Mentoring the Health Insurance Industry’s Next Generation of Women Leaders
By Jessica Word
CEO, Word & Brown General Agency
As the daughter of one of the co-founders of Word & Brown GA, I grew up in the health insurance industry. It would have been easy to turn away from the “family business,” but I was fortunate that there were professionals over the years who took the time to help me focus, find my path, and recognize my leadership potential.
My journey made me recognize the significant role that mentorship plays for anyone who wants to advance in their career.
Then, it is no surprise that one of my areas of focus as a CEO is to foster and create development opportunities for young women looking to become benefits professionals. It’s important that agencies and brokerage houses make the time to nurture the development of women team members – they are our industry’s future leaders.
While we might all understand the need for mentorship, the last few years of pandemic work-at-home might have us out of practice. Let’s look at three cornerstones to successful mentorship.
It Starts Early: If a woman develops a personal relationship with a more seasoned professional early in her career, she is likely to be promoted more quickly than those without mentors, according to a study from SAP HR Research. This is why I’m passionate about mentorship – it’s a mutually beneficial relationship that helps both the mentee and mentor.
Over the last several years, I have mentored a student at California State University, Fullerton, every semester. I have learned so much from this woman and others during our regular conversations and they inspired me with their resiliency during the pandemic. Make no mistake, though, they need encouragement as much as anyone to develop a passion and nurture the drive necessary to make a mark in the business world.
One-on-One Relationships Are Critical: Most adults in a young person’s life are either family or faculty. One-on-one relationships, especially those with women just starting out in their careers, are key to seeing a broader picture of the business world.
This requires a regular time commitment to establish deep, meaningful, and organic connections. It can be challenging in our busy schedules, but we can all break away for a quick cup of coffee or lunch. A regular cadence of meetings not only is valuable for topics discussed, but it teaches the importance of holding to your commitments.
Having someone readily available to lend an ear when you need advice for a career shift, big move, or promotion is invaluable. Not only does it increase a mentee’s chances of success, but it creates a “pay it forward” mindset. And this kind of mindset has the potential to grow the number of women professionals in our industry, which is a great thing!
Network, Network, Network: We’re all familiar with the mantra, but beyond what it does for a young woman trying to get ahead, it is just as important to growing the number of women candidates applying to join our teams.
That’s one of the reasons why Word & Brown partnered with California State University, Fullerton, on a half-day event in the fall 2021. I worked closely with the college’s Center for Leadership; one of its key business programs is to create opportunities for women students to hear seasoned women leaders from a variety of industries talk about under-the-radar and hidden job opportunities. This event was truly one of the highlights of my year!
Finally, here’s a challenge from me to you: take the leap and reach out to a new women industry professional in the next month. There is power in reaching out to someone early in her career to offer important guidance that will help her to succeed. Who knows – she may eventually become a president of the National Association of Health Underwriters!
Jessica Word is CEO of Word & Brown General Agency. Established in 1985 and headquartered in Orange, Calif., Word & Brown is one of the state’s largest independently owned general agents. For additional information, visit www.wordandbrown.com.