Spreading the Wealth: Women of Influence

Insurance Networking News, October 2007

INN Editorial Staff

Most insurance technology executives will tell you that navigating their way to the executive suite is, at the least, a rewarding experience. This adage is true for men and women, but in the male-dominated insurance industry, women tend to relish the ride.

Not unlike their male counterparts, women in today's insurance technology marketplace have much in common: They pursue growth, seek challenge, take initiative, refuse to be bored and love the industry. And like their male peers, women understand what's required to accomplish professional excellence. They also hold as a primary career objective the goal of extending their influence by bringing others, especially other women, up through ranks.

This attitude seems to permeate the industry, and contradict one finding of a recent study of women across vertical markets conducted by Sherman Oaks, Calif.-based Women in Technology International and Compel Ltd., a Charlotte, N.C., management consulting and research firm. According to the "Women in Technology 2007" study, while 75% of today's women in technology roles would advise a young woman starting her career to enter a technology-related field, only 52% of the study's respondents report that their organizations offer "favorable climates" for women.

In our second annual "Women in Insurance" report, the profiles of six women from the executive suite (see p. 23) tend to dispute that notion. These female insurance executives embody business acumen, professional integrity, a passion for excellence and a true dedication to helping their organizations create a "favorable climate" for others. Additionally, their efforts transcend their organizations and are helping to shape the industry at large.

Yet, the successful efforts of the women featured in this issue, as well as those in executive positions throughout the industry, are not without certain challenges.

"Traditionally, the insurance industry has had its own heritage of being a male-dominated market," says Kimberly Harris-Ferrante, research vice president with Stamford, Conn.-based Gartner Inc., "and men get into it and stay there. But there have been a lot of changes during the last 10 years," she says.

FUELING CHANGE

Harris-Ferrante points to two elements fueling change: the evolution of traditional business and technology roles, and consumerism, which is opening the door to even more opportunities for women to excel.

"Business and technology used to be separate, and IT people were not necessarily required to have a lot of business knowledge," she says.

Those roles that were traditionally siloed are now coming together, and the integration of these roles-of people needing to know IT and the business-reflects the future, according to Harris-Ferrante.

"Women are adept at pulling these two roles together, which has resulted in more women coming into powerful, more influential positions," she adds.

Harris-Ferrante believes that sphere of influence will play forward to women of other industries as insurance companies face the reality of multi-channel integration.

"Consumers are beginning to use different channels, and insurers must be able to provide constant branding, top-notch customer service and the technology to fuel those efforts across all those channels," she says. "This customer-centricity is causing carriers to investigate talent from other industries, such as retail. This increases the opportunity for women to extend that sphere of influence even further."

In a special follow-up segment, next month INN presents the views of women who have served the insurance industry from both sides of the street, as technology and business professionals from both the insurance and vendor communities.

KATHY BURNS
CEO, eSolutions Group
Aon Risk Services Americas
Chicago, Ill.

Kathy Burns began her journey to the top of Aon Corp. at the bottom. In the late 1980s, Burns was part of the first college intern program for the Chicago-based company. Two decades and one detour later, Burns is CEO of Aon Risk Services Americas eSolutions Group.

During her time as an intern, a rotational program exposed Burns to various facets of Aon's business. She quickly determined that she was more interested in data and technology than in the traditional insurance brokerage service that Aon offered. "Risk management and insurance were very paper-driven," she says. "People didn't have access to electronic tools to improve their processes, or good electronic data with which to make decisions. It quickly became an interest of mine."

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