Women’s History Month is an important time to recognize and celebrate women’s contributions to history, culture and society. For the insurance industry, it’s important to recognize the opportunity for more diversity. When looking for an agent, diversity within the agency is increasingly important to consumers, 67% reported so according to our Agency Forward research. In 2021, our research found only 17% of agency principals are female. There are signs of progress, however. In small and medium sized agencies, about a quarter of women have higher level positions. For agencies that have been established within the past five years, leadership is more likely to be diverse.
In recognition of Women’s History Month, Agency Forward connected with a few women in the insurance industry to reflect on their career path, the industry and offer advice for women early in their career. Our panel includes:
How did you get started in the insurance industry?
Emily Gerber Poe: I am a third-generation insurance agent. My grandfather started our agency in 1943. He was an agent for over 40 years. My dad bought his agency and was also an agent for over 40 years. I joined my dad in 2006 and bought the agency from him in 2013. Growing up, I never considered the insurance industry a profession that I wanted to pursue. In fact, I have a music degree. But after I graduated college, I was fascinated with the type of person my dad was, the career and business he had built, and I just began asking questions. I remember asking him to tell me everything! The good, the bad, the ugly! He was very honest and open about the highs and lows of running a business and about the insurance world.
It’s complicated, it has a lot of changes, but it’s extremely rewarding. The thing that stuck out most was when he said, “Em, there’s never been a single day that I walked into this office and not loved what I do.” That spoke volumes to me. And I asked him if he would be willing to give me a chance. I’m so grateful he did and now 17 years later, I cannot imagine doing anything else!
Angela Lindsay: By luck! After college in 1993, the job market was tough, I went to an employment agency and they told me about a Commercial Lines Underwriting “trainee” position. The only requirement was a college degree. I said “sign me up” and never looked back!
Karyn S. Roeling: My dad started an insurance agency in 1971 so I was exposed to insurance at a very young age. I saw how flexible his schedule was, how much fun he had entertaining and giving back to the community and how his clients looked to him for advice/guidance for important decisions they were making in their business so I decided to make it a career as well! I went to Florida State University and majored in risk management and insurance to kick off my 20+ year career (and counting).
What excites you the most about where the industry is headed?
Emily Gerber Poe: I’m very open and honest with everyone around me about my love for change. Usually, people only love change when it’s their idea, but I love the challenge of a change even when it’s not my idea or in my control. I have learned to ebb and flow in the insurance industry. The most successful agents I’ve ever surrounded myself with have been phenomenal visionaries and entrepreneurs. Planning for the future is not easy to do in this industry, but it is doable. Being of a younger generation than the majority of insurance agents, I love the thrill of technology, I love the new and exciting ways to help protect what matters most to our clients.
Angela Lindsay: I think insurance will always be a “relationship” business but I like that data/analytics is starting to make the industry smarter in terms of how we do business. I’m seeing this incorporated into all facets of insurance from actuary to claims to even sales.
Karyn S. Roeling: I have seen a sharp shift over the past few years from billions of dollars flooding into insurtech to “disrupt” the agent/agency force to now, that money pouring into insurtech to assist the agent and carriers in writing and servicing business. It is exciting for me to think about the tools that will continue to be built for the agent so we can “level up” our partnership with our customers to help them manage their risk even better!
What advice would you give to women just starting out?
Emily Gerber Poe: You are more than enough! A lot of weight falls on our shoulders to keep a lot of balls in the air at home, at work, in our personal lives, financially, relationally, in every area. But I truly believe that women bring a unique perspective to running a business and how we relationally connect with our clients. In addition, I also believe that women have a unique sense of discernment, and that can provide a great value to running a business. One of the most valuable things I have learned throughout the years is this: I can teach people systems. I can teach them processes. I can teach them about products. But I cannot teach people to be kind. I cannot teach them to do the right thing. I cannot teach them to have integrity and a hard work ethic. So the most important thing I’ve ever done was be extremely picky on those that are a part of my team. I want the kindest, most moldable, team players. Then we get to build something amazing, all together.
Angela Lindsay: Be confident and bold! The insurance industry is still male dominated, but we are making great strides in having influence and strong representation at the highest levels of leadership.
Karyn S. Roeling: Find a mentor, ask why all the time! Be an avid learner/reader of all things insurance and start to look at the world through an insurance lens. Definitely join an insurance industry association, get involved and go to events so you can meet other awesome insurance professionals in your area.
Looking back, what do you wish you would have known when you were starting in the industry?
Emily Gerber Poe: I used to think that I had to go overboard to prove to people that I was smart and really good at what I do. Until I realized I don’t have to prove anything. The results speak for themselves, the relationships speak for themselves, and what I’m building speaks for itself. I used to often say, “It’s hard to be a young female in an older, male dominated industry.” Which is untrue. But I used it as a crutch, sometimes to downgrade how really incredible it is to be able to be successful as a younger female. Not because I’ve had to beg or plead, but because I’ve proven myself. I feel like if I had known that a lot earlier, I would have had a lot less striving in the wrong areas and focused my energies in the right areas.
Angela Lindsay: I wish someone would have told me that just “working hard” is not enough to get promoted. The reality is you also have to build relationships and partnerships with decision makers to have your work highlighted.
Karyn S. Roeling: I wish I would have known to get vert involved sooner in the industry association because meeting my colleagues and becoming lifelong friends with them was a game changer for me. I helped the ones that started after me and the folks that had years of experience on me helped me grow in my role as a sales professional and later running the agency.
Any additional advice you would like to share?
Emily Gerber Poe: If you always focus on why we exist as professional insurance agents, you should always come back to the same answer, it’s the people we serve and our clients who choose to do business with us. We have the greatest responsibility to educate, serve, and deliver an intangible product that protects what people have worked their entire lives to build. That’s a great responsibility and one that we should never take lightly. People trust us and that’s a beautiful honor.
I have made mistakes, I have fallen short, I have had to learn and re-learn work/life balance, navigate going from an exclusive agent to independent, learn how to grow, run a successful and profitable business, manage people and a million other things. But, it has been worth every moment. Mostly because I get to serve on a team alongside the most amazing people with a shared goal and interest. As well as getting to show up for my clients in their hardest times and making their lives better.
Lastly, the greatest piece of advice I could ever share and the same principle that has propelled me forward, is to hire to your weaknesses. You cannot be all things to all people and as smart as you may be, all of us have blind spots or things we are not good at. So invest in people who challenge you, who think differently, who are of a high caliber and want to thrive in what they are good at doing, and then step out of the way and let them do it!
Angela Lindsay: Seek out really good mentors and sponsors as you develop your career, they will help you develop yourself and get to the next level.
Karyn S. Roeling: Tell everyone about insurance and how many neat career paths one can take in this insurance world. Insurance touches everything we do, everyone we know and is a very interesting industry that I feel like many people shy away from when they hear the word “insurance” but we insurance professionals have the opportunity to change that perception with every interaction!
Nationwide’s diversity, equity and inclusion philosophy
A diverse and inclusive workforce is critical to Nationwide’s success. Bringing together the unique characteristics of each of our associates – gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, age, nationality, disability, veteran status, ethnicity, race, religion, as well as many other differences such as thinking styles, personalities and work experience – is an integral part of who we are and how we operate as a company. We are proud of Nationwide’s inclusive culture that supports every associate’s success and encourages an environment where they can feel challenged, appreciated, respected and engaged.