I believe in the statistic that shows that women do not negotiate at the same level as men, I also believe that there are plenty of men who could make use of this advice.

I want to encourage anyone and everyone to take a look at this course. Listen to a few of the lectures. If you are feeling motivated, answer some of the discussion prompts. If you are an over-achiever, answer some of the reflection questions she asks. All of this information is important for both men and women to hear, to think about, and to discuss with others. I hope you will take a look, and then share with others.

A bit about MOOCs:

If you have not come across these before, you need to go check them out. Right now. MOOCs offer college-level courses from major universities (Princeton, Stanford, etc.), covering an unimaginable number of topics. And the best part is they are free! Most of the websites offer paid options – you can earn a certificate for a small fee, sign up for a program of classes for a larger fee, or even earn an online degree for a much more substantial fee. In most cases, however, the classes can be audited for no charge.

I have found every course I have taken to be of extremely high quality, and in each case I got out of the class exactly what I put into it. If the subject matter was not of intense interest to me, I watched the videos until I got what I needed, and then moved on – no problem.

Here are links to the two sites I have used and highly endorse:

Coursera: https://www.coursera.org/

edX: https://www.edx.org/

Take a look – you may learn something new!

Keep it positive and smile! Happy Thursday!

Mentors…the subtle sexism that may keep women from finding one

I don’t mean to go political. Today, a political discussion only causes divisiveness when what we all need is to come together and work things out. That said, the following (political) tweet caught my eye last week:

Capture

If you are not aware, apparently Mr. Pence’s rule states that he does not have meetings alone with women. Social media has had quite a bit to say about this tweet, not the least of which is the obvious insinuation that men cannot help themselves from abusing and harassing women. We all know this is false, and patently unfair. It would not be a stretch for me to say that nearly every single male colleague I have worked with in the past 10 years has been respectful and has caused me no concern or anxiety that I was putting myself in a dangerous position. I realize I am one of the lucky ones. I also realize the ridiculousness in claiming “luck” in this situation.

That isn’t to say I have been immune to this kind of culture. Just one example: In my first job out of school, I was physically assaulted by a male colleague at work (he breathed heavily on my neck and grabbed me in an inappropriate place). When I reported it (I didn’t know to do anything differently), my career took a sudden downturn. I became a “difficult” employee; someone who had to be ‘handled’. Needless to say, I didn’t last long there, and learned a lesson along the way. That lesson is not the point of this particular post.

The problem with this tweet I want to discuss here is something that goes deeper. There is an insidious underbelly to this tweet that not only paints men as lacking control, but creates a distance between men and women workplace. It creates a difference where no difference exists, or is even appropriate.

In my research, and the research of many others, it is clear that one of the most important components of success in climbing the career ladder is having a strong, supportive mentor. In recent interviews I conducted with successful female leaders in my industry, I heard the following:

“Luckily I have a boss who is now really invested in my future and sees a lot going for me and I would say I am one of the lucky ones. I am one of the ones who is going to be put in a good position in certain roles and will continue developing.”

“I would say that [my mentor] is the number one reason for helping me get ahead.”

Because a mentor must, necessarily, be someone higher up the corporate ladder, many times mentors are men. And, because mentoring is a rather personal endeavor, the most effective mentorship conversations take place one-on-one. If men cannot be trusted to be alone with women, or choose to never be alone with women, we have cut off the possibility of a mentorship. We loose this critical opportunity to support and develop women.

Here is a real life example of this. Quite some time ago, I had a young woman working for me who wanted to take her career in a new and different direction. As it happened, this new direction was a great fit for what our organization needed at the time. The only problem was that she needed some specific experience under her belt to be effective. We had one gentleman in the office who was doing some of this type of work, and clearly would be a great informal mentor for her. The only problem – he refused to meet with her one-on-one, and refused to take her with him to an important company meeting out of town, citing his unwillingness to be alone with a ‘young woman’.

After much deliberation and scrambling, I was finally able to make this happen for her by finding the funds for another person to travel with them to the meeting. What a ridiculous situation to be in. To this day, I am not entirely certain of the gentleman’s motivation behind his refusal, but it rang in the same discordant tone as the tweet above.

In case this isn’t yet clear: Men, you are not helping women by avoiding meetings with them. Women need mentors to get ahead in the workplace. Men will, oftentimes, need to be those mentors. All that is needed to make this happen is decency and respect.

Keep it positive! And smile!

Happy Wednesday!