As men and women retire from careers in insurance technology, insurers are scrambling to find technology professionals who will be able to deal adeptly with all manner of platforms, from legacy to service-oriented architecture.Complicating this problem is the fact that, although the U.S. Dept. of Labor expects IT careers to be among the fastest growing occupations through 2014, females represent only 14% of the up-and-coming computer science and engineering professionals from which to choose, according to Computing Research Assoc., Washington, D.C.
The fact that there are fewer women than ever in computer science programs hasn't escaped the attention of stakeholders from the insurance and vendor communities alike.
In Part II of our annual "Women in Insurance" report, INN provides a forum for some specially chosen women who have served the industry from both within an insurance carrier's walls, and from the outside, as technology solution service providers. The following "virtual caucus" comprises successful female insurance professionals who offer unique perspectives on how female technology professionals can thrive and succeed in this changing marketplace.
Wendy Gibson: Chief Marketing Officer, Skywire Software, Frisco, Texas. Marking her 18th year of work in technology, Gibson began her career with American Airlines Inc., Fort Worth, Texas, playing an instrumental role in the early development and go-to-market strategies of American's Sabre travel network (now known as Travelocity). Her involvement with Skywire enables her to work closely with many insurers across multiple departments, from IT to business users. Within Skywire, she mentors women at various stages of their careers, providing leadership opportunities. Gibson is committed to instilling leadership in the next generation through her involvement with the Southern Methodist University MBA mentoring program.
Kimberly Harris-Ferrante: Research Vice President, Gartner Inc., Stamford, Conn. After graduating with advanced degrees in statistics and research methodology and completing PhD coursework in psychology and sociology, Harris-Ferrante found herself in the government sector. Her focus-health social policy as it related to drug and alcohol use in the military and related expertise in Medicare and Medicaid-landed her a job in 1992 at Mentis Solutions LLC, Berwyn, Pa., a research firm ultimately acquired by Gartner. Today, she is responsible for monitoring the business and technology trends within the property/casualty and life insurance industries. Harris-Ferrante describes the most rewarding part of her job as the ability to impact the professional lives of others and then see that spin forward into their corporation's successes.
Judy Johnson: Vice President and Principle Insurance Solutions Architect at Mumbai, India-based outsourcing firm Patni Computer Systems Ltd. Joining Metropolitan Life Insurance Co. (MetLife) right out of college for an 11-plus year stint, Johnson has served the industry from both inside (MetLife, AIG, American Re and Swiss Re-twice) and outside (Wall Street, Meta Group) the insurance arena. Johnson's depth and breadth of experience has resulted in her garnering a reputation as a well-known (and self-professed) "voice" in the industry on a number of topics. Today, Johnson is involved in mentoring and is invited to speak as an expert at a number of industry events.
Pat Saporito: Insurance Solutions Director, EPM Center of Excellence, Business Objects SA, San Jose, Calif. As one of the first female claims specialists for The Hartford, Hartford, Conn., Saporito spent her first 10 years in the insurance industry seeing both sides of the business, moving from a field operations role as claims adjuster to IT, where she helped developers of The Hartford's new claim system better understand the systems' business requirements. In her 20-plus years in the industry, Saporito has worked as a consultant to both insurers and technology providers, and now focuses on helping insurers better understand how data analysis/intelligence can be used to make better decisions. Her commitment to the industry is reflected in her involvement as past president of New York-based American Professional Insurance Women (APIW).INN: From your perspective, where do women stand in today's insurance marketplace?
Gibson: Women in this market are educators, relationship architects, data experts and, often, great business leaders. The insurance marketplace has many similarities to the travel industry. In both industries, women are adept at solving big problems with the use of technology. As a woman in this market, I deal with a lot of partnerships, customers, carriers, etc. and I don't see any barriers for women.
Harris-Ferrante: Traditionally, the insurance industry has been a male-dominated market; where men typically out-numbered women and tended to be long-term employees. But we have seen a lot of changes taking place for women in insurance, especially over the last 10 years. There are a lot more women are in more influential positions, but this was not always the case. Business and technology roles were separate, and IT personnel were not required to be business experts. Today's women in insurance technology are able to skillfully pull these two roles together.
Johnson: In spite of what people think, there is complexity to this business. And for women in IT, who by nature are interested in details, insurance is not boring. In fact, the business naturally lends itself to attracting women. The industry for women in IT has been very good to us. It's provided a career path where we can progress, and not necessarily just in claims or underwriting. But it's different for women in technology versus the business side. The business side has typically been an old boy's network; there wouldn't be organizations like the American Professional Insurance Women (APIW) if women got an equal break in the industry. The male bastions are still there, but we see women in senior roles in a variety of markets. I love the industry-I am vocally critical with what's wrong with it, but would not have stayed this long if I didn't believe in its merits.
Saporito: I see a lot of women in CIO roles, and a significant number of CEOs, such as Safeco Corp.'s Paula Rosput Reynolds. There was a time when in the P&C sector, we saw a fair number of CEOs come out of the actuarial acumen ... that's a great place for women. Women tend to be more technically adept-they find a discipline and dive deep into it. That may say something about CIOs overall-we see two varieties: technically proficient and business-driven.
INN: What's required of women who seek success in these types of insurance leadership positions?
Gibson: It requires an eye for agility, the ability to set a fast pace and an understanding of how technology can solve business problems. People look at how they solved things in the past, successful women tend to look at the next step-can we add on to a product, can we extract data from another system? Women must have an understanding of what the business problems are. In other words, they really have to know the business. And women who want to succeed need to ask a lot of questions and think of the bigger picture.
Harris-Ferrante: Women must bridge the gap between technology and business, they must be astute and able to work with a changing culture within the organization. Often, leaders find themselves actually changing the corporate culture-eliminating political silos, and this requires expert skills in collaboration and cooperation. This is not just a women issue. Whether man or woman, you must foster that type of communication, collaboration and cooperation with all team members.
Johnson: To be successful, no matter who you are, you need ambition. Think about successful women agents; they work hard and are successful. If you know the business and understand technology, you know how to get things done. But women also need to understand the dynamics of what's going on in the workplace-organizationally and interpersonally. They have to be aware of the undercurrents as well as what's happening on the surface. They need to be politically astute ... this is true for men also, but men walk into this automatic built-in network and slip around until they find a way into the club. Women don't naturally do that, and that's held us back.
Saporito: [Women] need perseverance, healthy curiosity, and they need to enjoy and want to learn new things (technology or business). Women who succeed in our business typically understand the application of technology and its business value. Knowledge is key. Interpersonal skills are also important, because networking is critical. We need to remind ourselves that we'll never know enough on our own ... so women need those networking skills.
INN: What does the future hold for women who want to move into leadership roles?
Gibson: Women will need to do more than keep pace-they will be looked upon to set the pace. That will require high energy, dedication and commitment, timing, knowing where to be involved and a real understanding of what's required to align the company's objectives with its strategies for growth.
Harris-Ferrante: We face a world with exponential increases in data management. Working within this environment, if you create new products, you need to be able to strategize, analyze and interpret what you are gathering. We are already seeing a lot more women trying to integrate skill sets from marketing that would have typically been found in underwriting and actuarial positions, and as consumers start using different channels, the industry will call upon women to provide that fresh approach.
Johnson: There may be fewer women in computer science in the future, but now and going forward, there will be more women college students than men. Because women have come up being trained differently and interact differently in a technical world, the stereotypic barriers will continue to fall. I believe there has been a lack of leadership in the industry in the last 10 years, but going forward, you'll see more women becoming actuaries and taking powerful positions.
Saporito: You'll find men and women alike moving from the business to IT. It's a great path to understand the technology and its application to business problems. There will be more business-driven CIOs; this leads to keeping women in IT and keeps them business driven-they'll find out they like it.
INN: What advice would you offer women who are seeking technology leadership positions in our industry?
Gibson: Identify where you want to go and utilize coworkers, mentors and other women to help you get there. Don't ever stop learning. I love the insurance industry because I'm always learning new things about it. Ask yourself, how can I improve? If you are bored or not learning, you need to move on. To be a female leader, you must demonstrate your influence so people look to you as to how you react and solve problems. Give people clear direction and be there to support them with tools and information.
Johnson: Women need to step forward, and take leadership positions where they can. I would also advise them to make sure they know the business side as well as the technology side. Don't be afraid to get involved. Women truly make a difference-they just need to extend their influence: This means mentoring, networking and not being afraid to participate.
Saporito: Women should be aware of their inherent skill set, and fine-tune it with a quest for knowledge about their business and how they can improve its performance. If you don't know the answer, or don't understand the issues, find someone to explain it in layman's terms. You don't need to be an actuary to talk to management about their data foundation and their issues.
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