All-women agency: breaking down boundaries

“When we started we were at $3.5 million in premium, now we’re at $33 million in premium.”

All-women agency: breaking down boundaries

Insurance News

By Sam Boyer

Capitol Special Risks is a rarity in insurance – in fact, it’s beyond rare. It’s a needle in a haystack, it’s a unicorn, it’s Moby Dick.

The wholesaler is entirely female-run and female-staffed. And in the male-dominated insurance industry, it doesn’t get much rarer than that.

We want to hear from you about the biggest challenges facing diversity and inclusion in the insurance industry today. Take part in our short survey now.

Company president and co-founder Dorothea Westin spoke with Insurance Business about her company, its space in the industry, and the challenges facing women in insurance.

“We were told that we were crazy, that we were going to go under, that women couldn’t do this, all those traditional things that you would hear,” she said. “Why do you even want to do this? You’re going to have kids and then go. I can’t tell you how many times we heard: you need to sell, you need to sell.

“We declined all offers, stayed in it and grew the business. When we started we were at $3.5 million in premium, now we’re at $33 million in premium. And we paid everybody off – we’re very pleased that we don’t owe anybody.”

Do you deserve an award for Woman of Distinction or in one of 23 other categories? Nominate yourself or a colleague now – it’s free to enter and takes just a few minutes.

Westin and her business partner, co-owner and chief executive Lynn Levinson, went out on their own in 1999, buying out the company they worked for.

It was a rocky road in the beginning, she said. Early on, they lost some business “because there wasn’t a man leading the company.”

By 2003, however, the company had found its niche and found the clients who shared its vision.

“In the last five years, it has become less about the fact that we are women and more about what we can accomplish,” she noted. “We’re not relying on just a golf game to secure business, it’s about making it so that you can’t live without us.

“I definitely think we’ve had a harder ride, because we’ve had to work to find that niche, to find like-minds to accomplish things. And that’s not necessarily true for a company that’s not like ours. However, as the old saying goes, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger – it definitely makes you work harder and smarter to get where you want to go.

“I think there’s a more rewarding sense of pride that you get from the work that you do when you are a minority-owned company. Being a woman, that sounds crazy because there’s more of us than men, but you’re still a minority-owned company when you’re a women-owned company. That speaks volumes for our society. It’s clear to everybody that it’s not equal. But if you work hard, you can get there.”

Until about three years ago, the company employed three men, but they all moved on, Westin said. The company now has 16 female staff.

“We don’t try to be all-female but it is difficult, I think, for gentlemen to want to come into an all-female agency,” she added. “But we certainly try to – we actually lament the fact that we’re all women sometimes. You do want diversity. We have diversity in ethnicity, but not necessarily in the sexes.”

And when it comes to their place in the industry, Westin said the company engages in charities and schools and workshops for women and children geared towards empowerment.

“I definitely see a sense of social responsibility. I think we need more examples, to show women and young ladies that this is not an exception and this can be the norm – it should be the norm – and that we have to help ourselves to see that,” she explained.

“I don’t think it’s anything that’s done to us, as a society, that keeps us from achieving that, but you can’t achieve something if you can’t see it. You can’t complain about a problem if you’re not doing something to change it.”

Related stories:
Are women finally at the top of the insurance industry?
insurance still on gender diversity journey

Keep up with the latest news and events

Join our mailing list, it’s free!