In honor of Women’s History Month this March, we took some time to sit down with a few female teammates in our organization from different teams and at different levels to gather their insights on what it is like to be a working woman in the corporate world.
Our spotlighted women include: Leah Stanford, HR Associate and Chair of our Culture Committee; Michele Swiderek, Senior Account Executive; Raquel Gary, Account Manager; Melissa Manthey, Controller; Amber Burnap, Absence Consultant; LaToya Gordon, Chief Underwriter; Brooke Poteet, Account Executive; and Tara McFeely, an Analyst on our herronpalmer team.
What advice would you give to women in your field?
Leah Stanford: Connect with other motivated women. Having a community of women who want to see you do amazing things and that you can learn from and lean on is essential. Everyone needs a cheerleader or a lending ear from someone whose been in their shoes before. If there is one thing I've learned in my career, it can feel even more incredible to be that person for someone else!
Amber Burnap: Become comfortable working in an industry where there may not be one singular answer to everything. Be prepared, be confident, and don't let self-doubt get the best of you.
LaToya Gordon: Be the CEO of your career and take responsibility for your success. Be a learner, open to learning new things and acquiring new skills. Be open to constructive feedback – it takes strength to hear other’s view of you, but it will be your best friend. Seek out mentors and develop as many good relationships as you can along your career journey; you never know when and to what degree you will cross someone’s path again – the insurance industry is a small world 😊.
Brooke Poteet: Align your priorities with how you spend your day. Make time for work, relationships (family and friends), self and play by putting a block of time in your calendar each day for the most important things in your life. When I follow this advice, I find I am my happiest and most content.
How are you breaking barriers faced by women in your field?
Michele Swiderek: Many years ago, when I first attempted to get into sales, the company I worked for had no women in sales roles. While I was overlooked for an opportunity with this company, I realized that I had to look outside of my company for an opportunity. I will never forget a broker in our industry who said to me that “you have something special and can be a president of a company if you choose to be.” I was 24 years old at the time. This person happened to be a male that gave me the confidence I needed to go out and get my first sales job. I should also mention that I was hired for my first sales job by a male.
Raquel Gary: Many women have paved the way before me, helping to shape the future of the insurance industry. This field has a culture of being male dominated; I want to change that. I would encourage all women to stop doubting their skills and qualifications and be proud of their accomplishments. Do not be afraid to take risks. BE Original. BE Authentic. BE Daring.
Tara McFeely: By giving everyone respect and opportunity, whether you’re a woman or man.
Leah Stanford: Women face many seen and unseen barriers in the workplace daily. Learning and creating awareness of those barriers, contributing to environments where women feel empowered to be their best true selves and supporting one another along the way is incredibly important to me.
Tell us about a woman you look up to.
Brooke Poteet: My mother and grandmother. Both were able to have successful careers while raising young children and remaining devoted mothers and wives. As I continue to grow in my career and my children continue to become more involved in extracurricular activities (requiring more of mom’s time), I am constantly reminded how amazing these women are and strive daily to be like them. Their perseverance, resilience, devotion, patience and love are just a few of the qualities I truly admire in them.
Tara McFeely: I look up to my first female project director, Sue, who gave me solid advice and helped me build the confidence that I carry with me today. She once told me, “you don’t always have to be a ‘yes’ person, really think about what you are saying yes to…you’re allowed to tell people ‘no’.”
Melissa Manthey: Dolly Parton is my inspiration for her talent, confidence, compassion. She motivates me to be my best self. She’s charitable, as she just gave a million dollars to COVID research, and she is humble, as she was recently offered a statue and she turned it down because she doesn’t want to be put on a pedestal. She just seems like an amazing woman.
Amber Burnap: There are several women that I admire, but they all have one thing in common: they know exactly how to support one another, and they are always their true selves.
What is your favorite quote by a famous woman in history?
LaToya Gordon: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” – Maya Angelou, an American poet, singer and civil rights activist
I think this quote is a great piece of wisdom and just overall true. The exact words of what someone said will often fade from your memory because, really, words can be cheap. And some of the details of what someone did for you can be lost, but the emotion that someone brings out of you is never forgotten.
Melissa Manthey: “I’d rather regret the things I’ve done than regret the things I haven’t done” – Lucille Ball, an American actress and comedian
I think that’s really powerful. Women are sometimes afraid to take risks, we like our comfort, but you must step out of your comfort zone to succeed.
Michele Swiderek: “The power I exert on the court depends on the power of my arguments, not my gender.” - Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, the first woman to serve on the Supreme Court
She exemplifies a strong, successful woman.
Raquel Gary: “Don’t settle for average. Bring your best to the moment. Then, whether it fails or succeeds, at least you know you gave all you had. We need to live the best that’s in us.” – Angela Bassett, an American actress, director, producer, and activist
I love this quote because it is the essence of how I approach my professional and personal life.
Thank you to each of our spotlighted women for taking the time to share their insights with us! And thank you to all the women, today and in history, who are choosing to challenge stereotypes, standing up for gender equality in the workplace and beyond, and leading by example to inspire young women and girls.