To commemorate Women’s History Month, Scott Holeman, Triple-I’s Media Relations Director, interviewed Cathy Weatherford, the first woman to serve as Insurance Commissioner of Oklahoma.
Like most insurance and financial service professionals, Cathy Weatherford didn’t pick her career. It picked her. Taking advice from her father who served as a state legislator in Oklahoma, Cathy applied for state government jobs where there were a variety of opportunities with health and retirement benefits. She landed at the Oklahoma Insurance Department.
For 16 years, she climbed the department’s ladder while honing her skills in public policy and insurance regulation. She also learned the art of politics while serving as a top aide on a gubernatorial campaign. Soon after, Weatherford landed the job of Oklahoma Insurance Commissioner, the first woman to serve in that role. “That was a ceiling-smashing moment for me,” said Weatherford. “I suddenly became acutely aware of the torch I was carrying for my daughters and for younger women in my state.”
Many of her direct reports at the department were young women. The terms “mentor” and “sponsor” were not common in state government or even the private sector, but Weatherford says she used her role to help younger women and men enhance their professional growth by sharing her unique perspectives, honest feedback and earnest advice.
“Mentoring is about sharing your experiences, suggestions and knowledge,” says Weatherford. “Hold back on trying to push your personal opinions because mentees need to make their own decisions in order to gain confidence and strength. Be a mentor—not a mother. Stay out of relationship and marital advice. Support them in difficult professional moments and celebrate their professional accomplishments.”
After leaving the Oklahoma Insurance Department, Weatherford worked in private industry before being named CEO of the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, where she led efforts to modernize insurance regulation. “We moved regulation into a highly efficient and productive process through technology and innovative software solutions,” said Weatherford. “We developed educational credentials for regulators to further professionalize regulatory careers, and we engaged in and play a major role in the international regulatory arena. Most importantly, we proved that state insurance regulation works and does not need federal intervention.”
Her next stop was to rebrand and rejuvenate the National Association for Variable Annuities/NAVA after the financial crisis. As president and CEO of Insured Retirement Solutions (IRI), she moved the association from Reston, VA to Washington, D.C., expanded the role of the association and made it more consumer-facing. She retired from that job in 2019 after 10 years.
In the last 13 years, Weatherford has mentored six young women. One of them is Molly Meek, a Kansas City, MO-based account executive for an insurance brokerage firm. Meek almost left the industry after her first job wasn’t providing the experience she’d hoped. Weatherford encouraged her to try again before switching career paths. “It’s so amazing having Cathy as a mentor,” says Meek. “Having someone I can call who can help explain large organizations and their politics, as well as helping me focus my efforts, is invaluable. That’s not something college prepares you for.”
Weatherford is the author of “Women and Wealth: Inspiring Stories from Real Women on the Path to Financial Success.”