Driving Change for Women in Insurance

Margaret Milikent headshot
Podcast featued image: driving change for women in insurance

Diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging. These words are said a lot today, but how often do they have real meaning? We have two very accomplished industry veterans on this podcast today who are conducting an industry-wide survey that I believe you’ll want to know about. My name is Stewart Foley. This is the Insurance AUM Journal podcast, and I’m joined by two really incredible women. Margaret Milkint, who’s the Chair of The Women’s Initiative for Million Women Mentors STEMconnector, and the Managing Director of Div Search Global Practice Leader. I have butchered your title, Margaret. Welcome.

MargaretThank you, Stewart.

StewartYou can say what it really is in a minute. And then we’re joined by Barbara Ingraham. Barbara Ingraham is a Managing Director of Excess and Surplus at Verisk. Barbara, welcome.

BarbaraThank you.

StewartWe’re thrilled to have you. Tell us about this survey and why it’s so important. This is such a big deal, such a big initiative. It’s exciting. And we need respondents to complete this information to be the most meaningful it can be. Tell us about it, please.

MargaretSo Stewart, thank you for having Barbara and I here. The Driving Change data study is really core to what we do in the Women in Insurance Initiative at Million Women Mentors STEMconnector. This is our second study. We really believe that data will drive the change. So we came out with our inaugural study in 2018 and it was powerful. And we know that this study that we are collecting data for right now will be groundbreaking. We believe it is for a study that the insurance industry will have in this global pandemic. As we navigate through it, we need our own data. And when we have that data, Verisk, our leaders there will be able to guide us as we do the analysis and tell the story of that data. So I will let Barbara, my very esteemed colleague, and friend, and partner in this data journey, talk a little bit about how we do what we do.

BarbaraSure. Actually, if you don’t mind, I’d love to give a little background as to why it’s important for us to have a data study in insurance and what we’re trying to accomplish. The industry is really very data heavy. And you could think of us as the first big data industry. We always have been, but it’s actually evolving right now. It’s evolving to provide better customer experience. Carriers are looking for deeper profitability. The industry is much more digital than it used to be. So there’s an increasing use of machine learning, artificial intelligence. And so the roles of actuaries, and now data scientists, data management specialists, CX/UX type roles, these are only going to expand.

BarbaraNow against that, we are an industry that’s historically had difficulty attracting talent. It’s not that well understood. There’s a lot of preconceived notions amongst people growing up, unless you had somebody in the industry, you really don’t know who we are. And so insurance isn’t always the first choice within financial services for careers. So you have these headwinds. We’re going to have greater need, and we’re still going to have these challenges in attracting talent. So let’s overlay on top of that the fact that, uniquely in insurance, there are more women than men actually in the industry, but they’re not equally represented it in the senior levels.

BarbaraSo if insurance is going to compete effectively for these STEM graduates, then it has to be appealing to the entire pool of STEM graduates. Young women, as well as young men coming into the industry, have to feel like they have a shot at a reasonable career. And if we don’t start addressing the issues of advancement in our industry, we are going to be losing out when it comes to attracting this talent. And so we have a strong, strong need to get this right.

StewartI could not agree with you more. I mean, I’ve said in another podcast, my goal is to be the loudest white male voice for diversity and inclusion. So that’s okay. But here’s the thing. As a professor, I would say, “You ought to consider the insurance industry.” And people would just look at me like I’m crazy. And I’m like, “You don’t understand what a great industry this is. It’s so misunderstood.” So the insurance industry’s facing a couple of headwinds. The diversity and inclusion is certainly one of them. Women in STEM, period, is another one.

StewartBut how many people coming out of X, Y, Z university or college with a STEM degree that has insurance as top of their list or in the top three? We had a guy talking about a sales force. They were getting 10,000 resumes a day. The insurance industry has the complete opposite problem. So can you talk a little bit about, before we go to the diversity and inclusion part, how do you get people to think that insurance isn’t, I don’t know, the worst place to go, or the last choice, or whatever. How do you get them through that, just that hurdle right there?

MargaretStewart, I mean, this is a battle, this is a story. We’ve been working together and you know it’s a journey that we’ve been on. And I think that when Barbara and I joined Million Women Mentor STEMconnector, it was for that very purpose. We saw a real way to create STEM OnRamps and insurance. So I said at the beginning, “Why shouldn’t insurance be the M in STEM?” And now I’m saying, “Why shouldn’t we be the T and the E and the S too?” Because we have so many rich career opportunities for young women and career changers to be able to come into our industry. And we desperately need that talent. As Barbara said, we need to put the spotlight on insurance. And this is a great way to do it. We’re all about action. The rhetoric time is over. And I think Stewart, your voice, your advocacy, your allyship really makes a difference. This study is real, it’s actionable, and we can do something very powerful with this data.

StewartAnd I think Barbara made a comment just a moment ago, that insurance was the first big data industry. And that’s true. You look at this and you say, I mean, the use of artificial intelligence machine learning and underwriting is such a big deal. And our audience is predominantly investment professionals. And it’s no secret that interest rates have been super low for super long, and you’ve to be able to make money writing insurance. You can’t write at a 105 combined and make it up on the investment side, not anymore. Those days are long gone.

StewartAnd so in order to do that, you need best in class talent. In order to have best in class talent, you have to have an industry that looks like it’s dealing effectively with DE and I, and B, belonging, important part. So Barbara, can you give us a little bit of background on Verisk? And then can you talk about, at a high level, what’s this survey, how can insurers get involved? Let’s start with this survey, because the survey is getting ready to kick off. Or are you in the middle of it? Can you just give us some background there?

BarbaraAll right, let’s start there. We have just launched the wave of data collection. So we launched it on October 15th and we’ll be collecting data through February. We find that it takes time to get to the right levels of the organization to gain acceptance and to collect the data and send it over. So why are we involved? So Verisk, we are a data and analytics company. We’re in multiple verticals, but we are hugely in insurance. It’s one of our largest industries. And one of the things that we are known for in the property casualty industry is that we are a statistical agent for insurance companies. We also manage a tremendous number of contributory databases. We already have working connections with a lot of the industry. We have a reputation for safety, security, for the anonymity, the ability to take sensitive data and keep it anonymous while putting meaningful insights out into the industry that enable the industry to get the information that they need without revealing any unnecessary details about those contributors.

BarbaraAnd so it is those very properties that caused us to be recruited to manage the data study. So we have a team, and it’s our data intake team, the people that our insurance industry friends already know will be handling the intake of the data. We’ve set up a series of secure FTP boxes for people to transmit the data. And we have an incredibly small team that will actually see the information. So we have the data intake team. We’ll take it in, smooth it, prepare it. Then a small data science team actually does the analysis work and produces the insights. And I’ll tell you how small the team is. Even though I work for the company, I don’t have any insight into any of the details other than, yeah. I don’t know who has participated or what their data looks like. We’ve kept it that confidential.

StewartIt’s good to know, because I mentioned this right before we started recording. It seems to me that those who are most likely to participate have the best story to tell. And those who have a less attractive optics may not. So can you talk a little bit about, you’ve mentioned data security and a small number of people seeing it. Can you talk a little bit about, “I’m a CEO, I’m head of HR. I’m whatever I am. And I get your request, and I’m like, ‘Hmm, I don’t know. Convince me to fill this thing out.'”

BarbaraSure. I think that’s very fair. HR information is very sensitive. So the first thing I’ll offer is that there isn’t a very good story to tell in insurance.

StewartYeah. You got good company. Absolutely.

BarbaraEssentially. I think all of us in the industry kind of know what it looks like. All you have to do… Let me share a statistic from the first study, which is we did verify, we’ve always felt this to be true. We did verify that there are more women than men in the insurance industry. But the numbers that are in senior management are not at all representative of that. We’re have a 55/45 according to our data. And when you get to the top levels, and we don’t even go all the way to the tippity-toppity in our study. Let’s see…we are at 21% women with a title of CEO and 79% men. So no one’s story is good. So that’s, I think, the first thing.

BarbaraSo this time round, companies who are looking to participate have an advantage because they can look at the existing data and they can determine, “Am I going to skew this or not?” And if they’re very concerned about skewing it on the downside, I understand that concern. We’re also trying to make it as easy as possible for people to give us broad level data. We’re asking for a fair amount of information. So one of the reasons we do want more participation this time around is because the more data we can get, the more insights we can pull out of it. You have to have a certain amount of data to be able to both disguise the identity of the contributors, as well as draw statistical-based insights out of that.

BarbaraThere are clues that we’ve seen in the data that might help the industry understand better what’s going on in terms of, as you get into different ethnicities, as opposed to just simply men and women, things of that sort. So the more data that we can get, we’ll be able to provide even more insights. But the truth is that anyone who has that concern can feel free to look at the existing study. And I guarantee you, there is nobody who’s going to be out of line with what they’re already seeing.

MargaretAnd Barbara, that is so true. I mean, when we started with the inaugural study, I mean, we asked people to come on with us with blind faith and trust, and to really believe in the security, and the care, and the trusted partnership that we had with Verisk. But now we do have our own facts. We have our own data and we have these insights that we are going to pivot off of. Every time I say that word now in the global pandemic, I always feel so redundant, but this is our inflection point because we have something to build off of. So I’m going to be a little bit of Margaret, turning the smile upside down, the frown upside down, I should say, Barbara. And say, “You know what? If you have some good data, we want it. Okay? In the last three years, if you have made the strides that we talked about, we want your data.” Let’s see where those numbers play out, because I really think there has been change, but you know what? I can’t think, and hope and pray. This is why we need the data.

StewartI’ve known you, Margaret, for a good long while. And the reason that people got on board with you through blind faith is because of your reputation and leadership. I will tell you that whenever there is a diversity and inclusion effort, you can count on Margaret being in a tiny kayak or dingy at the very front alone, in a stormy sea, just getting battered by the waves. You have been tireless in this effort. So now you are in what I think to be the perfect seat at Div Search. Can you talk about the other side of it? The other side being recruiting people into the industry. How big a battle is it? Or can you talk about… I have some preconceived notions. I do have biases, because I’ve been around the industry for a long time. Can you talk a little bit about the front end, the recruiting piece of this?

MargaretAbsolutely, Stewart. That is such a visual, the dingy in the ocean. I’d like to be in an ocean liner at some point with you, Barbara.

StewartWouldn’t we all? I mean, I feel the same way sometimes. I’m alone at this. And here’s you and Barbara, you’re out there. And it’s important. But it’s somebody has to roll up their sleeves. And I think, I don’t know you Barbara nearly as well, but I mean, I don’t know Margaret any time that you haven’t had your sleeves rolled up doing the heavy lifting. I mean, from International Women’s Day, these big events that you’ve put on, you’ve sponsored so many things. And I’m curious to know what your experience has been on the recruiting piece of it.

MargaretSure. No Stewart, it’s a great question. And I think it’s a question that really begs to be answered. It’s one thing I mentioned, rhetoric. This is not about rhetoric. This is about action. If we want diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging to happen, we have to be intentional about it from the very, very beginning to the very front end of a search. If you want an outcome, you have to plan for it. You have to strategize for it. You literally have to be neck deep in it to get to that outcome. A Diversified Search Group is a firm that was founded by a woman back in 1974, who realized that there was no executive search firm who was advocating and making change for women. This was back in 1974. Judy von Seldeneck, our amazing founder and chairwoman, she had a vision and she was actionable about it-

StewartI think that’s the key too.

Margaret… And that has grown.

StewartYou are so right that the rhetoric is over. And it goes something like, “Yeah, we’ve got a diversity and inclusion program here. And we’ve got this training program, it’s online. We’ve got that. I check three boxes and I’m all set.” And it’s like, “Well, when you see the kind of numbers that Barbara’s throwing out and you go, ‘There’s 79% CEOs that are men. More women than men in the industry.” What does that tell you?  That tells you a whole lot of women are working in positions that are not very highly compensated, chances are. So to your point, Barbara, when you’re going to start pulling this data, what sorts of data are you looking for and what insights are you trying to glean from that data?

BarbaraWell, Margaret mentioned, and I think that’s the key thing to understand about us, is that we are very action-oriented. One of the reasons we wanted to do this, in fact, this data-based survey to begin with, there are surveys out there that look at financial services. We weren’t aware of anything that looked specifically at insurance. But when we looked more deeply at those surveys, we found that there’s a lot of sentiment and attitudinal-based questions. How do women feel about their prospects? But there were no actual facts. Well, how are women doing? So let me share a few of the facts with you that we got out of this and then where we think the insights for action can come from for this. So I’ve already mentioned that the bottom line is that women start off in the majority and end up at the top in the significant minority. We found the crossing point.

BarbaraSo one of the things we asked for in the survey, are groupings. How many men and women in salary band? So we offer salary bands, and the crossing point where the men start to outnumber the women is at the $100,000 to $119,000 salary point. So then that’s actually, let me think. That’s your senior underwriter, maybe, level of throwing that out as a possibility. We find that another thing that’s really interesting is that… So from a rank standpoint, we also ask for the men and women by position, but we’ve got just generic categories for positions. So where men start to overtake women is in the manager of manager positions. So if you’ve seen some of these other stories out there, for instance, the Wall Street Journal follows the Lean In Initiative. And last year, their big insight was that women are failing to make it to that first level manager position.

BarbaraWell, that’s not our problem in insurance. And maybe it’s because there are a lot of women in lower paid positions. So becoming the manager of a group of women or a heavily female-oriented group of workers seems easier. But getting that next level is where women start to fall off in insurance. So if you’re going to focus on, where do we start to intervene to make sure that women are getting their fair shot? That is the first place that the industry can look. A second thing we found was women tend to be a lot more loyal than men. So 62% of people who have stayed at a company for more than 20 years are women.

BarbaraSo now you’re looking at a situation where women are loyal, they’re hanging around, they’re staying with that company, but is it paying off for them? No. And so now, we’re encouraging women to take more control over their careers and say, “Am I doing what I need to do to advance my career? And should I consider changing jobs if that’s what I need to do?” You also talked about diversity and inclusion. Well, 29% of insurance companies lack internal targets for gender diversity. And of that group, 61% do not publish their progress. So even if they have targets, they’re not going public with how well they’re doing. A series of insights that we believe are very foundational for action that people can take to start to make a difference.

MargaretRight. The foundation is here now, Stewart. We didn’t have the foundation before. We have the foundation now. We had the a-ha moments, Barbara and I had the a-ha moment when we looked at our first graph, that was literally an X. And we could actually see where the women were rising and then where they fell. We saw that the visualization was poignant. And that study about loyalty of women, I live that every day. Okay. If I place a call to a man, he says, “I’m your guy. I’m your next CEO.” I call an equally qualified woman. She tells me, “Oh, Margaret, I’m not the one. I’m not ready. I’m not ready.” So this is where the intention has to happen. This is where the change happens. And this is why we need the data.

StewartWhen Barbara started speaking, this came in to my head. So as the only male in presentation at Lake Forest College, and I think oftentimes that the whole idea around diversity, equity, and inclusion and belonging, says to white men, “This isn’t for you.” And one of the things that I’ve always been impressed with, Margaret, is I’ve never felt that way with you. And one of the things that you said during that presentation is you compared women and men, their willingness to go for it, given a list of…call it 10 criteria of a job. So if we’re going to use 10 as our baseline, Margaret, would you please tell the story that I think you’re going to remember about the difference between men and women at that point?

MargaretAbsolutely, Stewart. So with that list of 10, a man will be able to do, let’s say five on that list. And he believes he’s qualified. If a woman doesn’t see herself being able to do 9 or 10 of those items on that checklist, she will disqualify herself. This is an actionable change that we can make. So we skinny those lists down. So the words, the optics, how we use pronouns, what adjectives we use or don’t use as we go forward. And I’ve never said “they,” more than any other time as now. “They, they, they.”

StewartIt’s really important. I mean, and I think too that just… I can’t remember the way you phrased it on the last podcast, but it was, “As opposed to screening out,” talk about that.

MargaretYeah. I think we changed up our paradigm. The world is not about screening out. It’s about welcoming in. It’s welcoming in. It’s using that mindset and that approach. It’s actionable. It’s “Welcome. Welcome in. Yes.” As opposed to screen out. “No.”

StewartI think it’s really important. So if I’m reading between the lines, Barbara, a little bit, but Verisk has contacts with all these different insurance companies, but probably not the one that you need to complete this data. So how do we get to the right person and how do they find out about how to fill out this survey? I’m sure we can help promote that as well. But can you talk a little bit about that process?

BarbaraSure. Yeah, we do have contact, but the truth is though, this is a voluntary thing. And so we’re not necessarily saying Verisk is running a data call, which we do for the industry. It’s like, “Well, we’re running a data call. We’re requesting that you participate.” Because this is a voluntary thing, we’re handling it differently. We are providing all of the capability that we normally provide, but we are not using our organizational structure to attract participants.

BarbaraSo it really is very much grassroots. We’re using our networks. We’re asking as we make presentations, and we made a presentation last time, went back when we could all be in person at a conference. And what would you say, Margaret? 100 people in the room. And I would say 75 stayed late to talk to us. All people who became incredibly motivated by our presentation and the idea that there was something tangible that they could do to help advance the cause of women in our industry.

BarbaraAnd that’s what we’re hoping for. So what we want is to find as many champions as we possibly can, and then we’ll give them the support that they need to work through their organization and help get the data. When it comes to the technical aspects, we have a website, it has FAQs, it has contact information. So there are people available to answer questions, both attitudinally, “What is this about? How do I gain the support of my organization?” As well as technically, “What is an FTP? How does it work? What questions are in the survey?” So we have two sets of people who can answer all of these questions. So it’s just simply a matter, we really want to encourage anyone who is inspired by this podcast to reach out and we will help you help us.

MargaretIt’s one company at a time. It’s one champion at a time. Stewart, you asked how we make the change. It’s grassroots. It’s ground war. It’s one person at a time.

StewartI’ll go back to this. I think that in the course of my teaching full time, I ran into a lot of really talented students whose names were not Anglo Smith and Jones kind of names. And they were really great students, great people that were simply not aware of opportunities in these various industries. So I don’t feel like it’s about slanting a playing field in one direction or the other. I feel like it’s raising awareness of some of these opportunities with really talented students. And once they figure out, “Gee, the insurance industry’s got a lot going on.” I think the insurance industry is much more technologically advanced and savvy than most people give it credit for. So I think it’s incredibly important and I’m happy that I learned about this initiative. It wasn’t on my radar screen, and I really appreciate you both coming on and talking about it. As we get to the end of our time here, I’ve got one question for Barbara that Margaret’s already answered, but is there anything that you want to wrap on as far as, how do we make sure that people know what’s going on?

BarbaraYes, I would love to. We are looking to make this public as best we can. As I said, neither of us is using our companies’ power to do this, because it’s not a company sponsored thing. It is totally volunteer. So the wider we can make the knowledge, the more we can get out and speak to people or share our infographic from last time around, things of that sort. That’s what we’re doing. So any help that anybody wants to provide to help us amplify will be very welcome.

StewartThat’s good stuff.

MargaretWell said. Well said, Barbara. And Stewart, thank you for amplifying us and believing in us. I mean, it takes people like you to create awareness, and buzz, and energy around this. That’s what we need right now. This is an awareness campaign. And as Barbara said, we will be with our champions every step of the way, with the facts, with the insights, with getting on a Zoom call and talking to your leadership team. We have a wonderful consortium of leaders who believe that not only is this the next thing, it’s the right thing. And it’s the actionable thing to do.

StewartI love that. So Barbara, here’s the last question. This is under the, Ask Me Anything portion of the program, which you were completely unaware of. And here we go. I want to take you back to a day that you surely remember, and this is your graduation from your undergraduate institution. Now, whatever festivities or celebrations may have occurred the night before, you look bright eye and bushy tailed in your cap and gown. You wait, your last name starts with I. So you’re kind of middle of the alphabet. And I’ve seen a zillion of these graduations and I know how they go. So they call your row. You’re waiting. They call your name. You go up across the stage, they give you your diploma, get a handshake from the whoever. Quick photo op. Crowd’s going crazy. As you walk down the stairs, you meet Barbara Ingraham today. What do you tell your 21 year old self?

BarbaraGet that MBA?

StewartThat’s good advice.

BarbaraYeah. And that was the advice I was given my father. I graduated from college without a real plan for what I wanted to do next. And my father just basically said to me, “I think you should get an MBA. I think it would be very good for you. And I think you would be good at it.” And he was right. And I did it. I’ll throw in an other thing. And I would say, believe in yourself. I mean, Margaret referred to this earlier, about how women do not always take the advantages that are offered to them because they put too many things in the way of their decision making. And I have been guilty of that myself once or twice along the way. And I would love to have been standing here now and hand on the shoulder saying, “No, no, no, no, no. You’ve got your evaluation a little bit off. Try again.”

StewartI love it. That’s great advice. Barbara Ingraham, Managing Director of Excess and Surplus at Verisk, and Margaret Milkint, my friend for many years, the Chair of the Women in Insurance Initiative for Million Women Mentors STEMconnector. Did I get that right?


StewartOh my goodness. I feel good about that. Thank you both for being on. It’s been really fun. And I think what you’re doing is so, so important. It’s actionable and that’s what we need. We don’t need more rhetoric. We need action. And we’re thrilled to have you both on.

StewartIf you have ideas for a podcast, please email us at podcast@insuranceaum.com. Thanks for listening. My name’s Stewart Foley, and this is the Insurance AUM Journal podcast.

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