The “American dream” is built on a basic premise: If you work hard, the sky’s the limit for your career and earning potential.
But the truth is that the limit isn’t the sky but the ceiling – the glass ceiling – for traditionally disadvantaged groups, including women. Women earn an average of just 82 cents for every dollar earned by men. The gender wage gap is even more pronounced among women of color: Black women earn 62 cents for every dollar earned by white men, and Latina and Indigenous women earn just 54 cents and 57 cents on the white man’s dollar, respectively.1 Those gaps are smaller when controlling for parallel jobs and qualifications – but they exist nonetheless.2
Structural change, such as enforcing equal pay laws, can help close the wage gap. But for individual earners, there’s another route that can help: becoming independently employed. When you sign up to be an insurance agent with Aflac, you sign up for a standardized commission structure that lets you find your own earnings ceiling instead of crashing into glass.
One way to break the glass ceiling: commission-based pay
The insurance industry has its own wage gap issues – women in insurance earn just 62 cents on the dollar.3 The sales industry also struggles, specifically in B2B sales, where women make up fewer than one-third of all sales positions, even though they outperform their male counterparts (86% of saleswomen achieve quota, compared with 78% of men).4,5
But that picture shifts when it comes to independent insurance agents. Part of the wage gap stems from differences in how men and women negotiate salaries.6 But with a commission-based structure, payment is fixed. Male agents can’t negotiate a higher commission rate than women – the commission percentage per policy is the same regardless of the agent.
The same goes for benchmark bonuses. First-year Aflac agents who hit every bonus benchmark wind up earning $13,700 just in bonuses – no negotiation necessary.7 A commission-based structure might not be for everyone. But because it treats everyone equally, it becomes an equalizer that can help women achieve their earning potential.
“Your income depends on the time and activity you put into your business,” says Meaghan Mutrie, market recruiter for Aflac. “If you commit yourself and focus your energy on developing your client base, you have the ability to control your income. We are performance-based – meaning everyone has an equal opportunity to succeed and earn what they feel they are worth.”8
Why a sales career can help women thrive
It’s not just negotiation that accounts for the wage gap. On the whole, when women have children, their earning potential tends to suffer – welcome to the “mommy track.” Having a family may be a choice, but it’s one that can penalize women in traditional careers.
But commission is once again an advantage for women working as independent insurance agents. Even if a woman chooses to pause her insurance sales career, she can still keep earning, thanks to what’s known as the “renewal commission” that is offered by some carriers. With Aflac, if you sell a policy and earn a renewal commission of, for example, 6% on that policy, you’ll keep earning that 6% every time that policy is renewed – even though the initial hard work of making the sale is behind you.9
Plus, because you generate your own business, working with Aflac gives you geographic flexibility. When Colleen Howard, a district sales coordinator who began her Aflac relationship as an agent, went to a career fair toward the end of her college years, she was unimpressed with many of the offerings. “Everyone I went to was like, ‘Well, here’s where we have branches and we’ll tell you where you’re going to go,’ and I’m like, ‘I don’t want you to tell me where I’m going to move.’” Her husband was in medical school, and she knew that his career meant moving to wherever he would be matched as a resident. But when she met with Aflac, she heard a different tale: one of self-determination that would allow her to move anywhere she wanted and take the business she built with her.10
That self-determination may have a connection with why women in sales outperform men. Research published in Harvard Business Review shows that high-performing saleswomen differ from high-performing salesmen – they’re likelier to draw upon strengths such as connection, collaboration and finding solutions, while men are likelier to rely more on driving outcomes.5 Given that collaboration was named the #1 trait for post-pandemic success in a survey from the Women Business Collaborative and Women Leadership Magazine USA, the ability to forge connections with others can serve women in any career, including sales.11
The goal of equal pay laws isn’t to help people break through the glass ceiling, but rather to remove it altogether. And with legislation, enforcement of that legislation and cultural awareness, we’re getting closer to turning the glass ceiling into a relic. But in the meantime, women with the qualities of a good insurance agent – grit, adaptability, a willingness to learn and a desire to help the community – have a path around that ceiling, pointing toward the sky.
Aflac agents are independent agents of Aflac, and are not employees of Aflac.
1 Center for American Progress. “Quick Facts About the Gender Wage Gap.” Published 3.24.2020. Accessed 6.2.2021. https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/women/reports/2020/03/24/482141/quick-facts-gender-wage-gap/.
2 Payscale. “The State of the Gender Pay Gap in 2021.” Published 2021. Accessed 6.2.2021. https://www.payscale.com/data/gender-pay-gap.
3 ThinkAdvisor. “Closing the Gender Gap in Insurance.” Published 2.24.2020. Accessed 6.2.2021. https://www.thinkadvisor.com/2020/02/24/closing-the-gender-gap-in-insurance/.
4 Forbes. “It’s Time to Crack the B2B Sales Gender Diversity Code.” Published 1.29.2021. Accessed 6.2.2021. https://www.forbes.com/sites/forrester/2021/01/29/its-time-to-crack-the-b2b-sales-gender-diversity-code/?sh=2d4889205a12.
5 Harvard Business Review. “Why Women Are the Future of B2B Sales.” Published 5.28.2020. Accessed 6.2.2021. https://hbr.org/2020/05/why-women-are-the-future-of-b2b-sales.
6 National Bureau of Economic Research. “Gender Differences in Negotiation and Policy for Improvement.” Published December 2020. Accessed 6.2.2021. https://www.nber.org/system/files/working_papers/w28183/w28183.pdf.
7 Aflac. “So, how much do insurance agents make?” Published 2020. Accessed 6.2.2021. https://www.aflac.com/sales-jobs/resources/articles/how-much-do-insurance-agents-make.aspx.
8 Personal interview, 11.24.2020.
9 CNBC. “Women’s earnings drop after having a child – but men’s do not.” Published 10.16.2019. Accessed 6.2.2021. https://www.cnbc.com/2019/10/16/womens-earnings-drop-after-having-a-childbut-mens-do-not.html.
10 Personal interview, 11.24.2020..
11 Women Business Collaborative/LinkedIn. “WBC Women Leaders Survey: Collaboration #1 in Top Ten Leadership Traits for 2021.” Published 4.1.2021. Accessed 6.2.2021. https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/wbc-women-leaders-survey-collaboration-1-top-ten-traits-edie-fraser/.
Aflac agents are independent agents and are not employees of Aflac.
Aflac includes Aflac and/or Aflac New York and/or Continental American Insurance Company (CAIC) and/or Continental American Life Insurance Company.
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