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.

Why did you decide to join RISE?

We are constantly hearing about the talent crisis that the Insurance Industry is experiencing, and RISE is doing something about it. I joined RISE because I want to be part of the solution. I am passionate about supporting other young professionals with the resources and education that they need to excel in their career, and providing our mentors with pipelines for knowledge transfer to our next generation of leaders. I am constantly inspired by the awesome things our membership is accomplishing on the daily and it’s been really rewarding to be a part of it. 

What are you excited about?

RISE has seen a ton of growth over the past year, from our first in-person event, to hosting our largest cohort in the Mentorship program. As the RISE network continues to expand, we have the opportunity to offer more resources to our young professionals. I am most excited to see impact that we are able to make on the industry as our organization grows!

Your role is Director of Operations. What’s your vision for the future of RISE?

Through programs like the RISE Awards, Mentorship Program, and Elite 50 Internships, and through forming strategic partnerships with other industry organizations, RISE has been growing, recognizing and advancing the best young professional talent in the industry. In my role as Director of Operations I have the opportunity to expand our programs to a larger audience and become the premier Young Professionals in Insurance association!

Do you have a mentor or someone you want to mention who has helped shape your career?

If you told me 5 years ago that I would end up in the Insurance Industry, I might not have believed you. My background is in hospitality and restaurant management. Starting in this industry as a young professional myself, I was fortunate enough to experience the power of mentorship firsthand! I’ve had incredible mentors both within my organization and outside over the years, but I have to give special recognition to Amy Cooper, Founder & CEO of RISE, and Tina Pernie, Head of Strategic Partnerships at NARS for the growth opportunities that I have had under their mentorship.

Who should join RISE and how does someone get involved?

RISE is an amazing organization for young professionals who are looking for career advancement resources and opportunities. For those looking to get more involved, our committees facilitate many of the organizations’ initiatives and are a great place to start. For those who are further along in your career, we have opportunities for you to educate, support and mentor the young professional community. Be sure to follow RISE Professionals on LinkedIn and subscribe to our newsletter to stay up to date!

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

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. 


Rising Insurance Star Executives announces the 2022 35 Under 35 RISE Award winners and Mentor of the Year finalists!

The Annual RISE Awards recognizes top rising talent in the insurance industry. Every year we receive dozens of nominations of deserving young professionals who are making an impact in their company, community, and the industry as a whole. To be eligible, nominees must work in the insurance industry and be under 35 years of age.





Alana Letourneau, MD, MBA, Carisk Partners

Alivia Cooper, Amerisure Insurance Company

Amin Touahri, Hartford Steam Boiler Insurance

Andrew Schwartz, Oliver Wyman/Celent

Annie Ryan, NEXT Insurance

Awais Farooq, ActiveOps

Caitlin McPhillips, Vela Insurance Services

Cassie Larson, Bindable

Chris Wright, The Cincinnati Insurance Companies

Cole Horton, Merchants Bonding Company

Cynthia Scott, Tower Hill Insurance Group

Ema Roloff, Naviant

Eric Brown, MMG Insurance

Erica Russell, Canal Insurance

Jennifer Holbrook, Harford Mutual Insurance Group

Jon Perrillo, Lockton Companies

Joseph Terpening, Kingstone Insurance Company

Josh Carmona, Nationwide E&S/Specialty

Lauren Fernandez, Insure National

Mackenzie Gilkey, Kemper Property & Casualty

Mark Coppa, Falvey Cargo Underwriting

Mary Calmer, Crum & Forster

Meaghan Stephenson, FRISS

Megan Hoffman, Producers National Corporation

Megan Nelson, Gallagher Bassett

Owie Lei Agbontaen, Sompo International

Rachel Jenkins, Founder Shield

Rosalia Cortes, Liberty Mutual Insurance

Ryan Santacrose, Artex Risk Solutions

Scott Francis, ISG

Shipra Mehta, Costello Ginex & Wideikis

Tandeka Nomvete, Questpro Consultants

Tania Sanfiel, Assurant

Walter Davenport, Allianz Global Corporate & Specialty

Zach Brown, Modern Reign Insurance Brokers


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Mentor of the Year is awarded to an outstanding mentor who has made a difference to the next generation. The winner will be announced June 1st at the RISE Leadership Summit & Awards Gala.

The 2022 Mentor of the Year finalists are:

  • Halley Cruz, PhD, MBus, Insure National
  • Stephen J. Henning, Wood Smith Henning & Berman LLP
  • Tim Roberts, Everest Insurance
  • Tony Chimera, Westfield Specialty





The winners will be recognized at the 2022 RISE Leadership Summit & Awards Gala on June 1st in Fort Lauderdale, Fl. The RISE Award publication will also be available at the event and in digital on June 1st. Learn more here


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Gracemarie Mende

Senior Technical Claims Account Manager of Watford US, Arch Insurance Group

In a past life, I was a special education teacher. I spent years looking to help develop others and I’ve always had a passion for personal growth and development. Regardless of how long you’ve been in a position, its always important to continue education, keep your skills sharp, and learn something new. Even in the most entry level training can prove to be valuable, providing reminders or quick tips to perform to the best of your ability.

This year we are looking to launch regular webinars, some of which will provide opportunities for CE/CLE credits. The committee is dedicated to providing growth opportunities across all career levels and business units. Whether you are in underwriting, risk management, a budding attorney, or developing claims professional, education is the cornerstone to a successful career. We are looking to provide opportunities to learn more about your current role as well as other areas of the industry; a well rounded professional is a valued professional.

Joining the education committee gives you the voice to cultivate your own education needs and contribute to the needs of others. Personal development is not limited to taking a class, reading an article, or participating in a webinar. Helping direct, present, and create education content opens the door to leadership skills. Young professionals can learn projection management, expand presentation skills, and network with other industry professionals. Participating in the committee means exposure to opportunities you would not typically have in your day to day roles.

-Gracemarie Mende, 2022 Education Committee Chair

Gracemarie is a born and raised Jersey Girl and Arch Insurance Senior Claims Account Manager who spends her free time chasing her toddler around in his bat mobile, baking and trying new recipes, and traveling with her loving husband. With a background in Education prior to her tenure in insurance, Gracemarie brings a passion for teaching to her career and encourages her adjusters to keep learning to be their best.

Katie Rossbach
Risk Placement Services, Inc.
Suvarna Ayyagari
Director – Business Intelligence
Gallagher Bassett
Deborah Saunders
Executive Director, Claims Management – Global Risk Management
Comcast NBCUniversal
Kimberly George
Global Innovation and Product Development Officer

How would you describe your leadership style? Do you see it as different from your male counterparts?

Katie: I have a visionary leadership style, driving results and change by setting my vision and inspiring others to come along on the journey with me. I provided my teams the autonomy and empowerment to drive their own operations forward. I build trust with my teams by personally caring about them and their career development, understanding what motivates them, and fostering a collaborative work environment. As a woman, I do see my leadership style different from some male counterparts, as mine relies more heavily on interpersonal and empathetic skillsets to gain the trust and buy in of others.

Suvarna: I tend to use different styles of leadership based on different situations. I am in a technology leadership role that typically entails a planning exercise to identify the top priorities for our cloud platform in alignment with organization goals. In this scenario, I seek input from the team members to ensure alignment.This approach fosters intrinsic motivation and strong engagement and ownership from the team during execution.  

When it comes to process improvement initiatives, I tend to be both a coach and player. I provide guidance for defining the process, getting the buy-in from stakeholders and following through on roll-out. I lead by example by setting the initial tone and then I let the team self-organize. In most cases, the team masters the process very quickly. 

In a situation when there is a need for quick decision-making or solving something critical, I use a more directive style by assigning responsibilities. I find that my male counterparts also use different styles, but I have found them using the directive style a lot more often than me. Overall, I strongly encourage self-initiative and accountability while creating a collaborative culture to solve problems by working alongside my team thereby building trust. 

Deborah: I hope that my team would say that I lead with trust and respect for their talents.  I support their autonomy to make decisions within the scope of their responsibilities much more than I direct their work, and encourage relationship building with others who can also support them.  I hesitate to generalize or ascribe merit to different leadership styles, but my observation is that my male peers prefer to exert more control and require more input into routine decision-making.

Kimberly: Through the years I have modified my leadership style to lead by influence. In doing so I have become much more aware of behaviors, attitudes, and opinions and their impact on the team and results. My style is collaborative, and I am focused on creating an inclusive, team-centric, approach. This involves intentionally bringing others into the team that did not have an opportunity previously. I also believe in communicating a clear vision and goal while allowing the team to modify and adjust to ensure success. When each team member feels they belong and understands the vision I find the collective is empowered and driven to succeed. As I evolved my leadership style and influencing others became part of my personal brand, my career trajectory advanced and more importantly people sought me out to join my teams and projects.

I find most leaders are less focused on leading by influence and more broadly focused on leading by authority. My male counterparts are more likely to have their “go-to” team to get things done. With that mindset the same people are called upon repeatedly and others lack opportunities and new experiences which broaden their skills. Whether women or men, I find many leaders fail to provide a clear and concise vision. Without the vision team members flounder and inevitably one person or a couple of people on the team will run with the project instead of the collective. Both scenarios result in slower decisioning, less innovation, lack of creativity, and a narrow view of the project.

How do you bring your authentic self to the workplace? How has that changed throughout your career?

Katie: I bring my authentic self to the workplace by having fun! My mantra says that if we are spending 8+ hours a day at work, we better have fun doing it! Opening up meetings with laughs, story sharing, or simply asking how someone’s weekend was, goes a long way. I am an active participant during collaborative sessions and I am not afraid to be myself and speak my opinion, a confidence that took time to develop in the earlier years of my career.

Suvarna: I bring my authentic self by acting on what I believe is the right thing.  When I started off my career, there was a lot of learning, I was honest about what I already knew and what I didn’t. I was transparent about where my deliverables stand. As I grew in my career, being authentic translated to being a trusted advisor to my business partners. I earned a reputation of always stating the risks, issues, and mitigation strategies in a timely manner. I backed up deliverables with factual data and openly asked for feedback. In my current role, authenticity also translates to being empathetic and humble when working with peers and senior management as I am cognizant of the dynamics of relationships. 

Deborah: I’ve always shared a fair amount of my personal thoughts and experiences with my colleagues during small talk and informal encounters, but I’ve also maintained a clear distinction between my work and family lives. In fact, I use different versions of my first name depending on whether the conversation is work-related or personal to remind myself to switch modes.  It wasn’t until the pandemic forced a blurring of the lines between home and work that I fully realized the importance and value of authenticity at work.  Maybe, because I tend to over-share, the transition was a bit easier for me to make, but I was humbled and grateful to witness members of my team open up in very personal ways that I’m sure made them feel uncomfortable. I definitely learned far more about the team-building power of trust, authenticity, and humility from my team than I could possibly offer them in return.

Kimberly: Bringing your authentic self to work is something I think about a lot and discuss with my peers and those I mentor. Mid-career I found that sharing my personal story inspires others and people relate to me in a more positive way. Prior to being more open about who I am, my career journey, and what drives me people often thought I was aloof or intimidating. Being relatable to others is important to me and partly why I am a nurse and it took me time to find balance with being my authentic self and a successful woman in insurance.

While I flex my approach based on my audience and believe that is likely the case for most women, I stay true to my values and guiding principles. What do I mean by that? My attire for a board meeting in New York is more formal than a board meeting in Los Angeles. My level of engagement will vary if I am the most senior person in the room, or not. I read my audience and may dial up or back my personality, as needed. For me, this is bringing my authentic self to work.

What advice would you give to women who are just starting their careers in the insurance industry?

Katie: Explore, set a plan of how to get where you want to go, and don’t be afraid to take risks!

Insurance is a complex industry employing a multitude of disciplines and skillsets. Take time to explore and understand the industry so you can find a path that excites and motivates you. From there, set a plan of where you want to go and how you’re going to get there, leveraging management feedback, mentorship and networking from those who’ve already paved the way. Don’t be afraid to take risks and go after challenging roles, as this is where you learn the most. And lastly, ALWAYS be your own advocate!

Suvarna: I would emphasize being self-confident and believing in oneself. Have a problem-solving mindset and be part of the solution. Raise your hand often to take on additional assignments to push yourself. Be persistent. The industry is constantly evolving, so stay curious and always keep learning so you can innovate. Be kind and respectful, but at the same time, stand up for yourself. Find a mentor whom you trust and who will coach you through your career. I constantly give the same pieces of advice to my young daughter who is a freshman at college, and I find that they apply regardless of where you are in your career.

Deborah: First, I’d congratulate them for choosing a career that is essential to helping people navigate through adversity and offers endless opportunities for lifelong learning and career growth. I’d tell them that they’re part of an industry that is undergoing an essential transformation to being far more diverse and inclusive for women, and in every sense of those terms. Most importantly I’d tell them to seek out the many highly successful women in this field who are inspired to help the next generation, and to make connections early and often.  

Kimberly: Believe in yourself. We all question, can I do this? Know that you can do it, you deserve it, and be flexible to take the next opportunity even if it might not be the opportunity you thought would come your way. Be open to meeting others and seek out opportunities to do so. Networking is important for everyone in the industry and certainly women entering the insurance industry. Find your sponsors, those who will support you when you do not know it, those who will help you learn, grow, and get to the next level. Be open to mentors who will be your cheerleader, give you the tough feedback, and the advisor you need for the given scenario. Always stay inquisitive and learn as insurance is an industry that is continually evolving.

Megan Nelson

Analytics Consultant, Gallagher Bassett 

I am passionate about innovation because it is something anyone can do and it can improve your life and the lives of others. Many have the perception that innovation is coming up with the “next big thing” but there are so many ways be innovative on a smaller scale, like simply finding better ways to do your current role. 

Whether innovation is central to what you do or you are looking for ways to be more innovative, the RISE Innovation Committee is a fun way to explore innovations in the insurance industry while building relationships with some incredible people.

My vision for the committee is to really engage our committee members through our initiatives this year. Our committee is a diverse and talented group of insurance professionals and we have only scratched the surface of what our committee can accomplish by bringing all of these skillsets together.  

-Megan Nelson, 2022 Innovation Committee Chair

Megan is an Analytics Consultant at Gallagher Bassett where her team generates innovative solutions to improve claim outcomes for claimants and clients. She is passionate about building up the skills of others and increasing awareness of opportunities within insurance. Megan lives in Chicago and is a world traveler, a math nerd, a singer, a golfer, a golden retriever lover and a board game enthusiast.

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.

You’ve been through months of revising your resume, applying for internships, attending virtual job fairs, and interviewing with companies. You finally have an offer, but you need to make sure it’s the right fit. Your internship sets the foundation for your career. Ask yourself these questions before accepting:

  1. Am I excited about the work I will be doing?

When it comes down to it, will you be happy with what you are doing for the length of your internship? Do you find it valuable and useful to your career as well as enjoyable?

  1. How did the people I met throughout the interview process make me feel?

It’s important to feel comfortable with the people you’ve met with so far. Did they make you feel welcome? If you had a chance to meet the teams you will be working with, are you excited to work with them? 

  1. What are the hours like?

Will the hours work for you and your schedule? Are you planning to take any summer classes you need to schedule around? What will this mean for your current daily routine?

  1. Do I care about the company’s mission?

The answer can be no, but it could also be yes. If you get excited about what the company does, its culture and values, you know you’re on your way to a good fit.

  1. What else did I learn throughout the interview process?

How did the company answer the questions I asked throughout the interview process? Did those questions make me more or less excited about the company? Were there any red flags?

  1. Are there opportunities for professional development or full-time work?

Post-internship, will there be full time opportunities and is that important to you? What other professional development are they offering? What skills will you learn?

  1. What are the pay/benefits?

Obviously pay is important. Look at the total benefit package available to you, not just the hourly rate. Weigh this against your other options and expectations. Is this negotiable? Is it a fair offer?

  1. Is the structure (virtual/in-person/hybrid) ideal for me?

You’ll have to weigh the benefits of both. Virtual is convenient and flexible, however you miss out on some of the interaction with people as well as the feel for the company’s culture in the office. In Person has more opportunity for collaboration, community involvement, and spontaneous learning, but sometimes lacks the flexibility of schedule and location.

  1. Do I have any other offers on the horizon?

It can be exciting to get an offer, but if you have other opportunities that you haven’t heard back about yet, it could make sense to wait to accept. You want to avoid reneging an offer. If there is a deadline you are unsure of meeting, consider asking for an extension. If you know that this is the one, trust your gut and go for it!

  1. Can you see yourself succeeding in the role?

Can you visualize a successful internship with this company? Do they have clearly defined goals? Did they give you assurance that they will equip you with the skills necessary to succeed?