Why does the insurance industry treat its women so poorly? It's certainly not the first time I've raised the question in my own mind over the past 40 years, but why does it persist?
I got to thinking about this all over again in light of three pieces I've read in recent months that suggest that the glass ceiling and the old boy network are still too much in evidence in American life, the insurance business included.
One led the front page of the New York Times' Week in Review section some Sundays back. Across the top of the page were cameo pictures of all the U.S. presidents to date, from George Washington to George Bush. They were presented in order, but they were not identified by name. There was, however, a single line of type under each, repeating the words "White Male," 43 times.
The story beneath was largely about Hillary Clinton, the only serious woman presidential contender in American history. Sure, there was Geraldine Ferraro running for the No. 2 spot with Walter Mondale in 1984. There have been other influential women in our political history, like Abigail Adams, Eleanor Roosevelt, Sandra Day O'Connor and the past two secretaries of state. Now we have Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi two heartbeats away from the presidency. But none as yet in the top spot.
On the world stage, it's quite different. There was Golda Meir of Israel, Indira Ghandi of India, the United Kingdom's Maggie Thatcher and Paskistan's Benazir Bhutto. Today, Angela Merkel is the chancellor of Germany. We've never had a woman pope, but we did have Mother Teresa.
Then there was the December 24 piece, again in the Times, about the widening disparity between men's and women's earnings. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, women of all economic levels made significant gains in terms of salary compared with their male counterparts.
"A decade ago," the Times reported, "it was possible to imagine that men and women with similar qualifications might one day soon be making nearly identical salaries. Now, that is far harder to envision."
Last year, the Times said, "college-educated women between 36 and 45 years old, for example, earned 74.7 cents in hourly pay for every dollar that men in the same group did, according to Labor Department data analyzed by the Economic Policy Institute. A decade earlier, the women earned 75.7 cents."
But the article that got my Irish up was the special section run in the Wall Street Journal of last November 20. The theme: "The Fifty Women to Watch 2006," a so-called view from the top wherein leading women executives talked about "how they got there and why their ranks are so thin."
The Journal reported that the overall number of women in senior management has "barely budged" in recent years. Women of color fared worst of all. Not one name from the insurance business appeared on the Wall Street Journal list.
It's time for insurance and brokerage companies to face a few hard facts: More women are in this country than men; more women than men graduate from college; academic test scores for young women outstrip those of young men; and the nation's business schools now graduate more females with an M.B.A. than males.
Looking out across convention floors these days, there's no question the presence of women is greater than ever before. When Risk & InsuranceŽundertook its annual Power Broker survey, the presence of women in managing director and senior vice president slots was much in evidence. But still, there are few at the top.
You have to ask, why?
a veteran editor and writer on industry affairs for 40 years, is managing director of Slattery-Esterkamp Communications, of Baldwin, N.Y.
February 1, 2007
Copyright 2007© LRP Publications