Women See Increased Visibility In Trade Long Dominated By Men

By Alexander Soule The Stamford Advocate, Conn.

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) For a career that offers an element prized by many women and men alike -- the ability to adjust a working schedule to mesh with one's personal life while having equity ownership -- insurance agencies nevertheless remain largely in the hands of men. However, there is a slow but growing segment of women in leadership positions in the Connecticut insurance industry.  

The Stamford Advocate, Conn.

In a study earlier this month, American Express Open determined Connecticut to rank next to last nationally in the economic clout wielded by women-owned businesses.

In one small corner of the economy, women are making strides to the corner office -- but those who have made it there admit the industry has miles to go.

Earlier this month, the founder of Stamford-based Troy Insurance Paul Troy transferred the business to his longtime employee Allison Gagliardi, with Troy having run the property and casualty insurance agency for more than a half-century.

It was a remarkable run of longevity in an industry that since the late 1990s has withstood the advent of Internet-based brokers, efforts by carriers to cut out the middlemen and, above all, a decided lack of interest in the business by many children of agency owners reaching their graying years, posing the problem of finding a successor for their agencies.

For a career that offers an element prized by many women and men alike -- the ability to adjust a working schedule to mesh with one's personal life while having equity ownership -- insurance agencies nevertheless remain largely in the hands of men.

Gagliardi joined in 1984 for a promised six-month stay before starting studies to become a paralegal, only to stick around. "It was getting time for me to move on, and Paul pulled me into his office and said, 'I think you're good at this,'" Gagliardi recalled.

In her early years with Troy, Gagliardi commuted from Stratford and said Paul Troy went out of his way to emphasize that she should put more-than-equal emphasis on her home life as her professional.

Gagliardi now gets the keys in a cottage industry that has seen women beginning to push open the door, and which remains a growth industry nationally, with insurance agencies and brokers seeing a 5 percent increase in revenue to $80.5 billion, according to estimates by the U.S. Census Bureau. Gagliardi is one of four women elected this year to the board of the Professional Insurance Agents of Connecticut association, along with Marissa Barbera, of Charter Oak Agency in Darien, and Loretta Lesko, of the DiMatteo Group in Shelton, who replaces Teri Walsh, of Sachs Walsh Insurance in Westport, as president of PIACT.

Kim McGillicuddy, who is senior vice president of commercial sales in the Norwalk office of First Niagara subsidiary Pierson & Smith, is the chairman-elect of PIACT's rival trade group, the Independent Insurance Agents of Connecticut. Known as the Big "I" in the industry, the trade group has had one woman in its top slot dating back to 1899 -- Mary Pursell of the Abbate Insurance Agency in New Haven, who remains on the Big "I" executive committee today.

Walsh started out in the business in Chicago in her father's agency before moving to Connecticut in the 1980s and seeking out an agency owner who would promote the prospects of women. She found that in Arthur Sachs, and late last year bought out her partner.

"There is only a small percentage of women in ownership roles in the independent insurance agency arena," Walsh said. "The number increases slowly. ... I knew I would not feel satisfied as an employee, but wanted the opportunity to own an agency and direct its course."

"I feel that women are definitely the minority of agency owners throughout (the) insurance industry," agreed Barbera of Charter Oak. "It has always been very male-dominated -- especially at the owner level."

Gagliardi recalls her father counseling her to never depend on another person for her financial well-being, having grown up the third of four sisters in the Shippan section of Stamford, where she lives today with her spouse Jack Condlin, who is CEO of the Stamford Chamber of Commerce. Gagliardi's daughter-in-law, Cara Condlin, has the same professional balancing act today, as well, in her own role as a Troy Insurance agent, balancing the job with bringing up two young children.

If Troy Insurance has a new face at the helm in Gagliardi, it is a familiar one to its longtime customers. As Troy Insurance looks to add more, Gagliardi indicated she will make ample use of her three-decade apprenticeship under the firm's namesake founder.

"Paul was very good at what he did, and I think locally people knew him and respected him -- he was involved in so many community things," Gagliardi said. "I think it's important, even though the ownership has changed, that it's very seamless. ... You don't change the way we've always operated."

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