Alessa Quane

EVP & Chief Risk Officer, AIG

In your opinion, what qualities make a “Power Woman”?

To me, a Power Woman is someone who makes an impact with determination, wit, and emotional intelligence and is always looking ahead. She believes in the power of facts and faith. She models the values of honesty and integrity in her relationships, and is dedicated to giving back at home, at work, in her community, and in the world-at-large. A Power Woman is someone who uses her influence to both educate and elevate the next generation of female leadership.

With all the different issues one could focus on, how do you balance your efforts in pursuit of gender equality? Is it a global approach or a specific issue that you are passionate about?

I’m a fan of tackling what I can realistically accomplish. Currently, I am focused in two areas; my three daughters, and the women at AIG. I lead my daughters by demonstrating what is possible and encouraging them to try different activities. I instill in them that education is paramount; self-discipline is a necessity; and balance of work and play is key. My husband and I are encouraging, but not doting, and we find that our girls believe that all opportunities are available to them. I lead a Girl Scout troop for my youngest daughter because I think the values and skills she learns there build a foundation for success throughout life. I taught catechism for several years because I believe faith is a tenet that drives one’s own behavior and influence on others.

When I was promoted to a C-suite leadership role at AIG, people started to look at me as a symbol of what they could achieve. As I continue to do my job to the best of my ability, I’ve also embraced the challenge of helping others to achieve their full potential. I am the Dean for our Women’s Executive Leadership Initiative, where we aim to provide high potential women with development opportunities and leadership skills in order to create a stronger pipeline of C-suite candidates. I am actively involved with AIG’s Women & Allies Employee Resource Group and make an effort to visit our many chapters as I travel the globe. I also prioritize my personal interaction with individuals, playing a role as a mentor for some and a sponsor for others.

If you could have someone else’s job for a day, who and what would it be? Why?

I’d like to be in a Broadway musical. I enjoyed theater as a child, but am not talented enough in terms of singing or dancing. It would be fun for a day (we’ll assume I’m given enough talent for that one day to be a big success!), and I’d enjoy entertaining others and have them leave the theater relaxed and in a good mood.

Why do you think women's reproductive rights are under attack? Globally it seems women's health and security are under such attack; from religion, to cultural attitudes, to lax government protection, women are more vulnerable than ever. What policies would you propose that he US government pursue (or change) to alter this.

Are you involved in politics at the local or national level? No Why or why not?

What issues in the workplace contribute most to the gender pay gap: accessibility? unconscious biast (including questions about previous salary requirements)? economic? reproductive? or some other nefarious reason. Why do you think these are still challenges we face?

The issues in the workplace that contribute most to the gender pay gap are both systemic and employee-based. By systemic, I mean culture. Companies that commit to fostering and advancing an inclusive and diverse culture are more likely to have strategies that promote gender diversity and the idea of equal pay for equal work. These are the types of companies that drive a diversity agenda with key programs of work through senior leaders who are accountable for achieving targeted outcomes, such as an increase in the number of women promoted into mid-level management, and an increase in the percentage of women who hold senior roles. Companies that commit to the idea of equal pay for equal work are more likely to commission compensation studies and to act on inequities in pay revealed through that exercise.

By employee-based, I mean how we communicate the value that we deliver–and our worth– through the roles that we hold and the work that we do. Over the years, in my roles as a leader of senior executives, I have seen a striking difference in the assertiveness, the preparedness, and the words that men and women use to communicate their contributions, their value and their worth to the success of the organization. I’m convinced that there is an opportunity for women to chip away at the gender wage gap and to improve their earning potential through self-promotion and self-advocacy.

Can you tell us a short story in which you encountered a block in the work place and what you did about it?

Do you think that asking previous salary requirements in job interviews contributes to the pay gap between women and men? NY State recently outlawed this practice. Should we push for a nationwide ban?

Yes, I believe wage gaps are perpetuated when employees are required to disclose their prior salaries. It is customary to consider that a promotion equals a certain percentage increase in salary, or that an individual will be willing to move from one company to another for no less than a certain percentage increase.

However, there are sometimes reasons for a gap to exist for a particular individual, such as years of experience in that type of role, performance issues, skill gaps, etc., which an individual’s current salary can indicate. Ignoring those gaps and simply thinking that there is only one level of pay for a given role is inappropriate. People should be paid equitably for the roles they are in and for equal performance regardless of gender.

This dialogue is important, but I’m not convinced that a nationwide ban on disclosing salary requirements will effectively solve the pay gap problem. I think we need to better understand what drives the difference over time, because you see plenty of women enter the workforce at parity straight out of school, yet gaps emerge over the course of their careers. A ban might help, but is unlikely to address the root cause.

Have you seen any changes in the political landscape for women over the past few years? If so, what are they?

Was there a defining moment or experience in your life that led you to where you are today? What was it?

There is no single defining moment or experience in my life that has led me to where I am today, personally and professionally. Certainly, my education at Drake University and my degree in Actuarial Science set my career on its path. I have been afforded opportunities to question and have confidence in my values and principles to make the right decisions for me and for my career path.

Rather than look back at a single moment, I think the values we learn at a young age shape our character as we grow and mature. We are heavily influenced by those around us, particularly those who act as our role models and mentors. Our parents, grandparents, teachers, scout masters, coaches, siblings and so on are often those who shape the value framework that will define us throughout our lives. I was fortunate to have many good role models, and a key facet of my values that I took away from their collective guidance was the need to be honest and to demand the same from others.

Do you believe that open access to porn (including violent video games, social media etc.) contributes to gender inequality and violence against women?

What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?

One of my mentors at AIG stressed the importance of building a succession plan if I wanted to be able to look back on my last position and know that I had been successful. He was so right, and I focus a lot of my time and energy on ensuring that I have the right team with the right mix of skills and ability to collaborate. Succession planning is not just about the individual that replaces you, but the team that can actually carry on without you.

There are many studies that support the idea that a female presence in the board room increases the bottom line and leads to healthier work environments. What can we do to continue to support and enhance the growth and presence of women in high profile positions.

There is a lot we can and should do–and my experience confirms that diverse teams are more creative and produce innovative solutions that result in better business results. To be relevant, the workforce must reflect the diverse perspectives and insights of the world we live in. This diversity of thought translates into increased bottom lines and healthier work environments. To continue an influx of diverse thought, we need to be transparent and open to seeking out ideas from women, ensuring that they are at the table to help support and enhance their growth.

As an executive sponsor and coach within AIG, I help women to prepare for high profile positions to provide greater impact to the organization and help increase women’s presence “at the table.” My investment of time–and my commitment to create a pipeline of highly talented and diverse women who will be ready to take on larger leadership positions–increases this talent pool’s exposure and visibility within the company. This creates a win-win for both the company and the employee. Through feedback, mentoring, and coaching I’ve seen women experience an accelerated pace in their careers. This, in turn, provides the company with a highly talented workforce that is ready and able to tackle the diverse scenarios the world provides.

Whom do you most admire? Why?

My husband. He has strong integrity, and is honest, sensitive and intelligent. He is a fantastic supporter and encourages me all the time. He makes me a better person. He has a very senior job and travels quite a bit, but balances this with responsibility at home and with our three daughters. I couldn’t have been as successful as I am without his love and support.

What is your favorite book (fiction or non-fiction)?

I’m a fan of the classics and mysteries. But, if I had to pick one book that stands out above the rest, I’d say Victor Hugo’s “Les Miserables.” It’s a powerful story of redemption, new beginnings, and compassion. Even though I read it in high school, it remains my favorite.

What is your favorite place on earth? Why?

I don’t have one favorite place. I love to travel and explore new cultures, foods, sights, and landscapes. I love to relax on the beach or by a pool and feel the sun kissing my skin and watch my children splashing around having a great time. I love to ski and enjoy the silence of sitting on the chair lift and quietly taking stock of the scenery and experiences of the day.

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