Editors' Cuts

Underrepresented? Maybe for Now

Pat Speer
Insurance Experts' Forum, November 17, 2011

Ara Trembly’s heart is in the right place, but his perspective on what women want to pursue (advertising and broadcast journalism) in place of a career in computer science may be a bit skewed.

Stats from the U.S. Department of Labor agree with those from CareerBuilder and Aol.jobs, and paint a realistic picture of women’s career interests. Healthcare is actually women’s number-one career choice, followed by employment services, education, social services, pharmaceutical and medicine manufacturing. Advertising and public relations actually ranks sixth, and interestingly, insurance ranks eighth, but the point, sadly, is that technology isn’t among the top 10.

One thing I’m sure Ara and I agree on is that women pursuing a career in insurance technology face a double-whammy: the majority of the insurance population is male, and the majority of professionals in technology also happen to be male.

So while our industry may not have the most stellar reputation for garnering the interest and employment of females in technology, we do have some notables past and present that serve as true role models for men and women alike. Consider Charlotte Cynthia Barnham, the first woman admitted to Yale’s graduate program, who received her PhD in mathematics and joined the American Institute of Actuaries in 1889. Fast forward to this year’s Insurance Networking News Women in Insurance Leadership program, which honored technology professionals such as Shohreh Abedi - SVP, CIO, Farmers Insurance Group, Tricia Mackechnie - SVP and CIO Consumer Markets & Enterprise Operations IT, The Hartford, and Kathy Owen - CIO and SVP of Global Services, UNUM for their successes in insurance technology. For these women, the status quo simply doesn’t apply, and they offer hope and encouragement to others coming up behind them.

Even away from insurance, females are blazing trails for women in technology. Consider Chinese-born, U.S.-educated Weili Dai, founder of Marvell Technology Group, who encourages women to embrace their technology aspirations. And Meg Whitman, president and CEO of Hewlett-Packard, who has boldly declared she plans to clean house and focus on a “less is more” approach to product development and distribution. Last but not least, Ginni Rometty, who, with her degree in computer science and her experience as general manager of IBM's Global Insurance and Financial Services Sector will lead IBM as its new chief executive, models for all of us the brilliance of being able to parlay technology and business savvy to a successful end.

Aside from women in leading the way in both technology and business, other organizations such as the Anita Borg Institute are doing brilliant work in evaluating how improvements can be made for females at the earliest possible stages of their education as they develop career interests.

And Catalyst, a nonprofit membership organization expanding opportunities for women and business, is making inroads in helping stakeholders better understand the value women bring to both business and technology. McKinsey’s studies on women’s productivity and relative contributions to the economy are also impressive.

My bet is on these types of efforts making a difference beyond just women in insurance technology. In early 2010, for the first time in history, there were more women in the U.S. workforce than men, and the U.S. Department of Commerce reports that women-owned businesses are the fastest-growing sector of the U.S. economy. Finally, women now control nearly 60 percent of the wealth in the United States.

From my perspective, women in technology may be under-represented, but they are slowly but surely mobilizing, building awareness and helping each other via networking, mentoring and sharing information and resources. Stay tuned.

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