I was struck by a National Geographic article this week in which author Simon Worrall admits that, although there are influential women in technology and science, the numbers are few.

“The same is true of space exploration,” he says. “All the world knows the name Buzz Aldrin. How many of us have heard of Bonnie Dunbar or Joan Higginbotham?” These women were part of a group of brilliant and tenacious female mathematicians and engineers at the Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena, California, helping “man” make it to the moon.

With women in insurance leadership we find ourselves in similar territory. We’d like to think that much has changed for women in our industry since INN published its inaugural “Women of Influence” cover story some 11 years ago. But has it? In 2006, I was one of five women in the general session audience of approximately 1,000 insurance leaders at the International Insurance Society’s annual meeting. Today, there are still far less females than males serving in executive leadership positions in our industry.

And if we look further, this imbalance applies across all industries. 2020 Women on Boards, a national campaign to increase the percentage of women on U.S. company boards to 20% or greater by the year 2020, reveals that today, only 19 percent of Fortune 500 board seats are currently held by women.

If improving the future of women in in insurance leadership sounds difficult, it’s not. It’s just that we haven’t fully identified or singled out the next generation of female leaders among us -- women like Tricia Griffith, who was just named the next CEO of Progressive and is a former WIL honoree.

When INN’s “Women of Influence” cover story gave birth to INN’s formal Women in Insurance Leadership (WIL) program, my colleague Carrie Burns and I (as part of our respective tenures as editor in chief) interviewed many WIL candidates. We have been privileged to get to know women who came up through the ranks within the insurance technology and business sectors to take the reins in senior management.

In almost every instance, these highly regarded decision-makers made professional development, networking, career advancement and mentoring a priority. And in every case, these candidates had an advocate promoting their leadership expertise. Through those advocates, WIL has been able to single out, recognize and showcase these talented women, women who have the passion and the power to improve the future--not just for their own companies-- but for other women who are coming up through the ranks.

Nominations are open for this year’s program. Please advocate for your preferred woman in insurance leadership, and plan to celebrate with them in Chicago on Oct. 24 and 25. I’m confident that former engineers, educators and American astronauts Bonnie Dunbar and Joan Higginbotham would approve. 

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