Throughout my career at Liberty Mutual Insurance, I’ve had a history of moving into jobs where I didn’t have prior experience. I’ve pursued opportunities that interested me and learned from taking on challenging roles. But this wasn’t always the case.
As a woman in an industry that is still very male-dominated, I would often put pressure on myself to prove myself more than I probably needed to. Especially early on in my career, I felt like I had to be super sure that I was qualified to do something before I’d put myself out there for any new opportunity.
I remember considering a potential job in a space I wasn’t familiar with but was very interested in. I worried that I’d be jumping in and it would be too big of a learning curve. To be honest, I was afraid of failure.
I told a prior manager that I wanted to go after the opportunity but it scared me, and they said, “Well, if you’re scared, that’s probably a good thing. If it scares you, it’s going to be a really good development opportunity.”
I ended up taking the role, and it was such an incredible learning experience. That was a big turning point for me. I realized I could make the leap and have the confidence in myself to figure it out, even if I was scared about doing something totally new. I took that advice to heart for future roles, and I always try to impart that advice on others, too: If something scares you, view that as a sign that it is a new challenge and an opportunity for growth.
Focus on interests, not just upward movement
One of the fun things about working in the insurance industry is that there are so many different areas and opportunities to explore. Over time, I’ve worked in a claims office, gone through Liberty’s actuarial program, and managed products in worker’s compensation, commercial auto, benefits, and now small commercial.
Instead of focusing only on moving up in the organization, I ask myself, What types of work interest me? How can I learn more about that work? How can I put myself in a position that would give me that experience?
For insurance agents and brokers, maybe challenging yourself looks like exploring a new niche. Maybe it’s taking a marketing class or implementing a new technology tool in your agency. Maybe it’s asking someone in a different department if you can shadow them for a day. Or going after that opening that feels like a stretch, but is something you’ve always wanted to try.
Build your network
Building your network can help you find those opportunities for growth.
I always tried to make sure I had a broad network across the organization at Liberty. Some of it I built naturally because I was able to rotate around when I went through the actuarial program, and some of it I had to be a bit more targeted about. Since I had that network, people thought of me when there were job openings.
With more industry events and online communities than ever before, independent agents have access to so many great resources and networks. Most agents are happy to share about their experiences and expertise, so even those within small agencies and companies can find people in the industry to learn from.
Encouraging women in leadership
As I’ve moved through the different stages my career, it has been helpful to have a support system of female peers and mentors who understand some of the additional challenges we may face.
For organizations and agencies that want to encourage women in leadership roles, part of it is about creating opportunities and bringing in talented women. But part of it is also having support mechanisms in place – mentorship groups, for example, or ways to encourage female employees to attend conferences and pursue development opportunities.
The more organizations can do to help women with that support network, it makes it easier for women to think about joining the company and focusing on what they can do to be successful.
Insurance has been a slow-moving industry from many perspectives, and I would include diversity amongst that. But things are changing. I see a lot more female agents and agency owners. Every year at Liberty’s annual President’s Award event, I see a slightly different mix of people – more diversity both in color and in gender.
I presented at one of those events when I was seven months pregnant. I remember being slightly terrified as I was about to get up on stage with my big stomach in front of an audience that was 90 percent white men. But after I got off the stage, the women in the audience came up and told me how inspiring it was to see me up there.
I think the more that we can celebrate diversity and recognize when we do have women in leadership, the faster we can push the change curve there. And I would expect with demographics continuing to change that we’ll see that pace accelerate.