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For anyone, the road to the corner office can be a tough journey. For women in the insurance industry, it can provide some additional challenges. A 2015 study by Saint Joseph’s University Academy of Risk Management & Insurance showed that out of 100 insurance companies that participated in its survey, 78 percent had no females in “C-Level” positions. That number may seem daunting, but things are getting better. The figure is down from 85 percent in the Academy’s 2013 survey, so progress is being made.

Regardless, becoming a female CEO in the insurance industry takes expertise, courage, and perseverance.  Becoming one in the traditionally conventional fraternal system takes even more. In a diversity workshop at its May, 2017 Spring Symposium in Chicago, which was moderated by Denise McCauley, Executive Vice President, Chief Operating Officer for WoodmenLife, the members of the American Fraternal Alliance were lucky enough to hear from two highly respected women who hold top posts at their societies. Teresa Rasmussen, President of Thrivent Financial and Cynthia Tidwell, CEO & President of Royal Neighbors of America, shared their experiences and provided advice to future leaders. Interestingly, as both pointed out at different times during their conversation, their advice is equally applicable to both men and women seeking the path to leadership. Most of their advice fell into seven basic categories that offer some outstanding lessons in leadership.

1. Specialize

Neither Tidwell nor Rasmussen initially began their careers in the insurance industry. Both started in health care fields, and both stressed that the specialization of skills in certain, in-demand, areas played a strong role in their success.

Tidwell, whose first job out of college was in cardio rehabilitation, soon found that most leadership positions in medical were reserved only for doctors. She subsequently moved into the insurance industry for the State Farm claims department. Her familiarity with health care gave her an advantage, and she was able to rise through the ranks there and then at several other companies, including Chubb, Xerox and Fireman’s Fund. Through this process, Tidwell became known as a turn-around expert, and it changed the trajectory of her career. She was recognized as someone who could move from department to department and company to company solving problems, realigning staff, improving bottom lines and transforming troubled divisions into profit centers.

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