The internal barriers that can hold us back

'Just stay out of your own way,' says one sales leader to women who want to succeed in the industry

The internal barriers that can hold us back

Insurance News


Executive agent with Esser Hayes Insurance Group Tamara Knight has powered through her career on the foundations of innate talent and hard work. In a conversation with Insurance Business, Knight explained that sexism in the industry means women have to work harder to achieve the same ranking as men, but that barriers to women’s careers are often internal.

“Just stay out of your own way,” is Knight’s advice for women in the industry who want to succeed. She said women often allow themselves to be defeated by imagined slights from male colleagues.

“Some women have too much garbage in their heads that they're putting there. They think the other person is thinking things, but they really aren't. For every 10 thoughts females have, I think guys have one. It can hold women back a lot,” she said.

She advises a similar straightforward approach to career progression: “If you want so and so to notice you, then do something and say, ‘Hey, look what I did.' Don't wait for them to notice you. Just tell them.”

Knight credits her approach to growing up on her family's 3,000-acre cattle ranch, where she and her two sisters worked helping out their father. By the age of 14, Knight was driving tractors and operating all the farm machinery. “Where I grew up, it wasn't like, ‘Oh, you're a girl. You can't do this, you can't do that.’ [Gender division] just wasn't in anybody's vocabulary,” she said.

Knight entered the industry as a receptionist in a firm based in Alaska, where she had done her initial teachers’ training, and then got married. Within three weeks, Knight had gained her insurance license and was made an assistant. After two months, she was given a sales office. Her success was due to a natural aptitude in advising people, and good communication skills.

Knight’s success caused jealousy among female colleagues, who gossiped that she was ‘good with the boss’. Unfazed, Knight said: “No. I actually know how to do this.”

Eventually making her way back to North America, as her career progressed, Knight noticed how she seemed to be working harder than her golf-playing, socializing male colleagues. She later found out that her book of business was double and triple of theirs. “I used to joke with one male colleague: ‘What you do is enough to get you to where you are, but that wouldn’t get me to where I am,’” she said. 

Now the owner of her own 10-acre farm, replete with farm animals and tractor, Knight also has time to study crafts, genetics, orthomolecular and herbal medicine. She believes the time for women in the industry is good, and that women should take advantage of being not male. Men, she said, are burdened with the image of the untrustworthy salesman: “As a female, clients don’t automatically lump you into all that. People are more receptive to women. I introduce myself as a consultant with a background in teaching. I have been able to win business where male colleagues have failed,” she said.

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