For those who have found success in the industry, sometimes it comes at the cost of a home life. Maintaining a balance between a hectic and stressful work schedule and friends, family and social life can be challenging, especially for those driven to succeed professionally.
For women in particular, the struggle can be even greater when other responsibilities, such as marriage and motherhood, are thrown into the mix.
As part of the coverage of our August "Top Women in Insurance" issue, American Agent & Broker interviewed some of the most successful women in the insurance field today. Some of these women have mastered the balance between work and life. For others, the balance simply does not exist. In previous installments, read how six top insurance women succeed in the industry and 8 stories of mentorship and sponsorhip.
Here's what eight industry women had to say about the subject, providing strategies, advice and keen insights on how to manage--or not manage--the ultimate balance between professional success and important aspects of everyday life.
“For those of us who have been struggling with it for years, it’s a freeing thing to say it’s really hard. The women coming up behind us see it, and say, ‘I can’t do it.’ I think we have to be honest with ourselves—there is no such a thing as a work/life balance. What I like to say is it's integrating work, life and self. At any given time in our day/week/month/year, there is going to be a time when you’re giving more priority to one or the other. It’s okay—there can never be a balance. I am concerned we set ourselves up for failure. Instead of striving for perfection, strive for excellence. It gives you the freedom to integrate.”
“[Finding a balance between work and home life] was the most difficult part of my career in insurance. I had two young boys in my early days in the insurance business. I had to leave them many nights and weekends while attending client meetings and conferences away from home. I was fortunate to have a great support system in my husband and parents who were there to help at any time.
“My favorite story is about my youngest son, Andrew who was only 4 years old. I told him that I would not be home until after he went to bed, because I would be at a meeting. I must have told him I was at meetings a lot because he asked me, 'Mama, what do you do at a meeting?'”
“Balancing work and life is sometimes a challenge because I love my work and sometimes devote too much time to it. But I am making a conscious effort to enjoy some time off by adding in a couple of vacations, working on my bucket list and spending more time with family and friends. Plus, thanks to technology, I can work from anywhere!”
Joan Lamm-Tennant, global chief economist and risk strategist, Guy Carpenter
“I admit that a work/life balance was a struggle for me. I was a single mother while working on my PhD. Without the support of my sister, Pam Dunne, and a wonderful woman, Francis Starks, who cared for my daughter in her early years, my success as an academic and professional simply would not have been possible. I eventually married, and my husband and I shared in the joy of work and raising our daughters. It took a lot of communication, organization, and even a little negotiation between us.
“Today, when I look at my daughter Kristen and her husband Matt, I see that it is never an either/or choice for them—work and life naturally flow together. When I called Kristen after the birth of their son, Aeden, concerned about her 70+ hour work week as a resident in obstetrics, she said, ‘Mom, being a mother makes me a better doctor, and being a doctor makes me a better mother.’ Kristen does not see motherhood and her profession as a series of tradeoffs or balancing act, but instead she allows things to naturally blend in a way that is unique to her family. Her wisdom and confidence in life made me realize that our children understand the concept of a work/life balance in a profoundly different way.”
“It is a constant challenge, but one that can be managed. Planning as far in advance as possible and prioritizing is crucial. For example, as soon as school/sports/activities schedules for my sons are available, they immediately go onto my calendar as informational items, and then I go through and pick the ones I really want to attend and block time on my calendar for those. I do the same thing with critical work meetings and deadlines. These are blocked off on my calendar as soon as they are known. This helps me to focus on the highest priorities.
“I’ve also found that if you want people to be flexible with you, you need to be flexible, too, and communicate early and often. For example, several years back, my mom was hospitalized and very ill. It was important to me that I visit my mom on a daily basis. I found that visiting her at lunch time was much better than trying to race out of work at the end of every day to go see her before visiting hours ended. It meant that I was often working late into the evening, but it also meant I got to see my mom nearly every day, while ensuring everything at work was handled. My boss and team were aware of this early on, so they weren’t surprised that I couldn’t accommodate most lunch meetings during this time, but I remained flexible if an extremely important lunch meeting came up.
“Another absolutely critical factor is that I have surrounded myself with really great people, including my team at work and an extremely supportive husband of nearly 24 years.”
Claudia Mandato, executive vice president, Lockton Inc.
“The idea of ‘balance,’ I believe, is a myth, along with unicorns. You have to decide for yourself what will make you the most productive, both at home and at work. Women face a greater challenge because even today, a great deal of household responsibilities like child-rearing and other traditional ‘home’ duties fall on them. Therefore, a woman feels guilty if she takes time out for herself to go play golf, read a book or attend an industry networking event. For me, having a fantastic supportive husband, no pets, no plants and no children, I have not struggled with work-life balance, as I’ve mastered it for myself and decide what and when I need to do something, whether it is personal or professional.”
Laura Deeley Bren, president, Atlantic/Smith, Cropper & Deeley
“My husband Dan and I have two boys, Austin (8) and Gavin (3). I am blessed to have a wonderful nanny who has cared for my boys since birth and a husband who loves to cook. Here are a few tips from my work/life balance textbook:
“A disclaimer: I, too, fall short of these goals, but when I start to get a bit off kilter, I look at the list and figure out what I am missing. I am still a work in progress.
“Self-care is critically important. If I am not exercising, eating well or sleeping, I cannot effectively fulfill all the roles I need to.
“Date nights, every 2 weeks. If Mom and Dad aren’t good, home is out of balance, kids are out of balance, and you know the rest.
“Quality versus quantity time with your children is to be celebrated. If you do the math, our children spend more waking time with our nanny than with us. However, we need to recognize the opportunity and be present when we do get the time. No emails at dinner, at bath or while you are lying in bed waiting for the little one to fall asleep.
“Don’t miss the big moments—field day, a swim lesson, the final day of skate camp, a special lunch. Bottom line is we have flexibility. Just know if it comes out of the work day, it will have to get put back in when everyone is asleep. In accordance with the self-care rule, only 2 work nights that end in the early morning allowed per week.
“Time off is time off. For the family vacations, no checking email in the hotel bathroom. The organization [I work for] has been just fine without me since 1929. They’ve got it until Monday.
“Find a friend that will call you out when you’re not doing the above and do not ignore her when she does. I am so blessed to have five of those, and I listen to some of what they say.
“When you aren’t performing to the best of your ability, check the list and figure out what you are missing.”
Susan I. Federinko, senior vice president, Glatfelter Healthcare Practice
"I started my career in Buffalo, N.Y. A few years later, I took the next step in life and got married. My husband was enlisted in the U.S. Navy and was assigned to an aircraft carrier in Pensacola, F.L. So, here I am, settling into a great new company, loving my job, and now faced with not only making the decision to leave my family and move more than 1,000 miles away, but also having to leave this great place and find another place to work.
"What happened next demonstrated that the career path of insurance was a great place to be. USF&G had offices all over the country and they were able to transfer me to their claims office in Pensacola, F.L. Having a job secured when I arrived in Pensacola was huge, considering I was traveling so far from home and the only person I knew when I arrived there would be my husband. As a young female, it gave me the balance I needed at a very challenging time in my life. Here I was--a young newlywed, 1,000 miles from home and a husband out to sea on an aircraft carrier for months at a time. I was learning another side of the insurance business in the world of claims and I was greeted by great people who quickly took me under their wings.
"Since that time, I've come a long way in continuing to seek new opportunities and further develop my insurance career. Most recently, my position has involved a lot of traveling and nights away from home. At times, the traveling piece can be stressful; however, my husband has been my rock. He continually expresses his admiration of how I have progressed and excelled. At one time, husbands in general were the providers and 'breadwinners.' I believe that not only for [my husband and I] but society as a whole has vastly changed and has become more willing to accept. As Glatfelter had the trust and confidence in me to do my job, my husband also has to balance those values. He has never demonstrated any jealousy throughout my career, and is always there as support. Without that, I could not do my job."