International Women’s Day | How far we’ve come and where we want to be

With women occupying 74.8% of our staff at United Insurance, International Women’s Day is a time to celebrate the dedicated women throughout our 14 offices and in every department of our organization. As we shared during our Women of United campaign, women of all levels of experience and all walks of life have found fulfilling careers at our company.

That said, there’s a difference between having a lot of female employees and being the kind of employer where women occupy key leadership roles that impact our day-to-day operations and our long-term strategy. At United Insurance, women manage our Bangor, Farmington, Pittsfield, Rumford, and Rochester, NH offices, as well as our Employee Benefits Division and our HR team. We’re proud of those facts, and some of the longest-tenured female employees agree that our company, our industry, and the workplace in general have come a long way.

Sharon Matlock headshot

When Sharon Matlock joined United Insurance in 1989, a typical workday looked like this: “We had typewriters at our desks, file cabinets with a paper file for each client, and printed carrier manuals used for locating guidelines and rates. For personal lines we had what was called ‘savage rating’ to get quotes for home and auto insurance. We would then type or manually write out all the applications and mail them to the insurance carriers for issuance. The clients file would then have a color-coded marker placed in it which signified a date to follow up to be sure the new policy had been received back in the mail from the carrier. Even policy change request were hand written on a duplicate copy form so one copy was mailed to the carrier and the other copy remained in the client file pending for the endorsement to be received back from the carrier by mail. Today, the majority of these items are done electronically on the computer. Face-to-face client interactions have reduced through the years as more and more transactions are done by phone and DocuSign.”

Sharon’s long-time Presque Isle office coworker, Wanda Guiggey, says that the only thing that’s changed more than office technology are the policies and procedures around writing insurance policies. “Back when I started most of our carriers would pretty much write anything that we had. There was some underwriting of commercial accounts, but we had very broad guidelines. Most conversations were over the phone where we would pitch the client to the carrier that we wanted to write the business with. Things are much more structured now with more procedures and strict guidelines.”

Despite all the changes throughout her career, Wanda appreciates the consistency and stability of working in the insurance industry: “I have been very lucky in my years here at United. I always felt respected and have always been treated very well. Of course, I was always content with what I was doing. My job servicing my clients was always very challenging but very rewarding at the same time. I have met so many wonderful clients, underwriters, and representatives over the years.”

When we asked if she’d experienced any gender bias or challenges that required strength, Bangor Office Manager Novilla Rollins didn’t mince words: “One time, a male client didn’t believe my explanation about the limits of his policy. None of the facts I provided changed his mind so he demanded to speak to my “boss.” When my male supervisor used the same words I did to explain the situation, the client accepted it without resistance. That wasn’t a good day.”

Personal Lines Account Manager Lisa Thayer had similar experiences as Novilla in the early part of her career, but she’s also  seen a lot of progress throughout the industry since she started working in 1998. While there are more opportunities for women these days, Lisa stresses the importance of continuous self-improvement: “Wanting to learn, being able to multitask, and being able to think outside the box are so important, she says. “My other best advice for women starting out in any career is listen to people and if something doesn’t sound right, believe your gut, and dig deeper because you’re probably not getting the whole story or you’re only being told what they think you want to hear.”

As proud as we are of how far we’ve come as a company and the career opportunities we’ve created for our 119 female employees, we also recognize that we still have work to do. We’ve set a goal to be one of the Best Places to Work in Maine, and we’re boosting our training, career development, employee recognition, and philanthropic efforts to make it happen.

For us, a bright future means more than better compensation, benefits, and perks for our people; it means more accomplished and confident women like Nikki Knowles in management roles and leadership positions to help us build on our accomplishments. When we asked Nikki what International Women’s Day meant to her, she said: “I didn’t know there was such a day. I guess I live in my own world where men don’t intimidate me, and anyone who works hard enough for long enough will find success.”




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