Professional Mobility

Top Of The World

How do women fare in the financial services industry?

by Arthea Reed and Diane Dixon

Ms. Reed is a senior financial representative with Northwestern Mutual and senior partner of Long Term Care Insurance Connection. She was formerly a professor and chair of the Education Department at the University of North Carolina – Asheville (UNCA). She earned a doctorate at Florida State University and is a UNCA professor emeritus. She divides her time between Asheville, North Carolina, and Hilton Head, South Carolina.
Ms. Dixon owns 3FCoaching (Faith | Focus | Follow Through), a national coaching business. She is a national past president of Women in Insurance & Financial Services and was its Woman of the Year in 2008. She is a graduate of Coach University, a member of International Coach Federation, a consultant of The One Page Business PlanTM, and a practitioner 
with Leading From Your StrengthsTM. She lives in Xenia, Ohio.

Financial Services: Women at the Top – A WIFS Research Study” is the culmination of a major, multi-year research project initiated in 2011 by the professional organization Women in Insurance and Financial Services (WIFS).

In this summary of the research you will find a description of goals and procedures for each component of the research study. Also, we have included some of the most interesting results of the study. Many more, along with the stories, case studies and advice of 23 of the most successful entrepreneurial women in the financial services industry are found on the pages of the book.

What makes women successful?

The overall goal of the research was to determine what makes women successful in the financial services industry.
The procedures used to reach this goal are outlined below.

  • 2012 Survey of 800 professional women in the financial services industry, sponsored by the professional organization WIFS.  Goal: To determine what the most successful female financial services professionals have done that less successful women may not have done. The data from the survey analyzed based on self-reported annual gross income from financial services, from less than $75,000 to over $1,000,000.
  • Survey data analysis revealed many differences between what the most successful women have done that less successful women have not done at all or as frequently.  Also revealed differences in goals, attitudes, and life styles.  Many were surprising and shattered long-held assumptions and myths.
  • To learn more about the what, where, when and most particularly, the why and how of what some of the most successful women entrepreneurs in financial services have done to achieve their success, approximately 100 extremely successful women were identified and invited to participate in a series of in-depth interviews. Fifty of those women completed the first round of interviews and 23 completed the second and subsequent rounds of interviews.
  • The interviews from these 23 women as well as the data obtained from the 2012 survey are the focus of the book “Financial Services: Women at the Top – A WIFS Research Study.
  • The goals of the book are as follows:
  • To provide women entering the industry or already in the industry with a roadmap to help them become as successful as they want to become. It was developed from the careers and advice of some of the most successful women in the industry. This roadmap, which appears in chapter nine of the book, can be used by women at any point prior to entering or during their assent throughout their careers.
  • To provide financial services industry leaders with information about how best to recruit, train and advance women in the industry.

This research study and book focuses only on female entrepreneurs in the financial services industry.  It does not examine women in management or in corporate leadership, nor does it examine male entrepreneurs or managers.

we have come away from the study believing that women are and can be as successful as men in the industry, but their rate of assent may differ significantly

We never intended to compare women to men in the industry, with the exception of showing that women can be and are as successful as their male counterparts, the study strives to only examine what makes women successful.

With that said, we have come away from the study believing that women are and can be as successful as men in the industry, but their rate of assent may differ significantly. The image of the ladder that appears on so many business books about rising to the top may be appropriate for men, but does not appear to be at all appropriate for most women.  We have come to see women’s success, at least in the financial services industry, as steps with many landings.

Successful women work hard to grow their businesses for periods of time, but the needs of their children or family members always come first.  When this occurs women spend as much time on the “landing” as necessary.  However, those women who do reach significant levels of success begin growing their businesses again as soon as possible.  Other landings also occur, such as:

  • Seeking new certifications to advance their businesses. Knowledge is key for women.
  • Working with new business partners. Continuation of their professional practices with values, service, and team members intact is important to women.
  • Moving to independent office space. Comfortable, safe, and supportive environment is critical to growth for women.
  • Growing their teams. Professional team members, not merely employees, are how most of these women have achieved their remarkable success.
  • Serving as leaders of professional organizations. Many of the women have given years of services to one or more local, national, or international professional organizations.
  • Being mentors new or young professionals in the industry. All were mentored at some level and believe mentoring others whether formal or informal is a responsibility that goes hand in hand with success and therefore takes time and commitment.
  • Serving as leaders and workers in local, national, and international charitable organizations. Successful women make giving back and paying forward a priority in their lives, even if it means sacrificing some of their professional goals.
  • Taking time away from the businesses for personal growth. Women seek a blended life, one that focuses on children, family, friends, as well as personal health and growth.

What about the men?

Although this study did not focus on men in the industry, it would be wonderful if someone would replicate this study to focus only on men.  When this occurs a true comparison between men and women in the industry and how they grow their businesses can be made.  We firmly believe that both women and men have an equally important role in the ultimate success of the profession.

The authors and WIFS leaders are gratified that the very first order for a large quantity of books was made by one of the major insurance firms in the industry to use in a workshop with company and field leaders. Each leader will receive and be required to read the book prior to attending the workshop which will focus on recruiting more women into the industry and making it possible for them to achieve high levels of success.

It is our hope that this company and many others will also provide copies of the book to women and men entrepreneurial professionals to help them grow their businesses to the level these women and men hope to achieve. The women completing the survey and participating in the in-depth interviews for this book made it clear that it is not money and recognition that are their primary motivators. Their motivation comes from achieving the business goals they have set for themselves. This, of course, does not mean that money and recognition or unimportant, they are central to allowing the women to achieve a status in their companies and the industry that gives them and their clients access to sophisticated knowledge, planning techniques and products.

The authors and WIFS appreciate the endorsements of the book from two major industry leaders who acknowledge the importance of the book to women and men entrepreneurs, corporate managers and the future success of the industry as a whole.

Terry Headley, past national president of NAIFA, said “This inspirational book is written by women, about women, but is not just for women. Men, too, can benefit from the information and advice from the highly successful women who openly talk about their careers and their lives.”

Daralee S. Barbara, international president of GAMA 2014-2015, said, “’Financial Services: Women at the Top – A WIFS Research Study’ is a great gift to the financial services industry.  As a fellow WIFS member, I am very proud of the research project conducted by WIFS on such an important topic, with such relevant results.  Diane Dixon and Arthea Reed have done a beautiful job of compiling this data so that the reader has easy access to the findings, providing us the privilege of a personal window into the successful lives of top women in our industry.  These revelations solidify the indisputably valuable role of women in our industry, encouraging newcomers and applauding seasoned advisors.  Congratulations to the authors and WIFS. I feel this book could become a very long lasting resource.”

“Financial Services: Women at the Top – A WIFS Research Study” is available through the WIFS website ( or from major distributors. ◊


About Women in Insurance and Financial Services (WIFS)
As the preeminent professional organization for women in the insurance and financial services industry, WIFS is dedicated to attracting women to the insurance and financial services sector, developing their talents and advancing them toward their fullest potential. WIFS plans programs and delivers benefits tailored to the needs of its membership of financial advisors, agents, representatives, managers, CPAs and attorneys. Members benefit from monthly educational webinars on a variety of business and professional development topics, mentor program and peer connection. More than three quarters of the more than 1,100 members have more than ten years of business experience and earn $75,000 or more annually.  Regional chapters are active across the continental US and Alaska.