Women’s History Month is a time to look back and honor the many achievements of women through history and the vast strides made by women today. One does not have to look far to see the influence women have had in medicine, politics, technology, literature and nearly every industry or aspect of society. This month is a time of reflection as much as it is an opportunity to look into the future for women.
Specifically, this had us reflecting on the contributions made by women to the insurance industry. In our research, we came across an article by Property Casualty 360 and we wanted to highlight a few facts from it that we found interesting.
Since 2007, women have consistently comprised about 60% of the insurance workforce, with 1.7 million women employed in the insurance sector in 2016. 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. Research shows that women occupy only 19% of board seats and 11% of named executive officer positions. Furthermore, only 35% of independent agencies are led by a woman agency principal or senior manager. Equity in leadership at the executive level is critical in every industry, especially in technology where partner collaboration and diverse perspectives are essential. Reports also indicate that companies with female decision makers achieve higher market returns and profits.
Establishing mentor-mentee relationships fosters support for women in the insurance industry and increases likelihood of upward mobility. Mentorship from senior leaders is viewed by women as a top enabler for advancing women into leadership. This represents an opportunity insurance companies must take advantage of in order to support and promote their female employees.
Women Paving the Way at IVANS
We want to recognize an influential woman at IVANS who is reshaping the insurance industry and working to inspire the next-generation of female leaders.
Kathy Hrach, Vice President of Product Management, IVANS
Kathy Hrach is focused on enhancing connectivity for insurers and agencies. She has spent her career helping to automate manual processes and drive efficiency through technology. She is involved with industry groups including ACT, AUGIE, IVANS Carrier and Agency Advisory Boards, and IVANS Agency Management System Council.
How did you get your start in the insurance industry?
Kathy Hrach: I started in the insurance industry when I joined IVANS 7 years ago. Prior to that, I was with an imaging software company. Although the industry was different, we were still solving similar problems – removing friction and automating manual workflows.
What changes have you seen in the industry since you started in insurance?
Kathy: When I started in this industry, I was surprised at how slow everything moved. It took years for new solutions to gain traction. But that’s changing. In the past 18-24 months, with the surge of new insuretechs and COVID forcing people to change how they work, we’re seeing the industry making faster decisions and committing to automating and connecting in new ways. It’s an exciting time.
What do you think is the biggest challenge that women face in the insurance industry today?
Kathy: One of the biggest challenges we face as professionals, male or female, is getting out of our own way. It’s so easy to let our egos drive our interactions with others or allow our insecurities to prevent us from speaking up or trying new things. We tend to hold ourselves back more than anyone else can or ever will.
What is one important thing that you’ve learned from your professional experience?
Kathy: An important thing I’ve learned is to invest in myself and not wait for someone else to fund my self-improvement. That doesn’t always mean getting an advanced degree or spending much money at all – I’ve learned a lot from business books and free podcasts. For me, an area that was really weak early in my career, was my public speaking skills, or lack thereof. I was awful and would break into a cold sweat anytime someone would ask me to speak. I realized it was holding me back. After months of internal debate, I finally joined a local Toastmasters group, where I spent 3 hours a week, outside of work, practicing public speaking. It wasn’t the coolest way to spend an evening – that’s for sure. But, over time, it really helped boost my confidence in communicating with others. Looking back, using my own time and money to improve my speaking skills was the single best thing I’ve done for my professional career.
What do you believe the future of the insurance industry will look like?
Kathy: I think the industry will demand better connectivity and access to data. Both between insurers and agencies and between agencies and the end-insured. There is still so much insurance business that is forced to take place through email or phone calls. Some people love the personal experience of a phone call, but the reality is that most consumers, through financial technology innovation, are becoming accustomed to fast access to their information, 24 hours a day. The insurance industry is moving in this direction, but there is still a lot to be done.
What are some traits great leaders possess?
Kathy: Some of the best leaders ask a lot of questions – of their customers, of their teams – so they can get a full picture of how the world is working around them. This means doing a lot of listening. They also need to use their learnings to make quick, but informed decisions. It’s a balance. You can’t just listen all day and do nothing with that good information. You then need to take quick action and move your teams forward.
What’s one lesson you’ve learned in your career?
Kathy: Take time to prepare. I can’t say I always get this right, but I’ve always had better results when I practice what I’m going to say before a presentation or take time to plan what I want to cover in a meeting. It not only keeps you from looking disorganized, but it shows respect to everyone else who is giving you time from their day to listen to what you have to say.
What advice would you give to the next generation of female leaders?
Kathy: Invest in your own career and say “yes” to new opportunities. It’s easy to think that you’re too busy with your day job to spend time on self-improvement or education. And, it’s easy to turn down new projects or opportunities because it will add to your workload. The reality is that leaders don’t take the easy path. Push yourself to step outside your comfort zone and have some fun along the way.
What do you think? Share your thoughts on how women are shaping the insurance industry of the future.