The Strategies That Shaped My Career

Two Strategies that Can Grow Women’s Careers in Insurance

Award winners, Leadership

In the two decades since I started my career in insurance, a lot has changed for women in the insurance industry, and some things are still a work in progress.

While women outnumber men in insurance agencies, they are still underrepresented in agency leadership.

Some women struggle to grow their careers in what has typically been a male-dominated industry. According to recent research from Liberty Mutual and Safeco Insurance, women in independent insurance agencies are less likely than men to say that their manager is actively developing them for leadership, they have the skills to grow their careers, or that they’re excited about their future in their agency.

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Dawnyel’s contributions to helping women in insurance helped her win a 2022 AFTF Award. Applications for the 2023 Awards are now open. Learn more here.

This doesn’t mean that women are victims or that we must unite against men. Rather, we need to find ways for everyone in the industry to empower women to grow their careers.

After attending a women in insurance event in 2017, I headed home fired up about creating something different. I wanted to inspire women and allies to help empower women to take risks that we too often do not take.

The result was WIISE – Women In Insurance Sharing Empowerment, which I started with our COO, Heather McDougall. Since then, we have helped several carriers start their own women’s group, put together retreats and spoke across the country.

Looking back at my career, I can see two main strategies that helped me overcome professional challenges and get to where I am today.

Find allies and “menefactors”

A “menefactor” is a man who serves as a benefactor in the life and career of a woman.

Male allies played a crucial role in getting me to where I am today. My menefactors helped me understand how to navigate a career in a male-dominated industry. In times when my voice was not heard or considered, they were the microphone amplifying my message.

There are three men who greatly shaped my life and my career:

My dad, Richard, always encouraged me to go for things that others were too afraid to go for or that no woman had ever done before. He was my first menefactor who always extended his heart and his hand to lift me up throughout my childhood and still today.

In 2002 I met my husband, Jason, who told me I was I diamond in the rough that was born to shine. Jason has been to many carrier meetings, trips, dinners or events where it was assumed that he was the reason we were there. With a supportive laugh, he would let them know that I was the one that made it possible for him to be the eye candy.

After leaving the captive path to become an independent insurance agent, I met my business dad, Ken Walters. He believed that I could start our first contracts with national carriers for commercial contracts. He supported my innovative spirit, and when it came time to retire, he chose me to carry on his legacy.

Take risks and find your place at the right tables

Regardless of the industry that you are in or your gender, finding your place at the right tables puts you in the mix of jumping ahead with the right people.

To get there, you will need to lead with your strengths, not be afraid to do things you are not confident about and get your ego out of the way.

The book The Confidence Code talks about how women tend to not ask to take something on unless they are 100% sure they are ready, but men can be uncertain of their abilities and still take the leap. I greatly admire people who do this, especially those who do this without pushing others down.

Women often feel we are expected to stay quiet, not rock the boat, not take big risks. The fear of not being perfect can hold us back if we let it.

Instead of listening to those voices, we need to lean into the idea of progress, not perfection. I’ve learned that being a lifetime learner is a huge strength. Even if I fail spectacularly, I will gain the opportunity to learn something new, and usually that something new is about myself.

While we cannot erase the challenges of being female in our industry overnight, we can build strategies to help empower ourselves and other women in insurance agencies. I encourage everyone to look at how they can find or be a menefactor, and how they can make space for themselves or others at the table.

Dawnyel Smink

CEO, CLI Select Agencies

Dawnyel Smink launched her independent agency in 2004 as a member of CLI. Her drive and love of the industry propelled her to acquire CLI in 2008 and grow it to 80 plus locations strong. From her original career path of elementary school teacher, Dawnyel soon chose to help even more people by becoming licensed in property, casualty, life and health. Her passion for education has continued as she now helps clients understand the impact the right insurance choices. Through her group WIISE- Women In Insurance Sharing Empowerment, she works to lift women up in their careers. A Mom to three, Dawnyel enjoys traveling, playing golf with her husband, Jason, and giving back.

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Bobi Culver
1 year ago

O wow! This article hit home. As I am the only commercial producer better yet female producer in my agency. We are a very small agency, and it can be very difficult to draw clients in and write when contractors (example) come in and they end up calling the office to speak to my boss which is a male. So, they would rather speak to him than to me. Frustrating

Michelle Tweedy
1 year ago

Great article! It’s important to build a team of supportive folks to support you as you grow in this industry.

Jennifer Klages
1 year ago

Love the “Lean into progress, not perfection!” This is how we move forward. Great article, Dawnyel. Thanks for all you are doing to advance women and all of us in insurance!

1 year ago

Love the article Dawnyel. “menefactor” – love love even more. Great writing, easy to read and profoundly accurate. Thank you for giving back.

1 year ago

Very encouraging and truly gave me the pep talk I needed! Especially getting over my own fears and needing to be perfect before I take a leap. It’s more important to grab tight to the growth and learning opportunity in taking a risk.

Kim Beach
1 year ago

Great article Dawnyel! The more we talk about empowering women and helping each other, the quicker we will get more parity in this industry!

Bailee Turpen
1 year ago

Great post, Dawnyel! As a young woman in the independent agent sector, I can attest to the “menefactor” advice! My husband and father-in-law have played crucial roles in my career and have helped me every step of the way. My mother-in-law, another woman in the industry, has helped me tremendously, too! Your article has inspired me and reminded me that it’s okay to not be perfect and to take steps forward anyway.

7 months ago

Great article and great job for growing your business like you have! That’s very admirable. I am the only female producer in my office who owns her book of business and it was the same at my office before this one. I have had challenges being treated differently, etc due to being a woman and at the prior agency many people who called in assumed I was a CSR. So got into the business because of my Dad and it was nice to have him as a mentor.

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