Jared Yee, MBA

Senior Client Service Manager at Liberty Mutual Insurance

Margaret T. Ling, Esq.

NYS Agency Business Development & Underwriting Counsel at Amtrust Title

Rachel H. Kim

Vice President, Senior Claims Counsel at Sompo International

What is the best career advice you’ve ever received?

Jared: Make yourself irreplaceable.  By having this mindset, I’ve always tried to go above and beyond the expectations of a job.  That’s lead to self-growth as well as new opportunities in my career.  I initially thought this advice was about job security but quickly learned that it drives you to innovate and be a better version of yourself every day.  When you try to make yourself irreplaceable, you’re often creating value by challenging the status quo.

Margaret: Be genuine; sincere and be yourself;  never underestimate your ability to know the law and be a good attorney.

Rachel: How you treat people matters.  Particularly those who may tend to get overlooked. 

Relationships matter.  This is a relationship business.  Network, follow up, and network some more.  Go to networking events.

Members of the AAPI community are often viewed as the “model minority” – smart, hardworking, team-players but state that they are not always sought out for leadership roles. What, if any challenges have you faced because of this perception and how have you overcome those challenges?

Jared: People often think of the “model minority” stereotype as a good thing, but it’s a double-edged sword.  It’s because of the perception that Asians are smart and hard working that they are often left out of the discussion when it comes to workplace discrimination.  My personal experience has been mostly positive, but I have occasionally faced challenges of people having preconceived notions of who I am.  I found the best way to overcome this is by communicating and building relationships.  Sometimes people just need the opportunity to learn more about you.  Finding those opportunities with everyone isn’t always easy and sometimes you have to put yourself out there but it’s very much worth the effort.

Margaret: Very true, Asians are stereotyped as we are quiet. I have faced quick judgment from others that Asians  are complacent and passive. My response to this is to tell others that our Asian Culture engrains in us to be quiet and listen. We are very intuitive and think, observe and absorb what happens around us before we act. My Parents always taught me to listen and not say anything unless it truly was substantive and mattered.  Mindless banter was not necessary. My experience in my legal career has been to say that Asians are “Quiet Thunder”.  We will tolerate a great deal until we speak up and then it’s like a volcanic eruption. I have overcome other’s stereotypes by speaking up more and being more active and engaged. I am always gracious and have realized that being quiet will only lead to exclusion and judgment by others. I tell others that being quiet is not a sign of passive weakness as we are thinking and analyzing. I have continued to try to break the stereotypes and show them that AAPI Attorneys are as articulate and strong as others. We just show it and act on it in a different way.

Rachel: When I was in elementary school, my father would periodically hand me envelopes with a small amount of cash (true story) in an envelope labeled, “Leadership Fund” and would say, “Go, be a leader at something with this money.”  When I was younger, I rarely spoke up; the double consciousness was constantly a factor, and sometimes I was my own worst critic.  Going to a rigorous graduate school forced me to continually speak  up, and I’m going to conflate Questions 1 and 2 here, but the best advice I have to combat double consciousness and/or being your own worst critic is to push yourself to speak up.  Volunteering to lead meetings, conferences, and challenging yourself to be a speaker on panels or leading your own.  Learning to find a way to express your thoughts but also showing you can listen attentively and you have the ability to be flexible in your analysis and speaking style.  As one of my mentors once said to me, “Use everyday opportunities to show that you are a leader.”

What do you know now that you wished you knew when you began your career?

Jared: Speaking up and having a voice is so important.  Early in my career, I kept my ideas and opinions to myself, especially in large group settings.  I thought it was more important to listen since everyone in the room had more experience than me but learned that’s not always the case.  Experience and length of time are not synonymous, and sometimes your unique perspective can broaden the conversation.  I also found myself learning a lot more by engaging in conversations rather than just listening.   I think everyone has some level of apprehension speaking up early in their careers, but the sooner you get over that fear the better off you’ll be.

Margaret: I know now that it is okay to be more outspoken and articulate as long as it is substantiated. I have learned over time that the world and society does not always think the same way as us.  I have learned to trust my judgment and intuition when someone is not being sincere and genuine. After 40 years as an Attorney, I now know that others are not always on your page with the same genuine motives.  Many times they are taking advantage of the helpful, kind, hardworking and quiet person. I mentor many young attorneys and law students and teach them to focus on the realities of society.” Do not let anyone crush your thunder and take advantage of your hard work and effort”

Rachel: Bring out the excellence of others around you.  Be team oriented – a rising tide lifts all boats. 

Simultaneously, be confident and know your worth.  Dare to create your dream job.

Pick and choose your battles.  Align yourself with mentors, managers, senior personnel – someone who will help you see the big picture.

Don’t lose sight of your company’s vision.

Don’t put your head down and simply work.  The “goodwill lap” is very much needed – walking around the hallway and engaging with colleagues, particularly from different groups.

Choose connection, every time. 

Master the ABC’s of your job, and then take on more.

Excel and become a subject matter expert in one area, but find the balance where you are not just pigeonholed into one area, but challenge yourself to take on additional subject areas. 

In your opinion, what needs to happen in order to break the corporate glass ceiling and expand the presence of Asian Americans in executive suites?

Jared: Asian discrimination in both education and the workforce should be talked about more, as its often minimized or overlooked.  Companies need to promote and increase the representation of Asian Americans in leadership positions.  Currently, Asians make up a very small percentage of senior leadership positions despite having a high percentage of graduate and professional degrees.  Finally, Asian Americans need to continue to develop their leadership skills, advocate for themselves, and seek out leadership opportunities.

Margaret: There needs to be a better understanding; implementation and practice of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging from the Corner Office and Upper Management. It will then flow down so that everyone feels embraced regardless of how different they may be. In choosing DEI Chief Diversity Officers, Individuals who truly care and practice DEI and Belonging must be hired. It shouldn’t be hiring someone just to check off a box. Good Corporate Culture where DEI and B is actually embraced and practiced correctly amongst everyone in a Company will lead to an inclusion environment where everyone is happy. Happy Staff leads to being more productive and greater success and profitability.

Rachel: Proven leadership; continued visibility; sponsorship.


Carey Bond
Head of Claims
Americas at Lloyds
Debria Seabrook
Specialty Risk Underwriting
AmTrust Financial Services, Inc.
Dontye Johnson
Associate Underwriter
Richmond National Insurance
William Ambros
Property and Casualty Claims Manager
Assurant Global P&C Claims

How would you describe your leadership style? 


Carey: Servant Leader – If I support my team, together we will achieve.

Debria: My leadership style when managing projects or mentoring previous co-workers was to lead not only by example but also with a “together we rise” approach.  I have found that being a strong leader with an understanding that the team is what fosters success and ultimately brings loyalty and gets the job done.

Dontye: A leadership style that utilizes a flexible approach to provide colleagues with the confidence needed to learn, perform, and encourage themselves to accomplish goals and overcome the challenges set in front of them.

William: My leadership style is to be as fluid as possible given the situation and the individual or team that I am leading. I strive to blend a combination of Democratic, Coaching, and Visionary techniques as best fits the environment. My overarching goal is to be supportive and motivate my team to accomplish more than they think they have in them. There is nothing more satisfying than seeing sustained progress and development.

Do you believe that style is influenced by your time in the armed forces?  If so, how? 


Carey: Yes. Military members are asked to do many things and the commitment could be the ultimate sacrifice.  Understanding that, each military person deserves no less than the all of each member of the team and especially the leader.  I can’t express how proud and honored I am to have served.

Debria: I do believe that my style of leadership was influenced by my time in the armed forces. The armed forces are where I learned how to work as a team and understanding that each role is important in the success of completing the task. 

Dontye: Being in the Nuclear Submarine Force has provided me with the patience, technique, and confidence to adequately enhance teamwork collaboration to lead and accomplish objectives under pressure.

William: My leadership style was most assuredly influenced by my experiences, and the people with whom I served. Interacting with peers and superiors from all walks of life exposed me to a variety of leadership styles and practices. Moreover, it also impressed upon me how every individual responds differently, and a good leader is adaptive to the needs at hand.

Do you see yourself represented in your peers and/or leaders in the insurance industry?


Carey: We’re getting there, I know and have known great leaders in the industry.  Acknowledging and acting on opportunities to expand opportunities to all is important and I see forward looking leaders embracing and leaning forward into DEI efforts as other improvements are also embraced, such as Customer Service, Technology, acknowledgement of climate impact are all examples.

Debria: I do see some representation but there’s not that many veterans in the insurance field that I have come across. 

Dontye: I see myself being represented amongst my peers and leaders of productive leadership in the insurance industry.

William: Yes, in my thirty years in the insurance industry I have had the pleasure of working alongside many people who have served in all branches of our military. Each has imparted upon me different lessons learned.

What skills make veterans uniquely qualified for careers in Insurance & Risk Management?


Carey: Flexibility and adaptability – the force multiplier that always make the US military a premier force in the world is the quality of its leadership.

Debria: Veterans possess strong skills like teamwork, attention to detail, getting the job done, and a solid work ethic.

Dontye: Veterans of all branches of the military acquire skills to quickly adapt to new settings and challenges, incorporating teamwork, and utilizing risk management methods to safely perform tasks in a fast-paced environment.

William: Veterans acquire the skillsets that allow them to create and implement analytical approaches to any situation. Even more importantly, veterans understand that plans do not always come together as initially laid out, and they have the ability to overcome and adapt to achieve success regardless of any obstacle.

What advice would you give to veterans applying for positions in Insurance & Risk Management? 


Carey: Learn to translate your valuable military skills into a conversation.  Sometimes we can be a bit regimented and uncomfortable talking about ourselves that it may seem difficult to actually explain how talented a young NCO or Officer may be because the focus is so much on team versus individual achievement.  I think our military remains an untapped resource as military members transition from service to civilian life.

Debria: I would encourage them to use all the skills that they were trained to do and make sure to highlight those skills when applying for insurance industry positions.  Veterans know how to think through a task and come up with the best solutions.

Dontye: I would encourage veterans to invest time in understanding how their experience serving our country can relate to serving the needs of society by applying for positions in the Insurance and Risk Management industry.

William: Do not be reluctant to be genuine and allow your service record and work experience to speak for themselves. The life skills you gain while serving in the military are transferable to the insurance industry in a number of ways: empathy, meeting strict deadlines, working with a variety of people, and above all else protecting what matters most to people in their time of greatest need.

Marlen Sanchez
Regional Sales Manager
AmTrust Financial Services, Inc.
Veronica Ferro
Claims Manager
Joshua Carmona
Underwriting Consultant
Zoila Urbani
Account Manager, Distribution & Service
Helmsman Management Services

What in your career really prepared you to be in the position you are now?

Marlen: Definitely my communication skills. I have always enjoyed speaking to people to help my knowledge grow. I use communication to help the business owners and agents I work with. Communication is a must in strengthening our partnership.

Veronica: There are so many things to pick from! But for me, I believe outstanding mentorship and structured training programs were critical in preparing me to thrive in my career. I have been very fortunate to be a part of a great company that values mentorship and effectively training employees. 

Josh: After graduating college with a Nutrition degree, I bounced around from temp job to temp job.  It wasn’t until I started working for Nationwide’s bank that I realized I had a real opportunity in corporate America.  As I progressed at the bank, I made the choice to move from Ohio to Arizona to pursue my insurance career.  At the time I didn’t know this decision would change my life for the better.  I took a chance and it’s been the best decision I could have made for myself. Over the next few years, I spent countless hours studying insurance and earning designations, but the most effective tool was mentorship.  I was lucky enough to be placed with a mentor, Brian Meulemans. Without his guidance early in my career I would not be where I am today. 

Zoila: Adaptability has really prepared and helped me excel in my career; being open to new ideas had led me down career paths I wouldn’t have otherwise known I’d have interest in. I came from a technical background. Moving into insurance and more specifically claims was not on my initial radar for careers. This career path has created many learning opportunities for me and meeting many wonderful people along with way.

What would you say is the biggest defining moment in your career?

Marlen: When I was hired by AmTrust and became their Transportation Specialist. This gave me the opportunity to work nationally to help grow the trucking programs to writing in more states. With the support of my manager, I realized this could be a chance for me to grow. In the following year, I was awarded the Specialist of the Year Award.  I truly enjoyed working with agencies in many state and traveling to meet them in person.

Veronica: This is a tricky question. But, for me, the most significant defining movements occur when you overcome your fears. There is always a moment of hesitation when you are presented with a new opportunity. Whether it’s a new role, moving to a new division, or a new company. When I say “yes” and challenge myself, I have learned that these have become the most significant defining moments in my career that have allowed me to grow and refine my skill set. 

Josh: When I first started in Arizona, I was in the New Loss Claims department.  I didn’t have any direction on what my next steps were or how I could advance to the next level. A leader of mine suggested I start taking the exams to get my insurance designations.  Within 3 years I had earned 6 designations, including my CPCU.  These courses and exams gave me a basic knowledge of insurance and prepared me to advance to the next level.

Zoila: I do not think I have held my biggest defining career moment yet. To date, the most rewarding choice I have made with my career is joining my current department 6 years ago: Helmsman, a third-party administration within Liberty Mutual. I enjoy the customer & colleague relationships built, along with knowledge growth from the challenges the TPA service sector has to offer.

As a Latino/Latina, what advice do you have for other Latinos/Latinas interested in an insurance industry career?

Marlen: This is an industry that can give you a chance for personal & financial growth. Also, there are many opportunities within the industry. I usually, give the analogy that this industry is like “A Tree which has Many Branches”. So there are many different ways of succeeding in this industry.

Veronica: First, jump in! This is an industry that genuinely positively impacts people and transforms lives. I cannot tell you how many times in my career I have heard, “thank you so much, you are a lifesaver!” Or something to that effect. I will also say challenge yourself and get out of your comfort zone. Create a plan that helps you intentionally build your skill set and create more value for your company and our industry. And work hard each day to truly become an expert in your field. 

Josh: Knowledge, mentorships, and networking are 3 ideas to keep in the back of your head as you advance in your career.  Learn something new every day. Find a mentor and later become a mentor. Network with other insurance professionals. 

Zoila: I was very fortunate to make a Latina friend when I started out in insurance 11+ years ago. We were both new to the industry and starting out in our careers. This relatable learning experience was very fulfilling to have someone go through this together even though we were in different departments. We are still close friends in & outside of work today.

Insurance is a broad industry that offers many opportunities for career growth for many interests, not just managing claims.  There is a niche for what interests you, with rewarding and interesting work.

What advice do you wish somebody would have told you early in your career?

Marlen: To Dream Big then Focus on Setting Personal Goals which will help in growing within the insurance industry.

Veronica: I wish someone had told me sooner to immerse myself into my career and become an expert fully. I believe there is a lot of intentionality to developing expertise. I don’t think this happens overnight and requires professionals to build a plan on how to grow expertise, including seeking out mentors, reading the most current literature, and attending professional development opportunities. I believe our clients and coworkers NEED us to be experts, and as young professionals, I don’t think that obligation is instilled in us enough.

Zoila: Don’t be afraid to speak up and take chances; ask the question. Someone else in the room probably has the same question as you and is afraid to ask it.


Image by Freepik

Tom Armstrong
Senior Manager – Construction, Crime, Management Liability, and Contracts
Global Risk Management
Comcast NBCUniversal
Ryanne Thomas-Ward
Safeco Personal Lines
Kellie Vasquez
Senior Vice President, Environmental Sector
Charles Taylor

Has it been difficult to bring your authentic self to work while working in the insurance industry?

Tom: I’ve been very fortunate to work with and for people who have been supportive and inclusive during my career so far.  In my current day-to-day, I rarely feel as though I cannot be myself, but that has not always been the case.  I clearly remember early in my career struggling to decide how much of myself to share.  In one internship interview, a perceived-straight male interviewer kept pushing to talk about hockey rather than my experience or the details of the internship. Because of the power imbalance, I did not feel like I could simply say that I don’t care about hockey and I was there to talk about an internship.  I tried to play along, uncomfortable the entire time, and ultimately did not get that internship.

I also remember when the Supreme Court handed down the Obergefell V. Hodges decision. I was at my desk at work and I could feel my world shift around me.  It was amazing to me that my coworkers didn’t appear fazed at all while the possibilities for my entire life had just changed.  My manager was understanding, and let me take the afternoon off to go celebrate, but I was struck by how something so important to me could seem so ordinary to others.

Ryanne: At the beginning of my career, I found it challenging to live my truth in the workplace. Partially due to a lack of understanding of how to be authentic at work in work environments that were not inclusive. As I began to progress in my career, I started placing emphasis on the importance of authentic living in the workplace. I sought out careers at companies who had a clear appreciation and dedication to cultivating an inclusive and equitable environment for all employees.  Along with placing greater expectations on my employer, I also dedicated time to growing as a person. This change has impacted me positively both in and outside of the workplace. By reflecting on all the distinct components that contribute to who I am, I found it impossible to stifle my true self, regardless of the setting.

Kellie: No, not really.  I am authentic as to who I am.  I pride myself in being adaptable to any situation and in any social environment. My background was not based in insurance so I have grown up in this industry and am extremely proud of the transition and change I have personally witnessed in insurance.                                        

a. If it has been difficult, has it changed over time and how?

Tom: Over time, I feel that I have established my career enough to feel comfortable showing my true self in professional settings.  I think we still need to do a better job of giving young professionals implied permission to do the same.

Kellie: The difficulty has been instilling change in an industry which has existed for generations.  I strive for constant evolution and change and sometimes this can be difficult.  In our business unit we look to challenge the norms and ideals.  I challenge my team to change their normal thought process and be creative in bringing new ideas to the table. I believe everyone in the organization should have a seat at the table. We have seen change from so many recent events we want to stay cutting edge in our thought process and in front of those industry changes.

b. If it’s changed, how have you adapted to the change and why?

Tom: Being LGBTQ means that you’re never finished coming out.  Every interaction with a new person brings with a split-second decision of whether it’s safe to acknowledge my self.  I have become bolder with age and stability in my career, but there is always a question of whether sharing my self will mean not getting an opportunity, or creating a negative impression of me.

Kellie: This industry has always been very male dominant.  It took me a few years to establish myself in this field as a young woman and build the confidence to accomplish our goals.  Not only have I adapted, but I also realized that I would need to educate myself in order to be taken seriously and hold conversations with executives.  It is important to me that I hold a good reputation in the industry where men and women will respect me and my position, and understand how hard I worked to earn the position that I am in.

In what ways has the industry moved closer to acceptance and inclusion?

Tom: Speaking from my experience, the insurance industry has followed broader business trends in supporting diversity.  Being LBGTQ doesn’t elicit overtly negative responses, and the majority of my colleagues treat me with respect.  But we need to do a better job of giving visible examples of diversity within the industry, for both LGBTQ individuals, and other historically disadvantaged groups.

Ryanne: The industry is starting to understand the need to have representation within in the company and in its advertising. Obviously, there are certain companies who place a greater emphasis on equality and inclusion, and I am proud to work for a company who values the differences in each employee.

Kellie: This industry has evolved over the years. It is great to see a very diverse industry where there are women and people of color in leadership positions.

a. What steps are still needed?

Tom: Recently, a colleague from another company referred to “Diversity, Equity, and Belonging.”  It really caught my attention, and I asked him about it.  We both agreed that belonging is a much better goal than being simply included.  To me it represents a glimpse of what steps may still be taken to make all insurance professionals feel like they have a place in our industry.

Ryanne: I feel there is a lack of representation in the LGBTQIA+ community. While we are growing accustomed to seeing more wide-ranging faces, ages, and sexes in advertising for insurance, there is a distinct lack of LGBTQIA+ targeted marketing. This is a missed business opportunity but more importantly, it continues the alienation of a large segment of the population.

Kellie: We need to continue to strive for leaders with open minds, who want to give everyone the same opportunity, regardless of race or sex. If the candidate brings something different to the table, new ideas, great culture and a teamwork mindset, they should be considered.

Do you ever face micro aggressions at work related to who you are and how you identify?

Tom: Absolutely yes, and that’s not to say that people are intentionally mean or discriminatory.  Often it takes the form of assumptions that a partner is opposite sex, or that all families consist of parents and children.  On rare occasions there are assumptions that gay men are less masculine, but I haven’t seen that overtly in recent years.

Ryanne: Unfortunately, I face microaggressions frequently. I work in a department which sometimes interfaces with people who are not accustomed to interacting with people outside of their immediate circle. When I encounter these conversations, I try to use them as learning opportunity. Responding in love rather than frustration typically diffuses the situation and deters the offending party to putting up defenses.  This was not always my tactic. I used to ignore the comments, but I then realized the disservice to myself by internalizing feelings and how that was impacting my self-image and mental health.

Kellie: I have in the past, but I believe its how we respond is what sets us apart and shows growth and maturity.

a. If so, how do you handle the offenders?

Tom: For me, as long as I feel safe and secure in the interaction, I’m happy to gently correct the assumption. On occasions when I don’t feel secure, or if I’m not up for a potential debate, I may let the comments pass.

Kellie: I would remind them how long it has taken me to get to this point in my career and the endless hours and sacrifices I have made to set myself apart from my peers.

b. Has your approach changed at all over the years?

Tom: I’m more willing to be vocal these days.  I think that’s partly due to the current stage of my career, changes in the industry and business environment, and my own perception of the need to stand up against a political climate that is less assuredly friendly.

Kellie: Definitely. I do not feel the need to explain or prove myself to someone who doubts my potential. I know the value I bring to the company I work for. I know how hard I have worked to get where I am, it reminds me to always stay humble and work harder to continue proving people otherwise.

What advice would you give your younger self beginning your career in insurance?

Tom: Self-advocacy is not the same as rudeness.  One can stand up for oneself without burning bridges.

Ryanne: I would advise young Ryanne to network. For the first few years of my career, I kept my head down and completed my work. I did not attempt to build bridges or foster work relationships. Engaging in networking has had an immediate and substantial impact on my career and I am grateful I now understand its importance.

Kellie: I would say don’t be intimidated, by anyone. Regardless of their position. There are so many opportunities and doors to open, don’t sell yourself short. Continue to educate yourself and stay hungry. Don’t ever get comfortable.

Do you see yourself represented in your peers and/or leaders in the insurance industry?

Tom: Truthfully, no.  A friend recently asked me if I know anyone LGBTQ in the insurance industry, and I had to think very hard to come up with 2 names, and I didn’t feel confident that either of them would be comfortable with my sharing their names without explicit permission.  There is a distinct lack of LGBTQ visibility in my experience in the insurance industry.

Ryanne: I feel the industry is getting better but as always there is room for improvement. As a black woman I see us mostly represented in frontline positions. I would like to see a greater emphasis on creating a track for black female employees to transition into management and executive roles.

Kellie: Yes we are beginning to see more women and minorities In leadership positions as the Indutry evolves.

Do you feel that your voice is heard in the insurance industry?

Tom: I do. Whether because of my employer, or because of my work with industry professional groups, I do believe that I am able to participate in our industry regardless of my identity as a gay man.

Ryanne: I am blessed to sit on the National Leadership team for [email protected]   I have access to executives and senior leaders who often serve as a catalyst for changes to improve the workplace for all. I value my position, because I know my voice is being heard and I am able to advocate for my peers.

Kellie: Yes, in my specific field, but we need more strong voices advocating change in the industry.

Paul Bi
Director, New Product Innovation
GRS global Insights & Innovation
Liberty Mutual Insurance
Jung Wong
VP & Region Manager
Workers Compensation Claims
Bert Dizon
Senior Client Services Manager Gallagher Bassett

What is the best career advice you’ve ever received?

Paul Bi: Just because you can’t measure the ROI of something, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it. What’s the ROI of hugging your mom?”. This thought comes from the late Tony Hsieh, former Zappos CEO. While this piece of advice wasn’t directly given to me, it is something that has had a big impact ever since I first learned about it in Tony’s book “Delivering Happiness.” Often times work that we do cannot be easily quantified in define figures…particularly if it’s exploring and innovating in brand new spaces. Return and a level of accountability will always be an important aspect in determining if something was successful or not, but it should absolutely not be the barrier that prevents you from getting started.  

Jung Wong: Strive for continuous improvement – there is always room to grow and become better no matter what role you are in. The key to this is self-awareness of your skill gaps, opportunities and being open to advice/help.

Bert Dizon: Be an advocate for yourself!

Throughout my career, I have always operated on the mindset of doing you best in all that you do and promotions and raises will follow.  My family instilled the concept that you will ultimately be rewarded by your hard work and perseverance.  Keeping your nose to the grindstone was the best way to do your work and your supervisors will reward you appropriately. 

While this is absolutely true to a degree, it was not until I met my industry mentor, who also taught me the value advocating for yourself.  It was no longer just about expecting talent and worth to be recognized and rewarded but putting yourself out there to advocate and ensure that your talents and efforts are not going unnoticed.  Being an advocate for yourself does not mean to be cocky or overconfident.  It has a lot to do with building a rapport and level of mutual respect with your management that you can openly and often talk about your successes and goals, but also candidly about your challenges in an effort to steer yourself in the right direction.  The best way to advocate for yourself is candidly, as no one is perfect.

Advocating for yourself must also have a high degree of self-reflection and active listening.  You cannot put blinders on when it comes to your weakness, nor can you just put a magnifying glass on your strengths.  You must be willing to take feedback and make the effort reduce and eliminate deficiencies while continuing to build upon your strengths. 

While this is not easy and it requires a manager who operates more in a leadership style, it is important to make that effort to ensure the growth and results you are seeking.  

Members of the AAPI community are often viewed as the “model minority” – smart, hardworking, team-players but state that they are not always sought out for leadership roles. What, if any challenges have you faced because of this perception and how have you overcome those challenges?

Paul Bi: The broader implications are that the ‘model minority’ exists but the issue comes down to how it is understood and perceived. Often, the Pan-Asian community is viewed in the context of a monolith and applied in a way that praises the community as whole for the apparent success they experience. However, this is misguided as there’s an ugly history to the term and done in contrast to other underrepresented and marginalized groups acting as wedge to divide communities and bring attention away from the core issues at hand. The reality is having the ‘model minority’ applied in this way ignores the real challenges, biases and discrimination that exist in the community. Additionally, it takes-away from the unique experiences, stories and diversity that the broader Pan-Asian community brings as we represent multiple nationalities, languages and cultures. To address these issues, I was one of the founding members of an employee resource group for Pan-Asians and led the group as the National Co-Chair for several years. Our goal was to bring greater awareness surrounding the inequities being experienced and shift the conversational paradigms back into the hands of the community. From here, we’ve been able to open new lines of dialogue and have real honest conversations with company leaders of what needs to be done to create change. Whether it is my own experience dealing with ‘model minority’ dynamics to colleagues going through ones of their own. Each one is unique in its own right and is important to continue bringing these experiences to the forefront to create the kind of culture change that would benefit everyone.

Jung Wong: The ‘model minority’ persona is what I experienced in my first job out of college. I worked hard, long hours and had exceeded expectations year-over-year but was never a candidate for a leadership role when I applied – most times did not even get an interview. After a few years, I transitioned to a new role and company. It was there that I observed multiple AAPI senior leaders that motivated me to strive for that next step. At that point, I knew I had to own my development to address certain fears/opportunities – taking public speaking courses, conflict resolution training, being a leader within my peer group.

In your opinion, what needs to happen in order to break the corporate glass ceiling and expand the presence of Asian Americans in executive suites?

Paul Bi: There needs to be a greater acknowledgement and understanding that the ‘bamboo ceiling’ exists in order to address the problem and create change. Often, these problems are given little weight or flat out ignored. This leads to the further perpetuation of the ‘bamboo ceiling’ as there isn’t a belief that something is wrong, Pan-Asians are advancing, and the community is doing well. However, that is the exact opposite of what’s happening. Extensive research and data already exists identifying the perils of the ‘bamboo ceiling’, the misperceptions behind it and the significant gaps that exist regarding upward mobility and Pan-Asians in leadership roles. So many authentic stories and experiences go untold in the community. There must be a greater adoption of a growth mindset to foster an environment where you can listen and learn from the challenges that affect the community. Recognize that there requires a stronger willingness to open-up, be vulnerable, asking and being asked tough questions and transparent that there still remains a lot to improve on. By not acknowledging the disparities within, issues will continue to be ignored and disproportionately harm efforts on bridging gaps to bringing greater diversity, inclusion, equity and belonging in an organization.   

Jung Wong: The first thing that comes to mind is making sure companies are assessing and investing in their AAPI talent. By connecting your AAPI talent with the right mentor/sponsor and other resources to develop their leadership skills early on, you help unlock their full potential. I have been lucky to work for a company that has provided me with positive influencers throughout my career to help me grow personally and professionally – that along with internal and external development trainings have helped me get to where I am today.

As a way to pay-it-forward, I recently took on the role as the National Advancement Program Director within LEAAP – Leading & Empowering Asian & Ally Professionals, which is one of Liberty Mutual’s Employee Resource Groups. Our program purpose is to identify the top talent within the AAPI community and help them get where they want to be via various internal and external training resources.

What do you know now that you wished you knew when you began your career?

Paul Bi: Don’t sweat the small stuff because it really is all small stuff. While simple, it is profound in many ways. Early in my career I spent a great deal of time and effort trying to get every little thing perfect. Part of it is driven by model minority dynamics, having to live up to certain standards and perceptions that have been placed on the broader community. And part of it was driven by proving my worth and seeking validation through others. There is a detriment to that as one can get overwhelmed, place too much importance on it and often lose sight of the bigger picture. It was a lesson that took me some time to learn and realize just how potentially harmful focusing on aspects that really wasn’t worth the energy or just out of my control. Instead of sweating the small stuff, I’ve learned to redirect my focus into things that bring more fulfillment and value. It has help me better prioritize, gain new levels of confidence in myself, and create greater balance particularly as life gets busier with its complexities. 

Jung Wong: That everybody has a voice at the table… Early on in my career, I was always afraid to speak up and voice my opinion, especially when senior leaders were part of the audience. This was partially driven by how I was raised in a traditional Chinese culture of “keeping your head down”. It wasn’t until I connected with an impactful leader/mentor, that consistently made it a point to ask “What do you think Jung?” in front of a broader group that I felted empowered to express my thoughts.

Bert Dizon: When I first started working in insurance, I looked at the industry for the most part as a job and not a career, it was a means to an end and that one day I would find my career.  I had even left the industry a couple of times because of that.  I like most had the story of how I fell into a role in claims as opposed to seeking out a role in it.  While I was told and I felt that that I do my job well, it was not something that I even considered being long term.  I did not see myself being a claims representative for the rest of my life. 

While still unsure about claims as my future, I took a job working for a broker.  While in that role I found that my knowledge and experience of claims helped me to better understand risk.  I also found myself being the person that many of my colleagues came to help them answer claims questions for their customers.  When I left there I started working in the TPA world and discovered yet another side to the industry.  I began to discover the depth of the industry and the opportunities within in it.  I realized that there was a career path in this for me.  I began setting goals and developing a trajectory that I would like to see myself go and today I continue on that journey. 

If I could go back and talk to myself, I would tell me to embrace the insurance industry, as I do now, as a career and start setting my goals with that mindset.  That the world of insurance, while it can be tough, can be very rewarding and provide an outlet to gain and grow knowledge and understanding of something that everyone in the world will need help with at some point in their life. 

Barry Dillard
Vice President,  Risk Management Services
Bonnie Boone
Area Executive Vice President 
Gallagher Risk Management Services
Holli Charles
Account Manager, Distribution & Service
Helmsman Management Services
Abel Travis
Vice President, Fundamental Underwriters
AF Group

What advice would you give yourself just starting out in the insurance industry?

Barry: There are so many things! If I had to pick one, it would be to focus on being a better communicator, both written and verbal. So much of our success depends on how well we communicate with peers, our leaders, business partners and customers.  The ability to speak comfortably in front of groups is also important.

Bonnie:  I would tell my younger self to be more strategic and watch the politics. I never had a sponsor and that is key.  To have someone speak up for you in the room when you are not around. To recommend you for new opportunities, etc.

Holli: Own your career and be prepared to advocate for yourself. I know that it’s easier said than done but my mother always said a closed mouth won’t get fed. Track your wins, accomplishments, successful projects, positive feedback – some days you need to remind yourself that you’re in your role for a reason and other days you need to remind others. Practice gratitude – you should want to go as far up the career ladder as your ambition and aptitude will take you. However, it’s so important to  find space to appreciate where you are in the moment. When I make space for gratitude, it helps me stay grounded, resilient, and hopeful. Be prepared to be a lifelong learner. One of the exciting parts of being in the insurance industry is that there is always something new to learn. Challenge yourself to learn something that not absolutely necessary but makes you more valuable – a new language, Excel, something that makes you the go-to subject matter expert. Perfection is an allusion. If you’ve made the best decision you can with the information you were given/have, that’s the most anyone can expect of you.

Abel: Advice that I would give my younger self is to be unapologetic about your goals, and ambitions in the Insurance Industry.  While this is a great industry, in order to meet your ultimate goals you must continue to develop professionally and technically in your field. Don’t wait until later in your career to make an impact in the industry, which is broader than the needs of your organization as its critically important to focus on providing value to your company, but the industry at large. 

If you were starting today, as a young African American professional would that advice change? If so, how?

Barry: The advice wouldn’t change, but I would add the need to build a network of people as a support system.  Seek out role models that look like you, and some that don’t.  Make your village as diverse as possible, make genuine connections with people and learn their stories. Lastly, be of service to others because you get as much as you give in the process.   

Bonnie: Yes, you must have allies, and as I said a sponsor. The sponsor does not have to be a person of color, but someone that you trust, has integrity and you respect. I think the younger people of today have senior executives they can use to assist them (like myself), and networking organizations. It’s important to have a plan and ask for what you want. You must follow through and get things in writing.

Holli: I would still give the same advice. However, I would also say to start building your network early and nurture it because at some point, it’s no longer entirely about what you know but who you know. You want the right people to say your name in the rooms you’re not in yet – the advocates, allies, and activators.  We also need others to cheer for you and give you wise counsel, and for whom you can return the favor.

Abel: No, I don’t believe the advice would change.  Now more than ever, there is a gap, and a need for talented Black professionals in the executive leadership ranks across all levels of Insurance.  I believe this isn’t necessarily a problem that can be solved without intentional efforts from organizations across the insurance industry.  Intentional recruiting of young talent, developing of all individuals, and promoting into positions of leadership.  I truly believe that once people see leaders that resemble themselves in the executive ranks, they can aspire with optimism to lead organizations and add value in ways that support to the customers of this great industry.

How has the insurance industry embraced diversity, equity, belonging, and inclusion? What challenges still exist?

Barry: The industry is starting to embrace these concepts, but progress has been slow.  This is true despite the business case for diversity being made evident years ago.  The killing of George Floyd was a galvanizing event for the Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) community and it has put a spotlight on corporate America.  Our industry, at all levels of its organizations, should reflect the communities and customers we serve.  In order to be successful, organizations need to ensure they have a comprehensive strategy that engages all stakeholders.  It can’t be another “flavor of the month” program, it has to be woven into the fabric of the organization.       

Organizations need to look at DE&I as who we are instead of something we do.  We need to continue to recruit diverse candidates and look for ways to retain and develop those employees.   Organizations need to commit to partnering with Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSIs) to develop talent pipelines. 

Bonnie: We still are not in decision making roles and on boards (in abundance), and running profit centers.  On the brokerage side there are few AA producers because we don’t have the board room contacts. Diversity of thought makes good economic sense.

We don’t receive the support that our fellow colleagues receive. We talk about generational wealth, but in our business we don’t get the opportunities of inheriting books of business or get opportunities to run offices. Always act with integrity, no matter who you are; client , CEO, underwriter, receptionist, claims person, actuary… you get my drift!

Holli: I believe that the insurance industry has been strongly compelled to embrace diversity, equity, belonging, and inclusion and we’re seeing evidence of that. Frankly there was no choice. If the industry is to thrive we have to cast a wider net for talent. Smart leaders that welcome diverse talent and multiple perspectives know that they will benefit from the creativity and energy that comes with that and thus, remain profitable. However, different organizations are definitely in different places along their journey. I work for Helmsman Management Services, a wholly-owned entity of Liberty Mutual. Nearly 10 years ago, we brought a Chief Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Officer, Dawn Frazier-Bohnert, and you can feel the shift in our organization. She’ll be the first to tell you it’s hard work, requires significant collaboration, and takes more time than many of believe it should. You have to set measurable goals, hold leadership accountable, and be fully transparent regarding what you’re doing well and where things need work. I’m seeing more of that happening in various organization including my own. I’m beginning to see far more people who look like me in spaces that I did not even know existed and at higher levels. The talent was always there but we’re now making a more concerted effort to make sure they are given an opportunity to compete for the roles for which they qualify.

There are certainly challenges. There will always be people in positions of power who say that they embrace DEI and in fact, do not. They demonstrate this by focusing on symbolic gestures and not substantive action and by limiting the amount of time and resources they’re willing to invest in DEI initiatives. I really believe that we need to start much earlier to attract diverse talent and we need to go to places we normally would not to find them and allow them to discover all that the insurance industry can offer. I  recently had the opportunity to speak to a group of high school students and many of them had no idea that working in insurance was an option and some were genuinely intrigued by the idea.

Abel: While efforts have been made in the insurance industry to embrace diversity, equity, and inclusion I believe there is still a long way to go.  While I don’t only want to focus on the Black Community, a Reuters study in 2020 confirmed that only 3 of 168 senior executives a the top 10 insurers are black.  Among 119 board members, only 16 are black at the same companies.  This is a bleak outlook, and the numbers aren’t much better when you assess gender, differently abled, and other aspects of diversity and inclusion.   This fact makes it challenging when it comes to hiring into executive ranks because its been well documented that people tend to hire and promote those that resemble themselves.  I believe inclusion training only helps to a certain degree, but its even more critical to measure and provide a level of accountability within decision makers to improve DEI across insurance.  We work for a great industry, and I truly believe with the right intentions, we can recognize positive gains over the coming years.