President, U.S. Insurance Solutions, Principal Financial Group
“One of my undergraduate professors was relentless in driving me to have an opinion and know why I hold that opinion. Looking back–that was incredibly powerful advice. She constantly asked me, ‘Why do you believe that? What facts and emotions influenced your thinking? What ideas did you build off of to reach your opinion?’ That advice has made me a better thinker, a better listener, and a better leader.”
In your opinion, what qualities make a “Power Woman”?
Confidence, integrity, passion, and perseverance. But, those qualities aren’t specific to women. I believe that anyone who wants to make a difference has those characteristics.
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?
It’s part of who I am and a huge part of where I work. I feel a personal sense of responsibility to support a work environment that values differences and seeks diverse opinions. I know our customers expect it and maybe. most importantly, I have two teenage daughters who serve as a reminder every day to make sure I keep focused on these issues.
Do you believe that there is any gender specific role for women to play in the Climate Change debate?
There are opportunities for women, and all people, to play in every conversation, including climate change. In any debate, I believe that different perspectives lead to better outcomes.
Do you believe industry and commerce (and government) should factor into a ten year plan the costs involved in mitigating the effects of Climate Change? (According to an Oxford University supported survey, the total global economic cost would be €200-350 billion per year by 2030. This is less than one percent of the forecasted global GDP in 2030.)
With a long-term lens on, it’s clear that we should take action on climate change. However, mandates and regulations are less appealing to me than collective decisions to engage in change.
If you could have someone else’s job for a day, who and what would it be? Why?
My brother is a high school history teacher and I think he has one of the hardest, but most important jobs you could have. I’d love to step into his shoes and experience his classroom. I suspect it would be a humbling experience.
Which historical figure do you most identify with?
Maybe Jane Austen. I love fiction writing and I think Jane Austen had a unique ability to tell a story that was appropriate for her time, but still explored gender roles assigned to both men and women. I love her ability to tell a story–quietly, elegantly, but passionately.
Why or why not? In what way do you work for women’s power and equality? What do you think is the number one action we as a society can take (e.g. affirmative action)?
Throughout my career, I’ve had many mentors who inspired me, humbled me, and challenged me to be better, so I try to do the same for others. At Principal, I formally and informally invest in female leadership development–from mentoring to participating in employee resource groups, to promoting inclusion in various forums. I also support non-profit community organizations that focus on women and girls, providing funding for after school programs and financial literacy. Reaching girls in their middle school years–giving them a safe space to learn, grow, and create–may be one of the most powerful interventions.
Can you tell us a short story in which you encountered a block in the work place and what you did about it?
One event that stands out for me happened a few years ago after I spoke at an insurance sales conference. As one of the executive speakers, I was covering market trends and early economic indicators for industry growth. The speaker immediately following me was from outside the company and he spoke about habits that reinforce good sales practices. At the social event several hours later, he sought me out to tell me he thought I gave a good speech. He asked how old I was and said he thought it was nice to have me there to cut down on the testosterone in the room. I honestly think he was trying to compliment me, but it struck me as simply inappropriate, which I said to him. Events like these make me value the environment at Principal. Half of our C-suite is female and nearly half of our Board of Directors are females as well. It’s not notable to have a woman responsible for running a business or as an executive speaker. It’s the norm.
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?
Equal pay for equal work is a no-brainer for me. The path to get there is less clear because I suspect unconscious biases are meaningful contributors to the continued gap. Clear, transparent, and repeatable pay practices are foundational to closing this gap, but are likely not the only changes we need to continue to make.
Have you seen changes in the political landscape for women over the past few years? If so, what are they?
I see an increase in women getting involved in politics and public service at many levels. They’re advocating for key issues impacting our nation–across health, safety, economics, education sectors, and more. Women are exercising the value in their voice and advocating for effective policies. I think we’ll see this momentum continue.
Was there a defining moment or experience in your life that led you to where you are today? What was it?
Early in my career, I worked for someone who focused more on my behavior than my work product–to the point that she did check-ins with me literally every 15 minutes. I know she thought she was creating a version of me that had a higher likelihood of being successful. She explicitly told me things like, “be less bubbly, stop smiling so much – no one will take you seriously if you’re laughing at work.” She had a very stern look and I would try to emulate that. Eventually, people started asking what was wrong with me–if I was ill. What I learned from that experience is that, even if it’s an imperfect projection, you have to bring your authentic self to work. If you are not true to the things that make you, you, then you won’t build a healthy culture or be a leader that people want to follow.
What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
One of my undergraduate professors was relentless in driving me to have an opinion and know why I hold that opinion. Looking back, that was incredibly powerful advice. She constantly asked me, “Why do you believe that? What facts and emotions influenced your thinking? What ideas did you build off of to reach your opinion?” That advice has made me a better thinker, a better listener, and a better leader.
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?
Research is clear that diverse and inclusive teams are smarter. I’m emphasizing diversity and inclusion because diversity alone isn’t enough. When we’re inclusive, we’re respecting, supporting, and valuing one another’s perspectives and insights. Inclusion helps grow a deep sense of belonging, which in turn, helps us to be at our best.
Is “Education, education and education” one of the top three responsibilities of a civilized society? If so, why is it prohibitively expensive? If not, why not?
Education is critical. Financial literacy is a huge part of our mission to help put people on the path to financial security. A big piece of building the life you want–whether it’s related to finances or not–-is decision-making. Life is a series of choices and I can’t imagine making them without being informed and educated.
What is your favorite book (fiction or non-fiction)?
I love Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy. I first read this trilogy when I was a teenager and I’ve read it several times since then. I love the storytelling, the imagery, the world building. And, I love most the narrative thread that sometimes it’s the smallest, quietest voices that have the power to re-make the world.
What do you most value in your friends?
The fact that they fill my cup. People often ask me how I balance home, friends, and work. For me, the balance comes from knowing what energizes me and focusing on things that fill my cup. A lot of my work is fulfilling, and it’s easy to prioritize only the work things if I let myself. My best friends bring me balance–they keep me humble, keep me laughing, and serve as another piece of my moral compass.
Which trait do you most deplore in yourself? In others?
I think the least helpful trait in anyone is being narrow-minded. To me, the broader your perspective, the greater the possibilities.
What do you consider the most over rated virtue?
Pride. When you lean on pride too heavily it distorts into arrogance, smugness, or dogmatism.