Industry Trends | Read Time: 9 minutes

Women in Insurance: Meet 2 Industry Leaders Paving the Way for the Future of Insurance

November 11, 2016

Ivans logo By: Ivans Communications

Insurance Networking News’ 9th Annual Women in Insurance Leadership conference took place recently in Chicago, celebrating gender diversity in the workplace and honoring the important contributions of women who have helped redefine the insurance industry. The conference provides a platform for women around the country to learn from industry thought leaders, network with other influential peers and discuss the key issues facing the insurance business today. One of this year’s key issues is the role that gender diversity and inclusion play in ensuring the successful future of the insurance industry.

Each year between 2006 and 2015, women comprised about 61% of the insurance workforce, with 1.5 million women employed in the insurance sector in 2015.1 Additionally, new research shows that gender-diverse companies are 15% more likely to have financial returns above their respective national industry medians.2 In a historically male-dominated business, it is clear that the insurance industry today is making important strides towards gender diversity and inclusion. However, when it comes to women in leadership positions, the insurance industry falls short. A 2012 study showed that women hold only 6% of top executive positions, 12.5% of board seats, and 8% of inside business, legal or actuarial officer roles.3

1.5 million
women were employed in the insurance sector in 2015

Women Leaders in Insurance

Women in leadership roles continue to actively promote gender-inclusive workplaces by establishing mentorship programs for women and sponsoring executive networking opportunities. Read on for insights from two influential women who are helping to reshape the insurance industry and working to inspire the next-generation of leaders and thinkers.

Headshot of woman smilingBrett McKenzie, Farm & Ranch Midwest Zone Leader for Allianz Global Corporate & Specialty

Brett McKenzie is the Farm & Ranch Midwest Zone Leader for Allianz Global Corporate & Specialty, a leading global insurance company which serves clients in more than 160 countries across the spectrum of marine, aviation and corporate business. Brett assumed her current role in December 2015, and is responsible for the profitable growth of the agribusiness segment throughout the Midwestern U.S. and manages a team of dedicated Farm & Ranch underwriters.

How did you get your start in the insurance industry?

Like so many of us, I didn't really foresee myself having a career in insurance and sort of stumbled into it. I started working in public relations and marketing communications the very day I graduated from college, beginning as a media relations staffer for Secretary of State John Kerry's presidential campaign in 2004. In 2009, I took a role on the PR team at Zurich. Working in a PR or marketing communications capacity is an excellent way to learn about insurance from within, because in order to be successful at your job, you have to embed yourself in the businesses you support and learn enough about them to be able to promote them with some authority. I was given the chance to work alongside Risk Engineers, line of business leaders, and product marketers who helped me understand the fundamentals of commercial insurance as an outsider, until I started to feel more like an insider. Once I began to understand the complexity of risk management and developing coverages to mitigate emerging risks, I was hooked. I kept seeking marketing roles that brought me closer to the product portfolio at Zurich, and then I joined the Allianz family in 2013, as part of a strategic marketing unit at Fireman's Fund. Now I oversee a team of five underwriters as the Farm & Ranch leader for the Midwest Zone at Allianz. Farm & Ranch had a specific appeal to me because during my pre-insurance career, I did a substantial amount of PR work in the wine and food world, and was always fascinated by the "farm to fork" and "grape to glass" journeys. I consider myself an ultra-conscientious shopper when it comes to food and wine, and my current job has made me even more so.

What is one important thing you’ve learned from your professional experience?

I have to say there are two equally important critical learnings for me. The first is not to be too rigid in your expectations of how your career path should progress. The most successful leaders I see in commercial insurance--and any industry, really--are always willing to step outside of their comfort zone to broaden their experience and step into a different sort of role where their organization needs them. I've seen peers and mentors who accepted international assignments or shifts from operations-type/behind-the-scenes roles to high-visibility/client-facing roles, and vice versa. Professionals who view their career as a ladder seem to always be preoccupied with looking for the next rung or promotion or raise, whereas people who have more of a "jungle gym" view of their path seem to achieve more and be more present in their current role, and find better satisfaction and success where they end up. The second most important learning for me is to only work for people and organizations you trust, for all the obvious ethical reasons, but also because when you trust your employer, you are more likely to be engaged and "bought in" to the vision set out by leadership. It makes coming to work more exciting when you feel like you are a part of something bigger.

What do you think is the biggest challenge women face in the insurance industry today?

I think the best answer to that question is to point out that you needed to ask it at all. At Allianz, for maybe the first time in my career, I don't feel that my gender defines me or my ability to succeed. No woman working in insurance strikes out to simply be a great "woman in insurance;" we set out to be great insurance professionals, just like our male peers. I've become spoiled because equality occurs very naturally here. Our senior leadership team in the Midwest at Allianz is evenly comprised of men and women, all four of our national Farm & Ranch zone leaders are female, and the team I manage is diverse from a gender, ethnic, and generational standpoint. If you look around your employer's boardroom or your department meetings and women are absent or under-represented, you should ask yourself why that is and trust your gut. No one should feel that they have to work extra hard to "overcome" the fact that they are a female or a working mother. Sadly, in many industries, complete parity doesn't exist yet, and so women burn the candle at both ends to try and prove themselves. You can't always change someone's perception of you, but you can change your situation by finding an employer who appreciates and recognizes you for how hard you work, and doesn't penalize you for your own identity.

What do you believe the future of the insurance industry will look like?

In just the seven years I've worked in insurance I've seen an enormous shift in technology, and more professionals have moved to working remote and relying almost solely on email for the majority of their business communications. In 2013, 20% of Americans worked from home according to Forbes, and last year, that increased to almost 45%. I sort of regretfully believe that will continue, but I secretly hope insurance will remain an industry where in-person contact and relationship-building is key. My husband and I both have busy careers, and as parents to a newborn and a four-year-old, we absolutely appreciate--and occasionally really need--the flexibility from our employers to sometimes work from home. But I like the bustle of the office and being able to look someone in the eye or gauge body language during a meeting. I love sharing a meal with our brokers and asking them about their families and giving them a hard time about sports rivalries. So my hope is that the industry can continue the technological advances necessary to serve the evolving needs of our customers without fully losing our human side.


Headshot of woman smilingCal Durland, Interface Optimization Director at IVANS Insurance Solutions

Cal Durland has spent her career ensuring the insurance industry provides a good experience for all, including insureds, agents & brokers, insurance carriers, suretys, financial institutes, solution providers and other supporting organizations. With a base in P&C, Cal’s experience includes roles as an underwriter, broker and industry advocate.

How did you get your start in the insurance industry?

Like many people I didn’t plan on being in insurance, I actually wanted to be a detective. Two years into my college career, I came to the realization that business was a better career for me. My goal was to finish in four years, so I took extra classes to complete my undergraduate degree on time. After I graduated I moved to Hartford, Connecticut, which had a number of insurance companies. I was hired by Industrial Risk Insurers, a commercial property insurance writer, who had a training program. I then worked on my CPCU designation to secure more insurance education.

Based on your own experiences, what is one piece of advice you would give to other women in the insurance industry?

Find your niche and specialize in it. Build relationships with others of similar interests and learn from their experiences. Become a volunteer in the industry to expand your network and opportunity to make a difference. Your passion and dedication to the insurance industry will shine through!

How do you actively promote a more gender-diverse environment at work?

Diversity happens naturally when you are working on projects where you need a variety of perspectives and knowledge to succeed. I seek those with the skill, work ethic and a common interest in getting the job done. Then I work to create an environment where people can listen to each other and are free to voice their own perspective. I have learned through the years that it’s not always an easy process to bring new groups of people together. With persistence and keeping our eye on the common goal, many of the people that I have brought together through the years have become the industry’s best assets, advocates and friends.

What do you believe the future of the insurance industry will look like?

There will always be a need for insurance, but it will evolve as the assets, products and our environment changes. That includes the technology that we use today, or could use in the future. Underwriting, which is impacted by technology, will also change as we see more dependence on wearable technology, the Internet of Things, driverless cars, and drones that are being used to review the exposure and claim.

What do you think? Share your thoughts on how women are shaping the insurance industry of the future.

  1. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Current Population Survey, 2015
  2. McKinsey Analysis: Why Diversity Matters, 2015
  3. Saint Joseph’s University Study on Insurance Industry Demographics, 2012

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