Thirty years ago, it was estimated that women comprised only 1.5% of insurance senior-level position appointments. By 1990, that figure had doubled to 3%, signifying a new focus on the ways women could help each other break through the glass ceiling.

So at this year at INN's Women in Insurance Leadership Forum event, it was not surprising to see the growing throngs of women who already have done just that - a great feat in the insurance industry that did not go unnoticed. But now that women have broken through the glass ceiling, they are entering new territory.

More often, they are coming face to face with a host of challenges - without regard to gender - when making important business decisions. This is where collaboration needs to happen.

INN's Women in Insurance Leadership Forum, held in partnership with SMA, touched on that collaboration - not just between men and women, but among all areas of the organization. Female executives from a number of insurance companies, including The Hartford, XL Re, Chubb and Nationwide, shared the depth and breadth of their experiences - from admin positions to the executive suite - with some shattering the ceiling on their way. The women executive attendees quickly agreed: To be a leader, you must understand all areas of the business and you must possess the ability to effectively communicate.

We obtained a hint of these leadership tenets before the forum, when we presented a couple questions on the conference Web site to determine what INN readers believe to be true characteristics of female leaders (see charts).

We're getting there. Today, INN's readership demographics match that of the industry at large: Of INN's 23,000-plus insurance executives, 4,000 of them are women.

As witnessed at the forum, women continue to receive cross-gender support and, in turn, encourage each other to enter this new territory of collaboration and communication. Many of them have positively affected their organizations' top and bottom lines, and have improved the environment in which they work. But, again, collaboration is key; at the forum I heard these women say they couldn't have been successful had other leaders - male, female, young, old - not been there to help. It just goes to show that it takes an industry to raise a leader.

(c) 2009 Insurance Networking News and SourceMedia, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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