Corporate Life and Personal Health – Is it a Trade-off?

Some time ago, my husband forwarded the following article to me: Half of Millenials and 75% of Gen Zers have left their jobs for mental health issues. The article details a couple reasons they believe this is happening, including increased use of smartphones which decreases face-to-face interactions and increases exposure to negative world events, and an increase in younger folks feeling of being lost.

This came up in our conversation because I had been noticing a trend in my research project. As I spoke to more and more women, I was hearing story after story of women feeling compelled to leave corporate America in order to take control of their health.

The stories I heard were not only to do with mental health; sometimes physical health was the major issue at hand. Regardless, these women did not feel there was a way to solve their individual issues while maintaining their careers. At least, not the way they were going.

I want to be clear – most of these women did not blame their work, their corporate environment, or anything else of that nature. Most often, they took their inability to manage their current health situation on themselves.

One woman, diagnosed with fibromyalgia while at work, described herself as addicted to work. She shared stories of working at all hours of the day, never being off the clock, taking laptop and phone with her on vacations. She was simply unable to stop working, and this was having a negative effect on her ability to deal with her new diagnosis.

She did not necessarily feel that her work demanded this kind of attention from her. In fact, she was sometimes encouraged to take time off, to relax, to not work quite so hard.

Another woman shared a similar story. She was suffering from crippling anxiety, and yet kept pushing and pushing herself at work. In fact, she was working so hard, she was unable to see to the (negative) effect it was having on her work, and in the end was asked to leave a company where previously she had been a fast-tracked star.

Other phrases I have heard: “If I didn’t leave, I was going to lose my mind.” “My health was suffering significantly. If I didn’t change something quick, something bad was going to happen.” “I know I needed to take care of myself, and I just couldn’t figure out how to do that.”

Another woman brought to my attention the idea and research theme of corporate PTSD, or as one author calls it, CTSD (Corporate Traumatic Stress Disorder). If you get a chance, look it up. It explains why, among many other things, so many people pass away so quickly after retirement.

What in the world is going on here? I have been in the same situation myself – this is what prompted me to write the blog post Why You Workaholics Should Go Home and Take The Day Off! I was feeling the same types of stress.

While any particular manager may not be asking us to work around the clock (although I have known managers who do – one in particular was notable for saying, “The REAL work doesn’t start until 6pm!”), it must be something in the corporate culture that is asking us to sacrifice in this way.

I realize this is not something particular to women, although I do worry that it might be affecting us to a greater extent. I explored some of the reasons for this recently in my post on the lack of female mentors – successful women have a hard time saying “no.”

It must be that this kind of behavior is rewarded. I know I had a boss at one point who judged everyone on “face time” – or the amount of time they spent in the office. At the very least, he judged people negatively if they weren’t around when he went looking for them. It is fortunate for us all that he retired before we introduced the work-from-home policy!

So how do we fix this? I think all of the corporate HR programs that support mental and physical health are a start. We need to have confidential ways to deal with the stress and anxiety any job can give us. Health insurance incentives to address weight, blood pressure, blood sugar issues can help.

But these will only go so far. What companies really need to do is to change their culture. We need to stop rewarding people for “face time” (I mean really, are people actually more productive just because they are in the office longer? I think not). We need to see our employees as the valuable resources they are, and care about their health as much as their families do.

Only by changing the culture, by rewarding behavior that brings long-term results, will we build companies of physically and mentally strong employees who are willing to help us succeed.

What do think is the cause? How do we change this culture? I’d love to hear your thoughts! Leave them here on the blog or wherever you might be reading this.

And as always, keep it positive!

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Why is it so hard to find a female mentor?

In the last week, I have had three conversations with three different women who shared a common frustration. All three were desirous of a female mentor from within their company, and all three were unable to find one.

Why is this?

The stories all three women shared were eerily similar. The problem is not what some might immediately suspect. It was not a problem of finding a senior woman in their company. They each had tried to reach several different women.

The problem all three women reported was the inability to get onto the calendars of any of the senior women in their companies. Sometimes they could get an initial meeting, but even these were often rescheduled several times before taking place. Follow-up meetings were nearly impossible to come by.

Again I ask, why is this?

Collectively, we had a few guesses as to why this would be. We had all been in positions of leadership. As such, we had all confronted the conflict of a full calendar and a team that needed guidance and input. We are all busy – both men and women. Here are some theories on what might be going on.

Senior leadership is a tough job in and of itself

Senior leaders, regardless of their gender, are often consumed by meetings, conference calls, updates, presentations, and more meetings. It is possible that there just isn’t time for them to mentor younger leaders, given their jobs.

Successful women are busier than others

Women are good at getting things done. As the saying goes, if you want something done, ask a busy person. So, logically, successful women are going to be asked to do more things.

Add to this the fact that women have a hard time saying no. Oftentimes, the reason we have reached a certain level of leadership is because we never said no on the way up. Challenging assignments, lateral moves, whatever it was, women say yes.

You want that done tomorrow? No problem. You want that completely rewritten? Sure! Now? Of course! You want me to reorganize the entire department and increase revenues by 200% by next quarter? You got it!

In fact, I had a senior leader at my company that preached that the only way to get ahead was to always say yes. You can bet the women took that to heart.

Because of their skill and their willingness to take on more and more, successful women’s plates are filled fuller than most. If you think about it, it makes sense. The more you do right, the more the company is going to want you to handle. And if we never say no, there is very little space left for things not on the agenda, like employee development. Especially those requests for development from women in other areas of the company or other companies.

As is often said, there are only so many hours in the day and sometimes we run out of them.

There just aren’t enough of them

Despite the fact that there are women in senior leadership, it is possible that there just are not enough of them. How many junior associates can one senior leader feasibly mentor?

And if the first theory is true, that senior leaders in general do not have time to mentor, this becomes even more problematic.

It could also be a problem that the senior women work in a different division/section/ department of the company than the women seeking mentors. It can be a challenge to reach out across these lines to make a mentorship relationship work. That senior leader is likely going to spend any time she has for employee development on those employees working under her span of control.

There is no tangible incentive to mentor other women

I list this here because I have heard employees mention this as a potential reason they cannot seem to meet with a mentor. It is largely true that it is very difficult to quantify the value of investing in young women leaders. I have never seen an executive incentive plan that listed ‘mentorship’ as a goal (I’m sure they exist somewhere – I just think it is exceedingly rare).

That said, I believe most of us want to mentor other women. We want to impact their lives in positive ways, help them navigate the corporate world, help them to be successful and reach their dreams. But we work for corporations, and corporations set the priorities.

So what do you do if you are looking for that mentor and she just doesn’t seem to have time for you?

The best suggestion I have is to do what the guys do – find an informal way to connect. Swing by her office, talk to her briefly after a meeting, attend a company function. Don’t be a pest, but find ways to connect that don’t require her to block 30 precious minutes on her calendar.

And if you get that meeting, be prepared! Have specific questions to ask or situations to get her input on. Do not waste that precious time! Follow-up with a thank you and ask for the next meeting right away. Better yet, ask her if you can work with her assistant to put regular (quarterly, perhaps) meetings on her calendar.

I appreciate your thoughts! Have you tried to engage a female mentor? How hard was it to find one and to meet with one? What advice do you have for others looking to do the same?

Good luck! As always, stay positive!

5 Reasons You Need a Coach

Do you need a coach?

The HUB Leadership Consulting Group

Have you been thinking about getting a coach? Perhaps someone has suggested the idea to you. Perhaps you’ve read something somewhere that mentioned coaching. Perhaps you just know you need a little help. This is all good news. It means that you are already looking to grow, to improve, to understand yourself better, and to build new and different skills.

If you aren’t quite sure what a coach might help with or whether a coach is even the right thing for you, let me give you some insight and concrete examples of what a coach can do for you.

Before we get there, note that there are many different “flavors” of coach out there – life coaches, career coaches, executive coaches. Every one of these folks, regardless of their specific label, is here to do one thing – help you to be the best version of yourself. How they go about it may differ considerably, but largely their mission is all the same.

I have worked with several coaches over the years. One executive coach helped me negotiate through some significant personal tragedies while maintaining my career trajectory. She also helped me to deeply consider my future professional path and make some initial changes in how I considered my role in my company.

A life coach I worked with helped me to realize how much I had separated my work-self from my true-self, and how important it was for me to reunite those two parts. She also helped to take some dramatic risks in my life that have helped me to grow significantly and reclaim some joy in my work life.

A business coach I hired helped me to understand what it will take to get my own business off the ground. She gave me support, encouragement and accountability when I needed it most. She also connected me with necessary resources, both human and otherwise that will be important as I continue to build my company.

An outplacement coach helped me considerably when I suddenly found myself without a job. He helped me plan, he held me accountable to the plan, and to this day he continues to connect me with resources and helps me to feel supported and encouraged.

Here are some reasons you should consider hiring a coach:

  1. You want to get ahead but just aren’t sure how
  2. You want to make a change but are uncertain of the steps you ought to take
  3. You are not getting the feedback/support/encouragement you desire from your boss
  4. You feel stuck
  5. You are not experiencing joy in some aspect of your life

You want to get ahead but just aren’t sure how

Have you heard the phrase “What got you here won’t get you there?” It is the absolute truth. Every step of a career journey requires a new strategy and a new set of skills. Sometimes, the requirements are obvious. Sometimes, not so much.

A coach can help you deal with the struggle of performing at the highest level in your current role while developing the necessary skill set for the job ahead. She can help you see what steps to take, and when to take them, to help you navigate the crazy world of corporate advancement.

You want to make a change but are uncertain of the steps you ought to take

Sometimes there is something pulling at your heart telling you it is time to make a change. Sometimes is it just a hint, other times it is a roar.

Maybe you are not even sure what change to make, you simply know something needs to be different.

But then what?

A coach can help. She can help you decipher what it is that needs to change. She can help you figure out the first step, the second step, or even the hundredth step. By helping you gain clarity of vision, she can help you along the path, make adjustments along the way, and can help hold you accountable to your goals. She can also help keep you from backsliding into old habits and routines.

A coach can help you find your new, brighter future.

You are not getting the feedback/support/encouragement you desire from your boss

It is rare that we receive the feedback we need from our bosses today. Managers in every field, at every level, are busy, distracted, and ill equipped to offer the feedback most of us are looking for.

I remember one time receiving my annual review and being upset by all of the high marks. It seemed my boss could find nowhere for me to improve. But I wasn’t running the company yet, so surely there was something I needed to work on!

A coach is a great person to help you with the “what got you here won’t get you there” kind of feedback. She will help you to spot your strengths and your weaknesses and help you to work on both.

A coach can give you honest, objective feedback that will help you to reach your goals. If something doesn’t seem to be working, she can help you figure out a better way to move forward. She might even be able to provide valuable insight into why others respond they way they respond.

If you are looking to understand better how you are doing and strategies for improvement, hire yourself a coach!

You feel stuck

Sometimes you aren’t feeling the pull to change, but you still feel stuck. It could be that you wake up feeling like work has become a struggle. It could be that you used to love what you do, but it just doesn’t inspire you in the same way anymore. It could be that the next step up isn’t the step you want to take, and you don’t know where else to look.

A coach can help you get clarity about why you feel stuck and what next steps are the most appropriate for you to take. She can help you work through things that might be holding you back from being your best self and help you get unstuck.

You are not experiencing joy in some aspect of your life

We all have one life to live, and we ought to enjoy as much of it as we can. If there is some part of your life where joy is hard to find, a coach can help you to find it. Or change it. Or rearrange it. Or uncover it.

Whatever needs to be done to find the joy in your life, a coach will be there to help you uncover what you need to do to find it.

There are many coaches out there. Do your due diligence to be sure you pick one that you trust and that you feel comfortable working with. You’ll be practicing quite a bit of vulnerability with this person, so be sure you are ready and willing to do the hard work and feel safe doing so.

And if you are looking for a coach, start here! Send me an email using the ‘Contact’ button and we will set up an initial call to see how I can help you. I would love to help you no matter what your goals are, and can’t wait to hear from you!

As always, stay positive!

Women in the Workplace – Lack of Fit

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do this yourself as well.

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

Again, jot some ideas down.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As always, keep it positive!

Selected further reading:

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

Fast Company – The Gender Divide

Psychology Today: Why Women Make Better Leaders than Men

Inc. Magazine: 7 Traits of True Leaders

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

Meryl Streep in The Devil Wears Prada

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next-level Diversity – 6 Ideas for What Companies Can Do Next

Diversity can be a puzzling issue to deal with. Even defining what diversity means can be problematic and fraught with missteps, over-simplifications, and mistakes. Lately, I have heard many business leaders describe the diversity they seek as “differences not just in the obvious ways, but also diversity of background, experience, perspective, all of those types of things.”

I have been doing a heavy load of interviewing as I am currently in a job search. I always ask the question (because it is important to me) about diversity in the workplace. Most companies, after using the quote above, will then point me to their Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) and will occasionally share the names of some senior level individuals who are African-American or female. 

None of this is bad. In fact, the many accomplishments these ERGs and senior executives have made are impressive. The support the companies put behind them comes through in the sometimes staggering number of ERGs or in the types of programming they put on. For example, at one company I noted that a well-known national thought leader on women’s empowerment had been invited to speak at an ERG event.

This is all good news. Companies need diversity these days. Study after study have shown that diverse companies are more successful than their less diverse counterparts. And with the world itself becoming more diverse, it is in every company’s best interest to mirror their customers.

What I want now is something more than companies have been offering up to now. I am anxious for the next generation of diversity initiatives. More of the same just won’t cut it anymore. Here are just a couple ideas companies should explore next:

  1. Bring up the pride the company has in diversity without a candidate, investor, customer, or partner having to ask. Perhaps display a picture of the current Board of Directors or Senior Leadership Team that reflects that pride. Really any statistic that would help illustrate this would be welcome.
  2. Add a chair on the Board of Directors to be filled by a representative of the ERGs. This person would be responsible for ensuring the voices of the minority groups are included in any high-level company decisions. I can imagine that this might make some executives uncomfortable, but if the company is doing it right, there are already highly qualified diversity candidates at the highest levels that can serve in this roll.
  3. Involve the ERGs in real business problem solving. I can only imagine the incredible results if these diverse groups brought their talents to bear on, say, a new marketing campaign, the product development process, or on a customer service issue that needs to be solved. Plus, the experience and exposure that these individuals would receive being a part of such a project nearly makes me giddy.
  4. Develop a flexible holiday schedule, allowing associates to take off work on the days most important to them. Many companies have switched to flexible days for sick and vacation, lumping them in together. This just takes it one step further to include holidays.
  5. Share how you are specifically developing programs to help diverse employees throughout the organization to move up the ladder and how you support them at crucial points in their careers. With women, for example, there is a significant danger of them opting out as they move up the corporate ladder. What has the company done to keep this from happening? What programs have been explored? There are similar issues with other groups at various levels.
  6. Hire a diverse candidate to be CEO. There is certainly no better way to show the company’s commitment to diversity than to show it starts at the top. I’ve seen several companies point to the level just below the CEO as an example of diversity. Although this is wonderful to see, this is no longer enough.

I am certain there are other ways companies could show their next level commitment to diversity. What ideas do you have? What has your company done in this arena so far? What has worked? What hasn’t worked? I would love to hear your thoughts!

As always, keep it positive! Have a great day!

Women in Leadership – A Question of Ambition

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do women really want to lead?

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

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

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

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

As always, stay positive!

Women in Insurance – A History – The 1960s

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

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

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

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

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

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

(5) constitutes an unfair method of competition.

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

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

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

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

LIFE INSURANCE DURING THE 1960S

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

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

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

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

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

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

WOMEN IN LIFE INSURANCE DURING THE 1960S

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WOMEN AS LIFE INSURANCE SALES AGENTS DURING THE 1960S

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Up next, the 1970s.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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.