Women in Insurance: Q&A with Nancy Mellard, Chair of The Council of Insurance Agents & Brokers

Women in Insurance - February 16 2022

In this interview series, we profile women who are shaping the future of insurance. This week, we connect with Nancy Mellard, Executive VP and General Counsel of CBIZ’s Benefits & Insurance Services Division, and Chair of The Council of Insurance Agents & Brokers. The Council is the premier association for the top regional, national, and international commercial insurance and employee benefits intermediaries worldwide. Council members are market leaders who annually place 85 percent of U.S. commercial property/casualty insurance premiums and administer billions of dollars in employee benefits accounts. Nancy shares her perspectives on the importance of building a strong culture of diversity, equity, and inclusion in the insurance industry.

Nancy, you’re only the second woman in The Council’s 108-year history to hold the top position of Chair. According to special report published by Insurance Business Magazine, 65% of the total insurance industry workforce is female, but only 12% of C-suite officers are women. Why do you think there are so few women in senior leadership roles in the insurance industry?

Everyone in our industry “owns” a piece of this imbalance of women represented in C-suite industry positions today. I see the principal challenge to changing these percentages is a continued reliance on the “old-boys network” and the argument for a desire to maintain the integrity of “THE pipeline.” This antiquated approach to advancing talent negatively impacts the advancement and selection of women.

The insurance industry has to identify and evaluate diverse talent looking at new skill sets and work experience that, traditionally, were either not utilized or valued during the selection process. This additional lens for selection offers a fresh perspective on talent. The value of diversity of experiences can prove to be very effective at the C-suite and board seat level. If we continue to use only the traditional ways of advancing people, we will continue to see these disappointing percentages. But as I stated at the beginning of my answer, women also have to own a piece of this and be more bold and more willing to embrace the challenges that come at them!

You’ve been a long-time advocate for changing the culture of insurance, and the importance for companies to become change agents. How does the corporate culture of insurance need to change, and how can insurers empower change agents within their ranks to propel the industry forward, whether it be innovation and digital transformation or diversity, equity, and inclusion?

Men and women in the insurance industry have long had a great legacy of being leaders of change. I look around and have seen and met great leaders on both the carrier and brokerage/consulting side of this industry and applaud their voices, innovation, and actions in continuing to be change agents in supporting diversity in our industry. We have to find stronger ways to support these leaders and emulate their behavior. It is imperative that brokers and carriers align their respective recruiting and advancement policies and decisions. Sharing great ideas and practices has to be our collective approach. It is fair game to compete for talent, but we should lock arms on building a strong culture of diversity, equity, and inclusion in the insurance industry.

Back in 2007, the Chairman of CBIZ charged you with starting CBIZ Women’s Advantage, a program to recruit, retain, and develop female talent within CBIZ and support the women employed by the company and across the country. Can you share some wisdom and lessons learned from your 15 years working to collectively advance the careers of women in insurance?

My wisdom and experience tell me that we still have a road ahead of us! This journey may be a “forever challenge” that will always require the intentional commitment, focus, and dedicated work of both males and females. On a positive note, looking back, we have come so far in learning and understanding the business case for the advancement of women in the corporate world. I truly believe we are no longer arguing or fighting the battle of the “business case” for diversity. I will continue to say, however, that we, as women, can sometimes be our own worst enemies. We must continue to celebrate, support, and amplify each other for our many achievements and successes. Most importantly, we must work collectively and deliberately towards the day when the advancement of women to C-suite positions, board seats, and positions traditionally held by males is no longer an exception but a normal occurrence! I cannot wait for the day when I will no longer hear the words, “The first woman to be… (fill in the blank)”!

The industry faces a recruitment challenge with millennials choosing professions they believe to be more progressive, challenging, and fun. What can insurers do to entice new talent?

I continue to challenge all of us in the insurance industry to OWN this perception of our industry. It is not the millennials’ fault if they have this perception. We cannot expect the next generation of talent or the one after that to “look in” and try to see what amazing opportunities and challenges this industry offers. WE, as the leaders in the insurance industry today, must continue to emulate and demonstrate the amazing career challenges and opportunities this industry has to offer.

What positive changes have you seen since you began in your career?

I used to struggle with what I perceived our industry to be – always doing it the way it had always been done! But over the years that I have enjoyed working in this industry, I have seen an industry that has learned to be much more nimble and able to pivot more quickly with the needs and demands of our clients. We have learned to effectively educate and partner with our clients in a much deeper consulting capacity and respond to our clients demands for innovative solutions. Another critical change, from where I sit, is that client decisions related to their insurance needs now include and, in many instances, are being made either with or only at the C-suite level. This is requiring – no, actually demanding – our industry to seek a new and higher degree of talent to serve our clients.

What advice would you give the next generation of women considering a career in insurance?

My advice to women today? Your time is NOW! The insurance industry is demanding the skill sets, intelligence, and relationship management skills at which women excel. Grab this amazing opportunity and climb that ladder as high as you want to go! I have had strong female shoulders to lean on and stand on. There are many strong female shoulders out there today in the insurance industry just waiting and wanting to support the next generation of women to succeed beyond whatever we have been and are accomplishing in our time.

ILF_21_1884Nancy M. Mellard is Executive Vice President and General Counsel for the Benefits & Insurance Services Division of CBIZ, Inc. and Chair of The Council of Insurance Agents & Brokers. As EVP and General Counsel for the Benefits & Insurance Services Division of CBIZ, Mellard has responsibility for all legal matters including transactional legal matters for the Division. She also has oversight of all regulatory, licensing and compliance. Mellard also serves as a member of the Senior Management Team for the Benefits & Insurance Services Division, providing comprehensive strategic-level business counseling to this Division. As the founding national leader for CBIZ Women’s Advantage, Mellard oversaw the building of this Program, which now supports more than 2,500 female CBIZ employees. Mellard has been honored throughout her career at the national and local level, both for her professional achievements, and for her role in helping women succeed in their careers.

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