October 31, 2014

Successful Women Gaining What They Have Earned

By: John Keyser

I just came from a fascinating event, the Ace USA’s women’s forum. Ace Group is a global leader for insurance and reinsurance, certainly one of the best.

Ace sponsored this event during the annual Risk and Insurance Management Conference, which was in Philadelphia this year. The guests included approximately 65 of Ace’s female risk management clients from around the country.

I was privileged to be asked by the organizer, Sue Mahanor, Senior Vice President of Risk Management Underwriting, to be the speaker. Sue knows of my leadership consulting and coaching, as well as my interest in helping women advance in business, as they surely deserve to do!

The plan was for Sue to introduce me, and then I was to speak for about 10 minutes, at which point Sue and I would circulate among the groups and individuals to have conversations about the issues I had discussed and other relevant topics.

For the few weeks before, I thought about how I could be helpful to Ace’s guests – raising issues and ideas I have gained from my work with companies and
my leadership consulting business, and what I have gained from numerous relevant books and information on the Internet.

In my enthusiasm, I made notes, and notes, and more notes.

Frankly, I could have spoken for two or three hours, and better still, could have facilitated a discussion by these women, who know the issues first hand and better than I do.

During the talk, I was thrilled by the enthusiastic attention of the women, as they were clearly engaged. For example, when I quoted Ilene Lang, President of Catalyst, saying men get promoted based on their potential, while women would have to earn that same promotion over and over again, I saw everyone nod.

I have a great interest in organizational culture. A culture in which people are happy, have pride in their work, help one another and are loyal makes all the difference in the world. It enables companies to experience outstanding, sustainable results. Such a culture is built by conversations, not email directives and orders. True conversations lead to trust and to quality internal relationships.

I mentioned to the group that companies with only a few women in senior leadership roles are missing the boat. Women are better at relationships! They are better at asking questions, listening, having conversations, and including others in decision making when possible. Each of these traits matters and helps create an organizational culture that will likely improve a company’s performance.

A very common observation from my work is the “we” vs. “they” dynamic, that the home office doesn’t listen to its people in the field. Almost every company wrestles with this. I have to wonder if that would be present in companies with more women in key leadership roles.

I encourage people to read the Harvard Business Review’s January/February 2012 issue, which is devoted to the very true premise that happy employees perform better.

The Ace Group’s risk management clients are impressive business leaders! They each have significant responsibilities – the insurance and risk management needs of their companies. I particularly admire their spirit during the talk, that with all the success they have already achieved, they all were eager to discuss how they could continue to learn and grow.

I applaud Sue Mahanor and Ace for bringing this group together. I think they appreciated it and are already discussing ideas for a similar event next year.

This event validates what I already know, that people want to do great work, to succeed, and it is the responsibility of businesses’ senior managers to help them, women and men! Exceptional results will follow!

Photo Credit: Jason Kessenich

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