2019 Honoree

Candace Woods

Senior Vice President and Chief Actuary, Prudential

“I admired the influence and impact Michelle Obama had while she was the First Lady. She was an incredible role model and, directly and indirectly, touched so many people’s lives. The role of the First Lady provides one with freedom to focus on whatever causes are most important to you and to have a national forum for your message.”

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

A “Power Woman” is confident, courageous, and helps others.

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?

My goal is to help other women in the company succeed. I have been involved in several women’s initiatives over my career. For example, in 2017 I organized a Global Women’s Forum, where female and male leaders from across the organization discussed where we are as a company, and how we can enhance gender equality across the globe. I also hold an annual networking event for women in our Japan actuarial teams to provide mentorship and support. I most enjoy working with individuals one-on-one, mentoring high-potential women within the organization to help them achieve their goals.

Do you believe that there is any gender-specific role for women to play in the climate change debate?

We all have a responsibility to help correct our current course, and should live in a way that reflects this reality. Additionally, as leaders, we should seize the opportunities we have to effect large-scale initiatives and decisions that can also help slow and reverse climate change.

Do you believe industry and commerce (and government) should factor into a 10-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 billion – €350 billion per year by 2030. This is less than 1% of the forecasted global GDP in 2030).

As an actuary, I look at long-term risks and know the importance of taking preventative actions in anticipation of future exposures. That is why I recognize that responding to the effects of climate change, which are already being felt, is an imperative. This will require the cooperation and commitment of government, business, and society.

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

I admired the influence and impact Michelle Obama had while she was the First Lady. She was an incredible role model and, directly and indirectly, touched so many people’s lives. The role of the First Lady provides one with the freedom to focus on whatever causes are most important to you and have a national forum for your message. If I had that opportunity, my area of focus would be education. While my family came from very modest means, education has allowed me to achieve success beyond my imagination. That’s why I am committed to initiate and support programs that help others have the educational experiences they need to be successful in whatever path they wish to pursue.

Which historical figure do you most identify with?

Mother Teresa dedicated her life to helping the poor and disadvantaged. While my life accomplishments could not compare to Mother Teresa, I also focus on helping the poor through my charitable giving, service work, and support of organizations that help underrepresented groups in my profession grow and be successful.

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)?

We each play a unique role in promoting women’s power and equality. I try to empower others by leading by example and believe that we can overcome the barriers we face through commitment, community, and self-awareness.

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

In the mid-2000s, my boss, the chief actuary of our domestic life business decided to retire early and the president of the business line posted the job. I was the least experienced direct report to the chief actuary; so, initially, I decided I should not apply for the position. She came to my office one day, talked about her belief in my abilities and encouraged me to apply. After reflecting on my career ambitions, I decided to apply. I did not get into the second round of interviews. The president, whom I had not had much exposure to, was concerned about my ability to do the job since I had only returned from part-time status 18 months prior to then. Rather than being frustrated or defeated by the experience, I decided I would put together a plan to be more ready for a chief actuary position the next time an opportunity arose. I looked for opportunities to get more exposure and build relationships and took a lateral move to expand my knowledge across the enterprise. The next time a chief actuary position was posted, I was chosen for the role.

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

Women are the economic engines of more than half of U.S. households. Yet, despite improving trends, women still lag in earnings, making roughly 80 cents for each dollar men make doing the same work, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. That affects women’s ability to put money aside for retirement and leaves them at risk of outliving their hard-won savings. The step taken by New York state aims to narrow the pay gap, but more needs to be done. Where we have a seat at the table we must use our voices to advocate for ourselves and use our economic power. Women must also take control of their financial wellness and educate themselves about proper financial planning for our future security.

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

I was encouraged by the number of women who were recently motivated to run for office, and equally encouraged by all those women who were successful. Their voices are now critical components of our national discourse. However, women still represent only 23.7% of Congress, so we have a very long way to go.

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

In 2012, I was offered the choice of being either chief actuary in a business in which I had spent 20 years, had deep knowledge, and had built many relationships, or the chief actuary of our international businesses, a business I had never worked in. I took a risk and chose the international assignment because I felt it would provide more growth. I firmly believe that choice provided the path to my current role.

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

Take risks in your career and build strong relationships. It will better position you for more opportunities.

There are many studies that support the idea that a female presence in the boardroom 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?

We need to be their sponsors, not just by encouraging them to take risks in their careers, but by advocating for them. We also need to be flexible. That may mean
flexibility in alternative work arrangements to balance work and family or flexibility in location.

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?

I do agree that education is a critical priority. It was eye-opening to see the cost of a college education for my daughters versus what I paid. For a person in a similar situation as mine, who has to pay for their own education, I am very concerned about the consequences of this increase in cost. Student loan debt can lead to significant financial and emotional stress, often crippling a graduate’s ability to save, plan for a family, or protect themselves against unexpected life events. Financial education can help students and their families to understand these costs and plan better. As technology develops at an ever-increasing pace, education becomes even more critical. I will be curious to see how these disruptions and rethinking of traditional educational models track. Disruptions in education could very well lead to an impact on the current cost structures.

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

I love historical fiction. Some of my favorite books are The Kite Runner, All the Light We Cannot See, and Atonement.

What do you most value in your friends?

Trust, respect for others, and a good sense of humor.

Which trait do you most deplore in yourself? In others?

I wish I had more patience.

What do you consider the most overrated virtue?

Contentment. We should always be looking for opportunities to improve ourselves and our world.

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