I always knew I wanted a family. I’m one of four children and enjoyed the chaos growing up with roommates that creatively suggested new ways for us to defy death on a daily basis. Needless to say, we are most likely the reason my mother has a heart condition.
My focus after grad school was my career but shortly after was my first child. I remember having to leave her the first day I went back to work after taking leave. The amount of guilt and sadness was overwhelming the entire day. I remember finishing all my work as quickly as possible and then blocking an hour earlier to get back to her. I had a vision that she would be crying and feel I had abandoned her.
I arrived to a happy, smiling baby, who could have cared less that I was gone and had an amazing day. Believe it or not, this was when I asked myself, what was my earliest memory as a child? I think there was a birthday party when I was 5. So that’s it, as much as we want to be perfect for our young ones, when they’re babies, they aren’t going to remember ANY of this.
When my son was born, it was ten times easier. I had adopted a motto that I tell all new moms when you’re suppose to give “advice”. The secret to being a great mom is… Love Your Kids and Keep Them Alive. That’s it. Throw everything else out the window. Don’t worry if you have to work late or their blanket isn’t organic cotton, they’re going to eat that Cheeto off of the floor anyway.
I quickly found myself turning working mom guilt into a prideful example for my kids to look up to. They know mommy is great at what she does and works hard so we can do special things together as a family. They are also still young enough to get excited when I have to fly out real quick because they know I’m comin home with a surprise if they’re good for dad.
The key to balance is keeping a schedule. I prep for personal/family events probably a month out. I have a giant family calendar so everyone can see what’s scheduled and I also help lay things out for the kiddos if I am traveling that week. This way I’m not scrambling to put together an Easter basket while I’m in a hotel lobby scrambling to get WiFi. This also helps to know their school events and so I can make sure I am present for the important days in their life. Outside of the children, My husband and I have always supported each other career wise to root for our success but also coordinate schedules to ensure one of us is there for our children at all times.
Once you see yourself as a successful contributing example as opposed to a “guilty mother”, the game changes. You are no longer stressed for the times you “aren’t” there because when you are, you are more present with them than ever before. You can kill it at work and then come home to family time. Shut the laptop, put the cell phone in a bowl (not enough working parents do this and it needs to be done, can not stress this one enough) and climb into that giant living room fort. This is how they will remember you, laughing and happy.
I honestly don’t think I could continue in my career without my kids. They make the day ten times better when I see them. They have me laughing rather than stressing over work. They push me to do and be better so we can go on more adventures (what they call vacations). They are the reason I will one day run my own company, own my private equity firm and be on the top ten New York Bestsellers list. #AchieveMoreStressLess
Blog by: Carlee Bowdoin, Director of Sales, Paradigm – Specialty Networks
At our Better Together conference on November 5, 2020, Ngozi Nnaji and Michele Adams hosted the webinar, Being An Ally Empowers Everyone. Michele Adams, Walmart, and Ngozi Nnaji, Principle Managing Partner, Ako Insurance Consulting, dove deep into what allyship looks like.
Ngozi, unlike most people in the industry, started her career intentionally going into the insurance industry. Her Nigerian father of 3 daughter paved her initial path by stating she would take on being an actuary as a profession. He handpicked each of his daughters’ careers to ensure they would know what they were doing for the rest of their lives so they would never need to be dependent on another.
With 25 years in the industry under her belt, Ngozi knows much more than a thing or two when it comes to understanding the ins and outs of the industry. “I have two degrees in insurance, so I am very passionate about this industry”, said Ngozi.
“How did you get here?”
Initially, Ngozi did not mean to get so involved in this important issue. About four or five years ago, she joined the African American Association. At that point, she was in middle management and hoped that joining this organization would boost her resume therefore gaining her a promotion. Once she became a member and got involved with the organization, she realized it was a topic she was passionate about.
Being a member made her take a look back on her experiences and think about the footprint she wanted to leave on the industry. Ngozi was asked, “What have you done? What’s your legacy? Where have you been helpful to others?”, and she didn’t have an answer. Ngozi said that these thought provoking questions, “Forced me to access what I would do for the next 20 years.”
Now, Ngozi is the Principle Managing Partner at Ako Insurance. Ako Insurance is a recruiting and consulting firm that focuses on bringing Black and Brown talent into the industry. The emphasis goes beyond recruiting and dives into retention to increase diversification within the insurance industry.
Recruiting and Retention
“What do we do when the talent is in our ranks?” and “What do we do after we get them there?” are two questions Ngozi addressed. Recruiting is just one part of the equation. Companies don’t want to only get diversity through the door, they need to be able to keep them there.
Michele asked, “Why do talented people leave organizations?” This comes from a sense of not belonging. Maybe the feeling comes from not seeing others in similar positions that look like them or maybe it comes from the company not investing in them as they should for their professional development.
“Companies, you know, think too hard about it”, Ngozi said. People are looking for support once they are brought onto a team. It can be as simple as a quick phone call or email letting them know of connections they can make to feel included. “What connections are we hoping these individuals make when they come on board?” is a question companies should be asking themselves after they recruit. Finding organizations that are niche to someone’s culture is a simple solution that is not done enough. Simple solutions will help make people feel a part of a culture that cares for them.
An Evolution Rather Than A Destination
Diversity, inclusion, and allyship are all evolutions. In our world’s climate, everyone is on a different journey to really understanding what all three mean. This can be based upon what culture you were born into and what culture you are a part of today. “My allyship might not look like your allyship”, said Ngzoi. For example, color consciousness was in Ngozi’s journey from before she could talk. It was always a known thing in her household whereas some people were raised color blind. Michele thought she “got it” until she went through 16 hours of the Racial Equity Institute. Going through that program gave her a completely different outlook and realized she didn’t know has much as she thought. Everyone must give themselves and others the grace to take their journey. “The more we experience, the more our perspectives will change”, said Ngozi.
“The Trilogy” is a concept that Ngozi created which is that mentorship and sponsorship cannot be without first having allyship.
Recognizing “I have power I have privilege and that other party does not and I need to put my power and privilege in action so that these individuals who are suppressed can be seen can be heard and you know be dealt with justly.”
An ally can be someone below you, at the same level, or above you. It doesn’t come in one shape or form. A simple act done by anyone, at any level, is just as important than one at a grand scale. Individualized and person “It can be very individualized and personalized”, said Ngozi.
The Perspective of a Black Woman
Many Black people are frustrated in the fact that they are now being asked for the solutions. Things that are so obvious to one community is not to others who have not shared the same experiences. “Ok yes I am frustrated, but yes they are asking and they’re being genuine about it and want to know”, said Ngozi. Know that when answers are needed to a solution, a safe space for a Black community is needed to have their own conversations and outlet.
Leave the Competition in 2020
Everyone is trying to accomplish the same goals. All companies in the industry are attempting to bring people together to create more equality within the workspace. Many times, companies and people in the industry want to create their own space so that their “name” is attached. Ngozi highlighted that so many companies already have created great resources for this. Rather than competing with companies, join together with companies to create even better opportunities for equality.
Blog by: Melina Ressler, Intern, Alliance of Women in Workers’ Compensation
The Alliance hosted the “Let’s Talk Mentoring” webinar to give insight on finding and being a mentor at every stage of one’s career.
The webinar was hosted by Jennifer Ryon, AWWC Board Member, Prime Health Services, Jackie Arbelaez, AWWC Ambassador, CORA Physical Therapy, Tracey Reid, AWWC Ambassador, GA Spine & Orthopedics and Haley Carrasquillo, AWWC Senior Program Coordinator.
Everyone can learn and benefit from having a mentor as well as being a mentor. Finding a mentor can be an intimidating task no matter what stage of one is in. Everyone’s journey down this road is different, but the women on this panel gave some helpful insight on how to begin.
Networking is always key. Having genuine and engaging conversations with peers and colleagues will help bring in others to gain knowledge from and the chain will snowball from there. Putting yourself out there to engage with people in or out of your industry will help you gain experience with these types of conversations so you will gain more comfortability with the situation. Little by little, these networking conversations will turn into friendships which will be helpful resources.
A mentor does not always need to be someone who is an “official” mentor. It can be someone who is knowledgeable and gives you helpful insight. Having a peer to collaborate with and bounce ideas off of is also just as beneficial as a “mentor”. Always be open to learning from different age brackets and those in different stages of their careers.
A mentor should be someone who you can share your goals with, and they can lend you advice. The advice may be a directional path to take or something new to try. If it doesn’t seem fitting for you, don’t take it just because it is your mentor. Discuss where you think it wouldn’t fit best for you, and other conversations will blossom from there. The position of a mentor means they are taking a journey with you, and no journey is ever a straight shot.
When you have a mentor, don’t be afraid to ask questions. At the end of the day, the more questions you ask, the more you will learn. Chances are the mentor you are speaking to assumes you don’t know all the answers, so it is best to just open yourself up and be vulnerable.
The women on the panel shared their biggest lessons learned from their mentor(s). Haley shared that putting herself out there and learning new things has been a big lesson for her. Jackie said that it is more beneficial for her to use “I can” rather than negative terms such as “I can’t do this” or “I can never do this”. Tracey’s biggest lesson was to be kind to herself. Being hard on herself is a struggle that she works to overcome. The initiative for that would be to practice saying no to avoid a burnout. Keep a balance and give yourself grace.
There is never a point in anyone’s career when they need to stop learning. You can never have too much knowledge. Don’t feel the need to create a barrier against others to protect a certain image of being perfect. Remember that thinking “I don’t want people to know I don’t know” is never the right mindset because 9/10 they know you don’t know. Being vulnerable and willing to learn are necessary for growth and utilizing a mentor.
Blog by: Melina Ressler, Intern, Alliance of Women in Workers’ Compensation
Blog by Haley Carrasquillo, Program Coordinator, Alliance of Women in Workers’ Compensation
This year has brought many challenges to us all, but one common thing we are all missing is human connection. Typically, we meet at conferences around the country throughout the year and have the opportunity to network and connect with others in our industry. Every year you look forward to seeing those familiar faces again after connecting on LinkedIn or other social channels. Many of us enjoy catching up with our colleagues and business partners at conferences and we are certainly missing the opportunities in 2020. While we may not like the idea of this, it might be the “new normal.” This year reminded us how important it is to have and make connections with others. And, for many of us, making connections in a virtual environment is new and somewhat uncomfortable not knowing engagement protocols or having a meaningful conversation starter.
When planning our very first full-day virtual conference, Better Together, the Alliance of Women in Workers’ Compensation had you, our followers, in mind. We know you look forward to our events across the country and view them as opportunities to make new connections and reconnect with friends. To be amongst industry leaders and stakeholders that care about our mission and lifting up women in our industry. What would make this experience unique and allow individual and group interactions? What would make it not just another Zoom call? Luckily, with the help of Safety National, a 2020 corporate sponsor, we will be using the Hopin platform which allows for real-time networking via video or chat for all attendees.
How can you engage with other attendees during Better Together? Treat the networking lounge like the conference lobby where you can enjoy conversations with a variety of people. This area of the Hopin platform is designed for pure engagement and is similar to a FaceTime call. Once inside you are matched with another attendee. Turn on your video to begin the 5 minutes speed networking session and click Connect to exchange contact information.
If you prefer chatting via an instant message feature, Hopin has a variety of opportunities to engage.
There are so many benefits to networking. To name a few, Forbes article: 10 Reasons Why Networking Is Essential For Your Career, mentions that networking can improve your creative intellect and be an extra resource library. The ability to share ideas can allow for creativity to flow. Especially in the times we are in, creativity is the only way to keep moving forward. How can we adjust and get creative while doing so? Learning to adapt to new circumstances takes creativity. Many people are still looking for new job opportunities and what better way to find one than through networking? You never know what could come up from that 5-minute conversation.
There are so many reasons and benefits to networking so come dressed and ready to make new connections with fellow industry leaders. We look forward to seeing you on November 5th. Click here to register for the event.
Melina Ressler, Intern, Alliance of Women in Workers’ Compensation
During the upcoming Alliance of Women in Workers’ Compensation virtual conference, Better Together, virtual conference the agenda includes sessions focused on belonging and inclusion. The Alliance is committed to being an inclusive organization. The session is Making Inclusion a Priority which will include the Common Grounds collaborative discussion as well as the fireside chat keynote, Being an Ally Empowers Everyone. The conversations taking place during the conference are meaningful to both personal and professional development.
Facilitators for the Making Inclusion a Priority session will include Magdalena Alvarez-Miller, Alliance Board Member, Janice Van Allen, Walmart, member of the Alliance’s Employer Advisory Council, and Tracey Reid, the Alliance’s Atlanta Ambassador. These guided discussions and sessions will all address diversity and inclusion in and out of the workplace.
It has always been of key importance to encompass diversity and inclusion when creating a well-rounded work environment. One aspect of the conversation is unconscious bias and understanding inclusivity holistically. Many people believe they are being inclusive, when in fact they are not. Now more than ever, it is necessary to take a step back and view your own environment to see where improvements can be made.
As you may have experienced in your own company or amongst peers and family, not everyone has the same definition of what it means to incorporate diversity and inclusion into the workplace and in their everyday lives. We believe it is important to have a safe space to discuss what misconceptions and opinions people may have.
Diversity and inclusion cannot be limited to the workplace; changes within yourself are necessary. “Is your business network as diverse as it could be? As part of self-review, we must each consider the role we play in creating an inclusive workplace along with evaluating our personal beliefs and social constructs we follow.
The session, Making Inclusion a Priority, is a Common Ground collaboration session scheduled for 12:00pm central time on November 4th. This session will include a breakout group discussion allowing attendees to actively participate via video in the discussion. Tickets for the conference can be found on our website, allianceofwomen.org/events.
For five years I debated on graduate school. Would an MBA be best or should I pursue something more specific like digital marketing? I waffled: do I really have the time to do this? I have forgotten all of my high school and college math, how am I ever going to pass the GMAT? That seemed daunting enough, let alone figuring out how to choose the best program for me. One cold January day, I learned about a preview day at Vanderbilt’s Owen Graduate School of Management. Wow, Vanderbilt. There’s no way I’m smart enough to get in there. But, hey, I might as well go get a free lunch. Feeling intimated pulling up on campus and walking in by myself, I walked away knowing this program is exactly what I had been looking for. Hmm, maybe I can do this after all. I got to work… I studied and passed my prep exam, I gathered recommendations and belabored over essays, made it through an intimidating interview with the executive director, and then waited. It turns out when you get out of your own way (i.e. don’t listen to all of those negative thoughts running through your head) you CAN be good enough, you ARE smart enough, and you CAN get into Vanderbilt!
Right before ‘Week in Residence’ in New Harmony, Indiana, I found out I was pregnant. How in the world am I going to get through this with a baby?! The first person I told my news to was the Executive MBA Director of Admissions, not my husband. (It’s hilarious now…) We talked through options to delay my start and went through examples of other pregnant women who made it through the program. Her advice: “Don’t delay. You can do it. It’s only going to get harder.”
With a never-going-away-hangover (aka “morning sickness”), a full-time job, and having a husband on a 2-month rotational deployment (2 months home, 2 months away), I made it through 1.5 semesters before having my bundle of joy. It was intimidating enough juggling work and school demands, so figuring out how to care for a newborn (and myself as a new Mom, for that matter) on top of that felt insane. But I wanted all of these things badly enough that I was determined to juggle it all, newborn-in-tow, the remaining 3.5 semesters.
While figuring out how to launch a venture and taking 5 other classes in the Fall of 2019, at work I was occupied with a corporate brand refresh, new website, designing a new 20×20 exhibit booth with 4 interactive monitors, and planning a killer party at the National Workers’ Compensation & Disability Conference. Just preparing for National Comp is normally a full-plate of work. I stretched myself beyond my comfort zone, and I’m thankful I didn’t really think about what I was doing. LOL
Seriously, you can do anything you aspire with dedication and grinding it out!
There were moments that were manageable; moments I thought for sure I wasn’t going to make it; and moments where I was carried by my support system (Mother-in-Law, Mom, Husband, best friends I’m looking at you!). They listened to my angst, watched my baby as often as needed (including spending 12 hours in a classroom so I could breastfeed), and lifted me up when the stress and demands were too much to bear.
As of May 2020, I am the proud recipient of a Masters’ Degree in Business Administration (MBA). And I’m most gratified that I am laying a strong foundation for my baby girl who already knows what it takes to accomplish a goal.
Do not forget that you are an inspiration to those around you. Sometimes you are carrying someone and sometimes you are the one being carried, figuratively of course. These small (and sometimes time-intensive) acts of kindness and love made a difference in my life. You don’t need a fancy title to change the world. Each of us can do a little bit to change what is around us, whether it is a simple act of kindness for a friend or family member or encouraging a colleague at work.
Remember, you can do anything you put your mind to – talk positively and believe in yourself!
Katie Holmes Bailey
Marketing Director for Prime Health Services, Inc.
Melina Ressler, Intern, Alliance of Women in Workers’ Compensation
Recently, the Alliance of Women in Workers’ Compensation hosted a webinar, titled Finding Your Power, focused on helping women find their power from within to be bold and accomplish their goals. Jennifer Ryon, Alliance board member, and Aimee Velez Weiss, Alliance marketing committee chair, welcomed life coach and career consultant Natalie Fikes, [add a phrase about why they picked Natalie, for example, well-known for …,] in the live interactive session. The panel discussed the importance of real connections and emotional intelligence in and out of work – a key skill for career development at all levels. Here is an overview of the webinar and key takeaways.
Jennifer opened the discussion by asking Fikes, “How would you encourage more women to break out of their fears and start their venture?”
“The first thing we need to understand is that the answer is always inside of us,” Fikes explained. “We wouldn’t have the desire to do something if we didn’t have the ability to do so inside of us.” She added that confidence in a situation comes from doing it correctly once, realizing you can do it, and continuing to do it again. You don’t need every piece of the puzzle connected together before you start on something, but you do need to begin so you can find the answers along the way.
“We as women need to be there to help out one another,” Fikes said, shooting down the idea that our goals should be to get in with the top of the top. She advised the webinar attendees to take lateral moves to get places with people who want to get there too. “We must link in with those on the same playing field as us so we can learn, and help build each other up together,” she added. Essentially, women should stop trying to get in with the director. The directors already have connections with other directors. So, it’s important for women to find their own playing field and start their own projects together.
“You’re so confident” is a phrase that Fikes hears frequently. Her response to that is, “I’m not going to miss the moment. I am not going to lay in my bed with regret. I’m not. That’s what confidence is to me.”
“Think of a dance floor,” Fikes said. Everyone at the venue is waiting for that one person to go out on the dance floor to give others the validation that is okay to do so as well. Well what if you were that person? “You know that the moment you leave the wall or the chair you are an automatic hero,” she reminded her audience. “What if you were that person who just got on the dance floor and you just moved to the rhythm of your own beat? It’s letting go of this perception that you have to do it right.”
“How do you know when you have real connections with people?” Velez asked. Fikes referred to a 75-year old Harvard University study that answered the question of what is the one thing we should focus on: our relationships. If you’re hanging around yesterday people, expired people — which Fikes defines as “that’s how I used to be, that’s what I used to think, that’s what I used to want,” — you’ll never ever get where you want to go. “Essentially, you must be surrounded by people who want to grow with you rather than those who hold you back,” she said.
To make real connections you have to be vulnerable. Breaking down walls is essential to be able to comfortably communicate freely, Fikes reminded the attendees. “Make eye contact with others and show that you are genuinely interested in what they have to say.”
Connect with someone’s dream
Ryon raised a question that many women grapple with. What if you don’t know what your dream is? What do you do?
If you don’t know what your dream is, then connect with someone else’s dream that you are passionate about, Fikes advised. Until you know what your dream is, partner with someone else to help them achieve their dream. “I see that you have this going on, let me have your back, because I like to help people do this to get that result,” she added. For example, water boys and girls are always needed. Even when it seems like a small role, you are still helping someone achieve their goal.
How do you instill the confidence early on so that we can close the gender gap and demonstrate the confidence? Velez wanted to know.
“Males have a 400-year head start, so, there will always be a gap,” Fikes noted. It’s not about closing the gender gap per se, it’s about standing up and being counted. It’s about other women getting on the dance floor, and then another woman getting on the dance floor. “And you know how we do that? It’s like Dorthey [from The Wizard of Oz]. It’s saying ‘Hey I see you, come, come with me, let’s do it together.’”
Women have been taught to be competitive with each other rather than being happy when others are built up. Rather than continuing that mindset, Fikes stressed, “We have to team up together. We have to connect as women with one another so that we can learn from others in areas we are weak in and build others up in areas we have strengths in.”
Finding Your Power Webinar
About Melina Ressler
A Journalism major at the University of Missouri, Melina Ressler is the social media content creator for the campus newspaper, The Maneater. An experienced sportswriter for her high school paper, the New Trier News, Melina completed internships at two public relations firms, FWD Consulting in London, and 5WPR in New York City. In 2020, Melina was appointed as a blog writer for the Alliance of Women in Worker’s Compensation writing member spotlights and event recaps for a national audience.
About Alliance of Women in Workers Compensation
The Alliance of Women in Workers’ Compensation is a think tank committed to industry-specific topics resulting in idea sharing, insight gathering, and networking. We provide an environment for open a dialogue on the challenges and opportunities for women in the workplace.