Insurance: A good fit for women technologists?

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Information technology is a major growth engine for the American economy, and it powers the operations of most of the country’s corporate giants. However, the IT sector has increasingly been in the news for sexism, from women tech entrepreneurs speaking out about harassment in the venture process to the “Google memo,” which stated biological differences are a reason women are underrepresented in the profession.

Granted, women held just 26% of computing jobs in 2016, according to the National Center for Women in Information Technology, a non-profit backed by the National Science Foundation to promote women in computing. By comparison, the group found women holding 57% of all professional occupations in the U.S.

But, as the Women in Insurance Leadership program has shown, women have risen to the top of insurance IT and made incredible contributions. Indeed, insurance, which has centers of innovation all over the country and is investing more in digital transformation every year, offers a place for women technologists to flex their muscles on real-world projects from the moment they walk into the office door. CIOs are quick to note that insurance companies have an open door for the best talent. Carriers also boast a digital strategic direction that radiates enthusiasm for innovation and a clear focus on an end goal that allows technologists to do the talking with their skills. And, because insurance companies are starting from scratch in many cases, the impact of the work on the business can be immediate and legendary.

What follows are first-person accounts from high-profile technology leaders from across of the industry, discussing the ways in which insurance has proven to be a great place for them to begin and advance their careers — and why other women seeking rewarding tech employment should take note.

Diverse opportunities, exciting experience
By Kaitlyn Hockenberry, Synergy Comp

Upon graduating from Thiel College in 2009 with an actuarial science and business administration degree, I was searching for a career that would encompass something different every day. I knew that I didn’t want to pursue an actuarial career, but I wanted to be able to use my mathematical education along with logic and analytical thinking.

I found myself starting my career in the underwriting department at Synergy Comp Insurance Co. I was excited to just get my foot in the door to gain some experience, but over the past eight years, I have realized that I truly found what I had been searching for. From gaining experiencing as an underwriting analyst, I eventually found myself becoming more involved in the data reporting and software applications used in the company, and soon transitioned to systems management.

The insurance industry as a whole has a ton of opportunities for young women regardless of the degree they pursue. Because insurance is so broad, but yet so specific in its mission, it promotes the ability to get involved in many areas that most of the time revolve around some type of technology. Whether it is working on regulatory reporting, processing claims, or underwriting, they all involve technology at some point. Even if you don’t have a technology background, like myself, you can contribute to the industry and company by leveraging your logical and analytical thinking.

Currently, my role at Synergy Comp is Systems Manager, and every day provides new and exciting experiences. The thing that attracted me to insurance was the fact that I get exposed to almost every aspect and department of the company. In my role, I have the opportunity to build a department that is crucial to our company’s growth. My primary focus is automation and efficiencies, always looking for ways to improve not only what we do, but what the client experiences as well. For example, I’m currently working on implementing a new core workers’ compensation software platform. CHSI’s Connections software will help us automate our underwriting and accounting processes.

In my time at Synergy Comp, I have always been welcomed to share my ideas and grow within the organization. The fact that I started in the underwriting department and learned what we do, why we do it, and how we are unique helped propel me into the technology field. Having the background on our company really helped me develop the understanding and how we can improve and automate our processes. Synergy Comp definitely encourages me to continue to strive for more and do what is best for the company.

My exposure to the insurance industry, and insurers specifically, has always been positive. Recently, I have seen the industry start to promote and encourage more women in the technology field. The user conferences that I have attended recently include women who wear many different hats. I believe this trend of having multiple roles or responsibilities has transitioned many women into working in the technology field within insurance.

With regards to the insurance industry and technology specifically, I recommend it because there are so many opportunities to grow and develop a career within the industry as a whole. Insurance historically has been behind the curve with regards to technology, but it is finally catching up. It is exciting to see the growth and opportunities we have seen and will continue to see in the upcoming years.

Kaitlyn Hockenberry is systems manager for Synergy Comp, a workers’ compensation insurer based in Pennsylvania. Her duties include systems selection, implementation, training and data management. She was recognized by Mercer County, Pa.’s “40 Under 40” program as an emerging leader who has demonstrated notable leadership skills, professional success and civic commitment to her community.

One of the best places to start a career
By Deb Smallwood, founder, Strategy Meets Action

I am often asked if I would recommend young people to consider insurance for their own careers, especially young women interested in technology. The answer is an unequivocal “Yes!”

Not only is insurance arguably the best place to start a career, and one of the most stable markets, it is also undergoing a significant, transformative technology shift. Technologies that are shaping the world around us are coming to insurance and changing the way we do business. It is an exciting time. I am so encouraged by the push for young women to study technology, and I always recommend they look to insurance to pursue their career aspirations because the future is so bright.

The industry has always been like this. In the late 1970s, I was attracted to the world of insurance not because of the business model itself, but first and foremost because of the technology. There was a brand-new generation of computers and computer programming available to insurance. Our industry was a pioneer in data processing focused on automating manual stat coding, reporting, and of course, policy rating and claims.

It was the beginning of an amazing era of insurance and technology. And insurance companies not only offered entry level programming jobs, but a 20-week COBOL training program as well. So, technology led me to the industry, but the business of insurance persuaded me to stay.

When we all started down the path of programming, there was an equal balance of men and women, a level playing field. Technology was not yet part of mainstream culture, so it was exciting to me as a young professional to be part of a new generation that could tap into professional careers full of endless possibilities. Looking back, I am truly in awe of how much technology has changed and how the insurance industry continues to transform. And in today’s digital connected world, both are once again creating a new generation of opportunities.

In my experience, being a technologist in insurance provides a career that is in the crossroads of two powerful and financially advancing industries. Technology, due to its very nature, is always changing, evolving, and providing endless career opportunities in countless areas. Insurance is a nurturing, mature industry that provides and empowers its employees to excel, grow and advance. Both industries are aligned with my own personal passion. When I started in insurance, I was 25 years old. After many positions, roles and promotions (and, of course, years later), I am now the CEO and founder of Strategy Meets Action, an analyst firm that exclusively services insurers and technology companies.

Throughout my career, I have been able to balance an accelerating career with being a wife, a mother, and now a grandmother. But I was not alone in blazing the path. With other professional women alongside me in the early 1980s, we set the stage for the opportunities our sons and daughters have today. Even before technology came into insurance, women have had a long history of working and contributing to the important impact insurance has had on society. Continued advances in technology will only continue to elevate the importance and relevancy of insurance for the future.

Insurers are now embracing innovation and changing their businesses to meet the needs of today’s customers. And I remain encouraged to see a new generation of insurance professionals embrace technology and change the shape of their organizations. I also remain unbelievably grateful to have had such a lasting career in an industry that I truly love.

Deb Smallwood is CEO and founder of Strategy Meets Action, and a widely recognized insurance technology thought leader. She advises insurers on innovative ways to leverage insurtech and the emerging technologies that are required in today’s digital connected world so they can meet tomorrow’s challenges. Her industry experience includes stints at Liberty Mutual, Insurance Company of the West, KPMG and Tower Group.

Insurtech presents a great career path
By Shobana Sankaran, Nauto

Where should a bright, ambitious woman start her career right now and expect to succeed? The answer may surprise you: Insurtech, that convergence of technology, data and platforms that is now driving dramatic efficiencies in the insurance industry.

While the P&C insurance industry is traditionally stable and conservative, it’s now experiencing seismic change, fueled by the availability of massive amounts of new data and technology. Only the moon is the limit for an intellectually curious person — female or male — with the right skills, smarts and ambition who jumps into the dynamic insurtech arena now.

Both insurance and tech have traditionally been math- and data-oriented, with fewer women in leadership roles. But as women are increasingly entering and becoming successful in STEM disciplines, insurtech is a terrific sector to consider.

It’s also widely known that the tech industry must become more diverse; but on this, we’ve reached a high-water mark of awareness in the need for gender equality, and that equals opportunity for women. Several Silicon Valley firms are responding in meaningful ways. I’m proud, for example, that 45% of the executive team at my employer, Nauto, are women. I’d advise any intellectually curious, ambitious and courageous individual to consider that the insurance industry is right now a great place to look for technology-oriented roles.

I was initially attracted to the insurance industry because I was interested in using data and quantitative ideas to solve business problems. I have been fortunate to work for some world-class companies with incredibly smart people and mentors, and at a time when the industry is forging a close connection with tech. I’m now working with insurance carriers to help develop new products and services that will make them more meaningful partners to policyholders. I’m also working collaboratively with insurance companies, fleet-dependent businesses and auto makers to re-define industry models as transportation embraces the brave new world of autonomy.

While insurtech presents an exciting career path, it’s also a nurturing environment. I am thankful that my employers have provided significant training, strong mentorship and many opportunities to be exposed to several functional areas of the business, and a reasonable work-life balance when I’ve needed it.

A leadership program I recently participated in at the Center for Creative Leadership in San Diego spent some time focusing on four aspects important to a person’s life — career, family, self and community — all tied together by one’s core values. Which of the four is emphasized will be dynamic and ever-changing, but there’s one constant that’s important here: balance among these four values. And that balance requires a nurturing and supportive work environment that rewards talent, celebrates hard work and meritocracy, and allows for flexibility when needed. One thing I can state based on my experiences is that the insurance industry provides that.

I’m often asked for advice on how to get an understanding of the sector and network with its key people. What’s worked for me are simple things: going to local meetups in the area or joining relevant groups at your alma mater — you’ll be surprised at whom you might already be connected to in insurtech. Also look into conferences and webinars that bring together topics like data and tech to solve problems associated with predicting and managing risk.

Shobana Sankaran is VP of insurance at Nauto, an automotive safety and data platform that is making fleets and insurance companies smarter and also informing the development of autonomous vehicle technology. She has also worked at Progressive, Esurance and California Casualty Co.

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