Seeds of Change: Growing Opportunities for Women in Insurance

By | June 29, 2011

To a large extent, men still outnumber women in the property/casualty insurance industry. That’s a shame, says Barney & Barney Principal Trindl Reeves, who has been recognized for her efforts to promote professional growth for women executives. With more than 20 years of experience under her belt, and as a leader in California’s insurance community, Reeves knows first-hand that there are many opportunities for women in the insurance business. And she hopes to create even more.

Grandmas Know Best

Like most people in the industry, Reeves never expected to pursue an insurance career. But as she was finishing up her college degree, the psychology major/injured track and field athlete needed a new finish line.

“My plan was to be some sort of psychologist; clinical or marriage and family [counselor] … and I was going to continue with the track and field too, and get my masters [degree], and train with the big coach,” Reeves said. “Then I got sick. The doctor said, ‘You’ve got to pack it up on the athletic side.'”

At the time, Reeves said she was working while in college for a small insurance agency. The owner encouraged her to pursue a career in the insurance business. It was at this inflection point that Reeves’ 89-year-old grandmother offered some sage advice:

“I’ve never met a psychologist that seems really happy, because they always have to deal with other people’s problems. And every insurance person I’ve ever met has had a lot of money and been very happy,” Reeves said her grandmother told her.

Taking this matriarch’s words to heart, Reeves “chose to give [insurance] a whirl.” “I’ve been in the industry ever since, and in hindsight, it was a terrific decision,” she said. “I get to work with different companies every day and solve problems. I work with great people … I’m not sure why more women don’t strive to be in it.”

Now, with 22 years of industry experience, Reeves has a background in technology, directors and officers, as well as risk management and health and welfare consulting to publicly traded companies. Prior to joining B&B, she served as managing director of the Marsh San Diego office and formerly held numerous leadership positions during her 10-year tenure there and at Marsh’s Orange County, Calif., office. She also previously was a client manager for Johnson & Higgins.

Hurdles to Overcome

Working her way up the commercial side of the business was not always easy. For example, when she was 23, Reeves said the chief financial officer at a company she called on said he didn’t want to work with a woman, and instead wanted to work with his “golfing buddy” at another broker. The company was growing and getting ready to go public, Reeves said, which meant it needed quotes for several things for which it didn’t have prior coverage. Reeves convinced the CFO to give her a chance, and she used the opportunity to wow him with her hard work, delivering quotes in 24 hours.

That dedication cemented her relationship with this CFO, even as he moved around to eight different companies during his career.

“I think the challenges women face in our industry are pretty much the same challenges they face elsewhere; women feel like they’re not taken seriously, and some people think women are too emotional,” she noted. Some women find it difficult to find mentors to help them rise to leadership positions, as well, she said.

Women executives’ careers also can get side-tracked when raising children, or taking care of other family members.

“Mothers, just as fathers, provide different things in a relationship. And having children in the equation changes how you approach work,” Reeves said. “You have competing priorities. You have work, and then you have your family, and sometimes work presides and sometimes family presides. This is a real thing for working women,” Reeves said.

Regardless of whether stereotypes prevail in the workplace, the bottom line is that women are still in the minority, especially on the commercial side of the insurance industry, she said. For instance, at a recent insurer event where there were 127 agents, Reeves said she was the only woman. At B&B, Reeves is the only woman owner on the commercial side. Of the 37 company owners, five are women.

“I don’t know that the [challenges women face in the insurance industry] have changed that much,” Reeves said of her 20 years in the insurance business.

And it’s precisely because of such hurdles that Reeves is working to create more opportunities for women in insurance.

Growing Leadership Potential

Women have a lot of qualities that can lead to success in the insurance business, Reeves said. For example, women tend to be clear communicators, empathize with their clients and be strong multi-taskers. Moreover, women can be just as hard-working, persistent, and take as much initiative as their male counterparts, she added.

Reeves believes these qualities lead to successful insurance careers, which is why she’s hoping to nurture them through Barney & Barney’s G.R.O.W. Initiative, which stands for Growth in Relationships and Opportunities for Women.

Two years ago, Reeves and B&B’s CEO Paul Hering were attending a Pinnacle Awards event hosted by Athena, a San Diego-based nonprofit. The awards annually recognize individuals and an organization in the community for their development and promotion of skilled and talented women, and significant impact within the San Diego technology, biosciences, healthcare, defense, energy, clean-tech and services sectors.

After attending the event, Hering said he and Reeves lamented the fact that their organization didn’t receive an award — even though they felt they had been proactive about creating opportunities for women in their company.

“We said let’s do something about this, and Trindl said, ‘I’ll run with this,'” Hering said.

The seeds of Barney & Barney’s G.R.O.W. Initiative began to take root under Reeves’ care. B&B G.R.O.W. focuses on five key programs, with some activities open to the public, and others just for B&B employees:

  • Keynote Speaker Series – Notable females such as Kim Ng of the Dodgers, Major League Baseball’s first female assistant general manager, are invited to speak and share their wisdom with associates and business partners.
  • Mentoring Program – Select women associates are partnered with senior leaders to undergo a formal mentoring program.
  • Educational Symposiums – Address issues like professional development, juggling work and motherhood and more.
  • Social Events – Offer opportunities to network with fellow women and focus on raising awareness on behalf of local women’s charities and nonprofit organizations.
  • INSPIRE Mentor Groups – Foster collaboration and knowledge sharing among women in the firm, as small INSPIRE peer-mentoring groups of eight to 10 women discuss current topics and challenges, and brainstorm ways to address these challenges.

Today, 15 people within the firm— both men and women — lead the G.R.O.W. Initiative. Their mission: to advance women into the leadership ranks of the organization.

“There are probably more women in the insurance industry than men, but unfortunately they’re not many women in leadership positions, and we want to do something about that,” Hering explained, noting the men at his company are equally supportive as the women about the G.R.O.W. Initiative.

“Women have a huge opportunity to lead in the insurance industry — they just have to go for it,” added Reeves, who recently received Athena’s Pinnacle Award for developing the G.R.O.W. Initiative.

At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter whether the client deals with a man or a woman – the client just wants someone to be their advocate, Reeves said.

“[They want] someone to talk in a way that they can understand, and someone that they can trust that’s going to protect their back, watch their back, and give them the best price and product. If you can prove those things by delivering good results, then you earn the trust. And that trust converts into relationships over a career.”

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