Thirty years ago when the finance industry was dominated by men, I took a leap and joined the Investment Team at Provident Life and Accident Insurance Company. It was rare for women to be working in professional roles in a sector long dominated by males, but it didn’t stop me. It spurred my desire to excel within the organization that eventually became Unum. Now, Unum is consistently recognized as a top company for women, and we have just been named a 2021 Seramount Top Companies for Executive Women.
The climb up the ladder was not without twists and turns. I remember early on when I camouflaged my pregnancy during a job interview for which I knew I was qualified. I also knew I was four months pregnant with my first child at a time when the idea of an imminent maternity leave was a bridge too far for many in the male-dominated field. I really wanted the job, so I wore a big suit to hide my pregnancy. I was doing great until the final question. The male interviewer asked if there was anything else I needed to share. At that point, I told him I was pregnant… and I didn’t get the job.
The company you work for is critical
At a time when women were leaving careers to start families, being a part of an organization that supported a healthy work environment was critical. Unum was that organization. Even though I was not promoted at that time, I turned my focus on the growth and development needed to prepare myself for a higher position. I didn’t let the setback dampen my ambition. Sure enough, two years later that same position became available and I interviewed with the same male leader. This time, I got the job.
The people you work for is critical
The hiring manager later confirmed he needed someone who could hit the ground running when I previously applied for the position. He couldn’t see past the fact that after only five months, I would be out on maternity leave. Surprisingly, that gentleman was a great boss and became a mentor and my biggest advocate. Throughout my career, other male leaders stepped up to mentor – they realized the value of diversity and inclusion well before it became a strategic company objective.
Taking a chance on yourself and others is critical
There were leaders who took a chance on me, but first, I had to take a chance on myself. Getting an advanced degree, gaining professional certifications, staying abreast of industry trends, and networking with others in the business was essential. Now, at this point in my career, I am excited to share my experiences and mentor others. On the flip side, I learn so much from mentees and individuals who have different perspectives. It helps us challenge the status quo.
We all benefit when we can be our authentic selves at work, yet we sometimes feel it necessary to conform to fit in. Find a company, like Unum, that values what you bring to the table. Get a mentor in your desired field. Advance your skills so you can be ready for your next career opportunity. Remember, it’s a journey, make time for work life balance and pay it forward.