The Gender Gap

Outside In

Changing the way we recruit women

by Emily Viner

Ms. Viner is vice president of agency growth & development for The Guardian Life Insurance Company of America. She is responsible for field recruiting and the growth, development and retention of Guardian’s Field leadership and Management Bench.
She also heads up Guardian’s strategy to create gender balance and diversity within agency distribution, and received the prestigious “Woman of the Year” award by Women in Insurance and Financial Services (WIFS), a national professional association representing women in the insurance and financial services industry. Visit

Not too long ago I was overjoyed to wait in line. While not usually a happy occurrence, in this instance I was waiting in line for the ladies’ restroom at a sales meeting and the line meant that there were a significant number of women attending.
Being a financial representative is an amazing career, so why is the number of financial representatives shrinking while the population is growing? Why are more women and millennials not seeking out this career? Like many of us I did not fully understand what it meant to be a financial representative when I started in sales for a financial services company soon after college. At the time I was attracted to the idea of helping people, the chance to beat the wage gap and drive my income, and not work as someone’s secretary.

My mother became a widow at the age of 42 with two teenagers and no planning to provide security for the future. Despite having experienced the lack of financial planning early on in my own life, I only fully appreciated the amazing impact we have on the lives of our clients after doing the job and ultimately I became passionate about the career.
My story is one of countless throughout the industry. Those of us who have that passion know the difference we can make in clients’ lives. What keeps me up at night, though, is the fact that more women don’t realize this opportunity.

Looking at it from inside the industry and from our personal perspectives, recruiting – specifically recruiting to women – should be a slam dunk. What other career gives you the satisfaction of helping people, of having control over your own time and level of success, and having the opportunity to earn a good living?

The problem is, we look at it from INSIDE

Like many companies, we at Guardian are committed to recruiting, training and developing a diverse field force. One of our key initiatives is to help women succeed. While we have many incredibly successful women in our field, they represent a minority. This is a stubborn, persistent gap that many companies have tried to tackle.

This year we decided that we needed to take a fresh look at what is causing this nagging disparity. We conducted a study to see what we, and the industry, might be missing in terms of attracting successful women into our firms. To determine the root cause of the imbalance that we all know has been a chronic challenge in the industry.

The goal of our research was to better understand what Millennial and Gen X women are searching for in their careers at different life stages, how that may change over time, and how a career in financial services may resonate with them. We conducted one-on-one interviews, focus groups, mobile research, and a quantitative survey, speaking with more than 2,000 women.

Implications Beyond Financial Services

What we found was far bigger than what we expected. We realized that our findings uncovered the need for a much larger conversation about women and sales careers. A conversation that transcends industries. That’s because, as we found, it’s not that women are not interested in a career in financial services. Women are not sold on a career in SALES…regardless of the industry.

While only 22% of the women we surveyed said they were somewhat open to the idea of a career in sales, 60% have never even considered it. Those numbers represent an incredible opportunity for the industry, as long as we understand the reasoning behind them and how to best address the underlying issues.

Why is there a disconnect between women and a career in sales? Our study revealed some very interesting insights:

  • Women choose humility over hubris
    Ultimately, women fear they don’t have the ego-driven personality they need to succeed in sales. In fact, 77 percent say they’re not pushy enough for the job.
  • Women stifle their inner swagger
    Seventy-two percent say they can lead their team to success at work, however women rank being a leader 11th among their top traits.
  • Inertia feels safer than risk
    One in two women is most comfortable sticking to her routine. Women play it safe, which influences why they think sales isn’t for them and 57 percent don’t know what it would take to be successful in sales.
  • Women are navigating the workforce without a career map
    One in three women says she doesn’t have a leader to guide her along the way. Having a mentor or a roadmap to help navigate what to expect during a career change would provide many with a guide toward success.
  • Perfection equals pressure
    Eighty percent set the bar very high for themselves professionally. Seventy percent of respondents indicate that they’d always be stressed and under pressure in a sales job.

Following the Lead of STEM fields

it’s not that women are not interested in a career in financial services. Women are not sold on a career in SALES...regardless of the industry

As we studied our results, one of my colleagues likened the attitude of women toward sales to where the STEM areas were a number of years ago. Traditionally male-dominated fields, the thought leaders in the worlds of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math sought ways to get more girls and women interested in and on a path toward careers in those fields.

They realized that the right messaging and conditioning beginning in the early years of a young girl’s education can have an impact on where their interests lie for their future, and what they choose to pursue. And those choices are based on passion. These days, if a girl or woman shows interest in or a proclivity toward math or science, chances are the teachers, mentors and recruiters in those fields are ready to help them find their way.

The needle is moving in those STEM areas. More and more women are finding success in fields they once may not have even considered. And we believe that same balance is possible in sales careers—as long as we acknowledge that currently there is a gap, understand why it exists and are willing to work together to begin the dialog to initiate change.
Across industries, we need to help women overcome the cultural, personal and industry barriers in order to understand that, based on what they want in their careers—and in life—sales can be a great fit. Right now, there is a lack of outreach and open dialogue about how sales careers can look.

That means women are unlikely to seek them out, regardless of the industry. I believe that women spend time being competent and not being confident. So we need to find ways to build that confidence and help them understand that their functional and emotional needs can be met by what a sales career can offer. To help them find their passion.

Connecting the Dots

And we are having those conversations. We are committed to making a change and are helping women connect the dots between the type of life they want and what a career in sales can offer.
Our initial focus is in several key areas:


  • Advocate the need and opportunity to recruit more women into a career in financial service sales.
  • Reach out to the media to highlight the achievements of successful field and Home Office women.
  • Create and share content that shows what the career means and role models who women can look up to as examples.

Recruiting & Training

  • As proof of our commitment to recruit more women as financial representatives, we have a goal that by 2017, 30% of our new hires will be women.
  • Assist our firms in fostering inclusive environments where both men and women can thrive. One component of this work is our relationship with The Gender Intelligence Group in conducting workshops to educate members of The Guardian Network® on the brain-based differences between men and women. Connect women in sales to the resources they tell us they need. This includes our own learning and development resources and industry tools. We have a number of women who leverage our relationship with Women in Insurance and Financial Services (WIFS) to utilize their national mentoring program.
  • We continue to expand our annual Women Producers’ Summit, which provides Guardian’s women representatives with an opportunity to network, connect and learn from one another. We saw a 25% increase in the number of women who attended this conference in 2015 compared to 2014.

Leadership Development

  • Working with our field leadership, we have identified and reached out to women within The Guardian Network® who might consider a career in sales management. Our efforts have resulted in a 71% increase in the number of women in sales leadership positions within The Guardian Network® over the past two years.

While we know change won’t happen overnight, Guardian understands that there is a gap between how women perceive a career in sales and what it can truly offer them. We are committed to providing the education and leadership to overcome the barriers that are preventing quality and qualified women from seeking that career. And I personally believe that it’s our responsibility to our industry – as in all sales-related businesses – to help women find their passion to succeed in this great industry of ours. ◊