2020 Honoree

Lisa Caputo

EVP of Marketing, Communications and Customer Experience for Travelers

“…you want everybody to be treated equally regardless of race, of gender, or socio-economic status, you want equity…this is an issue that touches me deeply. I’ve had a long personal history of advocating for women’s rights throughout my career…”

What in your opinion are the qualities of a power woman?

I think the qualities are unique to every individual woman. Overall, these are qualities that would pertain to any leader because these are traits that all good leaders would have. If I were to pick three in particular it would be: Persistence, the ability to never give up. Dedication, to give your all in everything you do. Last is compassion, somebody who understands the needs of others and never loses sight. However above all else, I think it is important to have an inspirational vision. As a power woman, you’re leading people forward and you want to lay out a vision that inspires others to join you on that journey. Those are all important pieces, and I think it all has to be grounded in what I would call a humbleness, being grounded, and down to earth. So persistence, compassion, dedication, inspirational vision, and a humbleness and a down to earth nature I think are all very important.

Do you believe there is a specific role for women to play in the covid-19 pandemic, and do you believe the response to the pandemic highlights the natural resilience of women?

When you go back and think about the leadership traits of compassion and empathy, I think generally women leaders tend to embrace these qualities. But I also think that when you look around the world at New Zealand’s Prime Minister, she’s been very direct, and has a supportive approach to flattening the curve. Also thinking of the clear communication of Chancellor Angela Merkel, who called for unity in the nation’s response. Then you look in our own backyard, at the governor of Michigan being decisive, very clear, and taking calculated risks. Women have a relational approach and compassion in a time of crisis than perhaps more command and control. I think this relational style through a crisis gets at building trust, reassuring, and setting forth a path forward. Women are very good at seeking input from others and listening. What this crisis has brought forward is the whole question around resilience. You have a preponderance of women on the frontlines as nurses, doctors, care givers, the female small-business owners who have been severely impacted by all this, going all the way up to leaders in government. I think that as I said before, the empathy and compassion that female leaders do embrace seems to be coming to the fore.

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

I do think gender equality is a global issue. It is also in some parts of the world a cultural issue, so you can’t necessarily have one approach, right? I think that gender equality is the sum of many parts. Some include women’s rights, human rights, and pay quality, so these are all elements of what we call gender equality. You want everybody to be treated equally regardless of race, of gender, or socio-economic status. You want equity. I think that this is an issue that touches me deeply. I’ve had a long personal history of advocating for women’s rights throughout my career. I’ve had the very great fortune of working for members of congress on Capitol Hill who were great proponents of women’s rights and pay equity. I’ve worked for Former Colorado senator Tim Worth, and then moved into the executive branch of government and worked for former president Bill Clinton, and former First Lady and Secretary of State, Hilary Clinton. All of whom did so much and continue to do today to advocate for equality and gender equality.
I went with then, First Lady Hillary Clinton, to the fourth world conference for women in Beijing, China as part of the team working with Mrs. Clinton on her remarks at that conference. I saw firsthand the impact those words had around the world. I think that human rights are core to how societies develop and run. I think that taking those lessons and then parlaying that advocacy is so important. When I went to and began to run City Groups’ financial services business for women which was called Women & Co, that was a great point of pride for me. I brought these political and business experiences into the private sector with Travelers. We’ve launched a wonderful new initiative called “She Travels” to advocate for women in the insurance industry. I am so proud of our company, and in particular in debt and gratitude to our CEO who had this idea. It was his idea to start this initiative and lead the charge. It’s a real point of pride for all of us at Travelers because it gets at the equity issue and works toward the advancement of women in the workplace. These kinds of issues cannot be tackled unless you have people in leadership roles, men and women, in the public and private sector working together for that advocacy. So I do think it’s a global issue, but it’s not a one size fits all approach. It’s different approaches for different businesses, industries, countries, and cultures.

What do you think is the number one action we as a society can take towards empowering women and gender equality?

Travelers has a number of initiatives designed to support the professional advancement of women and I am very involved in each of those. There are three things we do as part of the She Travels initiative. It is about raising awareness of insurance as a career opportunity for women. Second, it’s about promoting professional development for women in the industry as I said early. Third, it’s about creative effective mentoring and networking. I think those are core in tackling the issue at hand. I’m very proud we are so committed to it and it’s led by our CEO. I think it’s also important for women to serve as mentors, and help pave the way for future generations of women and our responsibility as women leaders to advance the next generation of women. At the same time, it is important for there to be sponsorship of men and women in the workplace. I have so many terrific male colleagues at Travelers that are great sponsors to women. Sponsorship to me is about sitting down and figuring out where the next great role for particular female talent is on the teams and getting those women on the path toward that role. Almost shepherding them into that position. It’s mentorship, sponsorship and professional advancement. For society at large, we have to acknowledge the issue. When society acknowledges that issue and challenges, it impacts the way we think about what could be the strategy around tackling it, and then what the commensurate actions that need to be taken. I do think what we’re doing at Travelers is an example for others to look out for. With female leadership comes a responsibility to future generations of women. We all wouldn’t be where we are today without the great advocacy of the women leaders that came before us, but also without the sponsorship and support of our male colleagues as well.
Our Chairman and CEO is Alan Schnitzer. He has been a tremendous advocate for women in our company, and generally. The initiative was his idea. He came to me and another female colleague and said we have to do something. Travelers is a leader in the industry, so we should be leading in advocacy and advancement of women in our industry. It is such a point of pride I have in working for our company but I think it says so much about not only our Chairman and CEO and his values and commitment, but it represents the culture in our company as well.

Can you tell me a story you have encountered regarding a gender issue during your career path that has brought you to where you are today?

I was working on Capitol Hill as press secretary to a congressman from Michigan. I was approached by a man who worked in the house leadership offices who told me there was an opening in a US senator’s office for a press secretary and he wanted to recommend me. Thus, the process unfolded and I went through the interview process and it came down to me and another person. The senator actually called me, and told me that he really liked me and thought I would be great, but that I was too young. They were going to go with the other person who was older than I was, therefore had more experience. The interesting conclusion to this story was six months later I was hired to be a press secretary for another US senator, Tim Worth. A few years after that I went on to be first lady Hilary Clinton’s press secretary and communications director. I was with her on Capitol Hill when she was testifying on healthcare reform. We got into an elevator and that senator who told me I was too young for the job got into the elevator and he smiled and I smiled. He really is a wonderful person, but he looked at Mrs. Clinton, and he looked at me and said, “You know, I made a mistake several years ago by not hiring Lisa. It was for all the wrong reasons.” It was just a nice moment because it was a recognition. That was definitely a block. But it didn’t deter me, I think it made me more determined. It all came full circle.

Do you think that asking previous salary requirements in a job interview contributes to the pay gap between women and men. Should we push for a more nationwide ban for this kind of questioning at an interview?

I don’t know if we need a nationwide ban. If we are trying to close the pay gap and the argument is that women are paid less from the start, how are they supposed to catch up if they are continuously limited by their salaries? I don’t necessarily think a nationwide ban solves the problem. It isn’t putting the issue front and center in the national conversation. It comes down to the person sitting in the hiring chair. Implementing policies to make sure there is fair and equal pay. Raising this discussion across the board has a tremendous impact. It is about influencing and changing mindsets, not about mandating them. That comes with lots of awareness and discussion.

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

I want to say again with a real point of pride, I am a director at Best Buy. We’ve just gone through a leadership change in CEO, and I am very proud of the fact that we have appointed one whose doing a spectacular job in the midst of the current crisis. Correy Barry has led this company to really transform its business model almost overnight. She has been able to, with her management team, implement curbside pickup and a lot of elements which have really helped people and business throughout this crisis. Second, the Best Buy board of directors is over 50% female. That is a testament of the tone at the top that was set by the current CEO’s predecessor, Hubert Jolie, who is now the executive chairman. He made that a priority and set that tone. The nomination committee, working in partnership with him worked very hard to come up with a slate of candidates that were diverse not just in gender but race as well. It all comes back to leadership, change has to come from the top. Leaders have to continue to mentor, support, and sponsor women early in their careers. They have to commit to diverse slates of candidates. Both for management level roles and board seats. At the same time, women need to be encouraged to pursue their goals and not hold back in advocating for themselves.

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

In Washington D.C, there is an entity called the National Governors Association. I had a friend who worked in a leadership role there. He called me and said, “I am assembling a group of people together. Presidential candidate and governor of Arkansas Bill Clinton iis coming and I’d love to invite you to come and hear his ideas and be a part of a group of people having a conversation with him.” I remember going to that meeting and as I was listening to Governor Clinton, it was profoundly impactful for me. I had never heard a public figure speak with such depth of knowledge, such a passion for issues, and a true deep seeded concern and caring in the direction of the country. It impacted me so deeply, to the point where I got in my car and I drove to Arkansas and I went to work on his campaign. Just watching and being a part of that 1992 Presidential campaign was a life changing experience for me. We would be on the bus tours, roll into these small towns in the United States at midnight or one in the morning, and there would be thousands of people waiting to hear what Governor Clinton had to say. It was a deeply impactful experience in my life and I am a better person for it. It really helped to catapult me to where I am today, and tested me in a lot of different ways: In the ability to be versatile, lead in crisis, and be an advocate. All of those things I think were great defining moments that helped shape me into the person I am today. It is those lessons combined with the lessons from my parents. My parents have always been huge influences on my life and the lessons they’ve taught me about hard work, doing the best you can and always giving back to your community have helped get me to where I am today.

If you could have somebody else’s job for the day who would it be and why?

I would love to be a high school or college lacrosse coach. I played collegiate field hockey and lacrosse in college. I was a walk on to the lacrosse team and fell in love with the sport. The lessons you learn from female athletics are like training for the real world. I was blessed to have coaches throughout my high school and college career who were mentors and inspirations. When you have excellent coaches you’re teaching leadership skills of great communication, teamwork, and collaboration which I think go toward important leadership qualities you want to have in the workplace.

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

I think the best piece of advice I have ever been given was to not have a grand plan. If you have a grand plan, you’ll have blinders on because you’re so focused on the ultimate goal. You lose peripheral vision. There are possibilities that could come from different opportunities that may not be part of the path you decided to set out for yourself to get to your ultimate prize. Or, they can make you more versatile, help you acquire more skills to get to where you ultimately want to be. That would entail taking some risks. That comes with not having a grand plan. That to me would be the best piece of advice I have ever been given, to not have that grand plan. Don’t close off that peripheral vision,and be open to those opportunities and be willing to take risks.

Could you name one favorite book?

Anything by Anna Quindlen I love. The Davinci Code by Dan Brown. The World is Flat by Tom Friedman.

What is the one thing you value most in friends?

They are there for me no matter what. When they feel like family.

Which traits are you most uncomfortable with within yourself and with others?

I am a perfectionist. That can get in the way at times. Not everything can be perfect. The crisis we’re in right now really brings it to the fore, it lets you see that you just can’t do everything perfectly. In others, I just focus on the positives people contribute. I think everyone brings something unique to the table in his or her own role. I always find it admirable when somebody is honest, hardworking, and kind.

What do you consider to be the most overrated virtue?

Each virtue holds its own significance, but I would say too much of something can cause challenges. When it comes to virtues sometimes ambition can be a bit overrated in that too much ambition can get in the way. That’s not always a good thing. Wearing ambition on your sleeve is not a good thing. Quiet ambition and focus is different. Wearing ambition on your sleeve can rub people the wrong way.

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