Cobbs Allen Celebrates International Women’s Day
(Pictured from left to right: Margaret Ann Pyburn, Katie Langley, Marye Beasley Kohn, Kamini Patel,Tracy Bagley and Ranjini Pillay)
If you’re anything like me, your morning routine might look a little something like this: Alarm goes off. Hit snooze. Grab phone. Check emails. Scroll through social media.
But I’m willing to bet that this morning, the content you saw while scrolling was giving off strong “girl power” vibes. Emails from every woman-owned business you’ve ever subscribed to? Pictures of friends with their arms in the air, almost like they were shrugging? Post after post tagged with #IWD2019 or #BalanceforBetter?
Today is International Women’s Day, a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. The day also marks a call to action for accelerating gender parity.
In recognition of this day, I sat down with six of Cobbs Allen’s female leaders to talk about their careers, what it means to be a woman in leadership today and how they balance it all.
Our #IWD2019 Lineup:
Kamini Patel (KP) heads up data analytics and special projects for Cobbs Allen. She knew she wanted to be in the finance industry, but she never pictured herself in the insurance field until she joined Cobbs Allen. In less than four years with the company, she has grown to become an in-house resource of sorts when it comes to special projects and problem-solving. Her analytical mindset allows her to think strategically when it comes to processes, procedures, reporting structures and technology used within the company. It is widely agreed upon that Kamini is nothing short of an asset to Cobbs Allen.
Katie Langley (KL), Senior Vice President of Human Resources and Client Services, came to Cobbs Allen with a background in human resources. Cobbs Allen, being pretty pioneering, thought that we should offer HR resources to our clients. When Katie was approached about this opportunity, she didn’t really know what it was going to look like. But she did know it sounded exciting to build an HR consulting platform for clients. In the 12 years that Katie has been here, the HR team has grown to become a core client service that we offer.
Margaret Ann Pyburn (MAP) is the only woman on Cobbs Allen’s board. She serves as Executive Vice President of Personal Lines as well as Director of Marketing. Before coming to the insurance world, Margaret Ann was working at AmSouth bank as a private banker. A client of hers called one day and asked if she would like to come sell insurance. When they explained that she could make her own hours, combined with the concept that the harder you work, the more money you make, she said, sign me up! She worked for Willis for about 10 years before coming to Cobbs Allen in 2002.
Marye Beasley Kohn (MBK) admits that she didn’t know anything about insurance when she began at Cobbs Allen, right out of college. She knew then HR Consultant Katie Langley through mutual friends. Katie agreed to help with some interviewing practice but ended up encouraging her to apply for a position at Cobbs Allen. The rest, as they say, is history… Marye Beasley started in P&C as an assistant account executive, spinning out into her own team focused on the education industry a few years later. She now oversees our property and casualty service teams as Director of Commercial Lines.
Ranjini Pillay (RP) co-founded Teneo Cobbs Allen, a joint venture between Cobbs Allen and Teneo Capital. She serves as Senior Managing Director. Ranjini and her team provide structured insurance products designed to address a spectrum of the financial, strategic, and operational challenges facing companies and organizations around the world. Ranjini grew up in Rome, Italy, earned a bachelor’s degree in Italy in accounting and then came to New York to get her master’s in international affairs, specializing in international banking and finance. She worked for Cigna’s trade credit and political risk insurance division. She then moved to AIG, where she worked across their New York, London and Paris locations in a variety of divisions and functions.
Tracy Bagley (TB) oversees the Cobbs Allen claims team as Director of Claims Advocacy Services. Tracy grew up in a house of insurance, her father managing a third-party administrating company. When she became of working age, Tracy’s dad put her to work – starting out answering the phone and doing reception-type work, but eventually moving up to underwriting and adjusting claims. After several years, Tracy and her father started their own company. After his passing, Tracy took over complete ownership of the company and managed it for 10 years before selling to Cobbs Allen in 1998 and continued her career here.
Historically and stereotypically, insurance is a male-dominated field. What does it mean to you to be a woman in a position of leadership in this industry?
KP: I never saw myself as entering a male-dominated industry – maybe because I didn’t grow up around the insurance industry. At Cobbs Allen, they just want the best; it doesn’t matter if you’re a man or a woman. I don’t feel like I have to prove myself more than any man does.
MBK: The executive team at Cobbs Allen empowers and trusts women to make decisions. Our opinions are heard and respected as much as any man’s. I think it says a lot about our company. I know most of the insurance executives around the country are men, but I think women bring a whole different brain to the table.
TB: It’s a little bit different for me in the claims industry; we’re a service-oriented industry, and as women, we’re taught to serve others. Women may actually have a better disposition to be in claims because we’re helping people who are injured get back to work and get their claims settled. I’ve done the marketing side of the business when I owned a TPA, and that is another story. I think we’re still breaking into it.
Have you seen the number of women in the workplace and/or in leadership shift since you began your career?
KP: I feel like Cobbs Allen is giving more responsibility and having more expectations of women in leadership positions. Marye Beasley is a great example of this at Cobbs Allen. She’s worked from the bottom up; she’s gotten to where she is because she’s good at what she does. Our executives are willing to support her and make sure she succeeds. They’re not expecting her to fail because she’s a female; they’re expecting her to succeed because of her experience and skills.
MBK: When I started, it was very male-dominated, but there were also a lot less people. So there wasn’t as much need or opportunity for different kinds of leaders and groups. I think most of our clients’ leaders are still men, but it doesn’t bother them that we’re females. Most of the leaders in the industry are men. Whenever we go to meetings, especially if we’re at a negotiation table, I’m one of few women in the room. But it’s turning.
RP: Since I started working in 1986, I have seen a tremendous change. Those early days, I often felt like I was on the cutting edge – being a woman, being of Indian origin, being generally the foreigner in the room, the only woman in the room – so I’ve seen a huge transition. Do I think we’ve gone far enough? No. But we’re learning our way, and the financial industry as a whole is making its way there. I’m glad I fought that fight so that others don’t have to do it. So to me, the fact that I might notice the difference is just a feature of timing. I’m glad that others don’t have to notice it. That’s a sign of success.
Have there been any obstacles you’ve faced as a businesswoman that you feel a businessman may not have had to deal with?
MBK: Probably proving to people that I’m a legitimate businessperson and not just someone’s assistant. I think that our leaders do a good job introducing us to clients with our titles. Male or female, it’s going to take time to earn a client’s respect. In my role, I earn respect by doing what the client asks and doing it well. I think, for the tasks I do on a daily basis, clients would prefer to work with someone like me because I’m going to pay attention to the little things – and maybe that’s in part because women are generally detail-oriented.
TB: No, I wouldn’t say so about the claims industry. But in marketing and running a business, I’ve had to be a lot more assertive. You have to have all your I’s dotted and T’s crossed; if you show any wavering, they won’t take you seriously. Being a woman “in a man’s world,” I’ve also found that communication doesn’t come as easily between men and women. A typical bunch of men are going to bond over things like sports or hunting, whereas women may have more conversations about their families and such – so that can be a challenge when I’m interacting with groups of all men.
Have the relationships you have as a wife and/or mother shaped your career in any way?
KL: Being a mom has helped me be very efficient. When I’m at work, I’m here to do a job and get results. That’s helped me filter through what I’m doing that’s driving results and what I need to take off my plate. I have so many things that I’m balancing, and I have to get out the door at a certain time with kids. I have to make every minute of my day as efficient as I can.
MAP: I think for females, we’re just more naturally aware and have more grace – particularly as managers. My oldest daughter is 26, and I can think back to when she was in daycare and I was working. One of the reasons I wanted to come to Cobbs Allen was the flexibility they granted me during those years. I told Bruce [Denson Sr.] and Grantland [Rice III] that I could only be in the office physically until three o’clock; that didn’t mean I wasn’t still working. They told me it was fine, as long as I was working and hitting my numbers. And that’s still the culture here. I know with my team, we have an account manager who gets here early and works through lunch so that she can leave early to be with her kids. I think when you’re a mother, you can better understand that and be a gracious manger.
This year’s International Women’s Day theme is Balance for Better. What does that mean to you personally and professionally, and how do you see that apply at Cobbs Allen?
KL: I sometimes laugh at the phrase “work-life balance.” I really think it’s more of a work-life integration. I’ve never found the perfect balance. I think Cobbs Allen offers great schedules and amenities that allow people to focus on both family and work, but in today’s technology-driven age, people expect you to be on all the time. You have to figure out how to integrate the two. It’s not shutting off and turning on, it’s learning how these things work together.
MAP: I think balance is good in every aspect of your life. Whether you’re trying to balance family and work; or when you’re a company, trying to balance male and female. But I also think “balance for better” speaks to how Cobbs Allen includes executives as well as support staff on initiatives. I look at the strategic planning committee, and there’s such a wide range of people there. They try to include someone from each department and division.
RP: There’ve been so many studies on how bringing a more diverse, integrated team to any problem, business, or project always improves the result and improves the bottom line. It’s not just diversity. To me, there’s a huge distinction between diversity and inclusion. For diversity, you have companies that talk about women and minorities represented as X percent. But inclusion means that they are part of the team at all levels and see themselves as having the same career paths through the company. That’s extremely important. To me, the goal is not diversity; the goal is inclusion.
What business advice would you give to a young woman just starting her career?
KP: This goes back to advice my dad gave me in high school. He said, look, if you want to get married and have kids, you have to be practical about sacrificing for your children. If you plan in your future to have children, you have to know you will want to be at home by four or five. There’s a cost to every opportunity. You can’t have everything and not sacrifice something. Pick your career based on what you want in your life.
KL: I try to remind myself that I always want my daughter to see that I enjoy working. If she wants to work, I want her to find something that fulfills her and that she enjoys. I want her to see working as a positive thing. I want my son to see that too, because, in the future, I want him to support a wife who works if she wants to. I want him to see handling a career and a family as a positive thing. I always tell them that I hope they’re as fortunate as I am, to have jobs that they enjoy and that let them help people.
MAP: The first thing I would say is to work very hard, because I do think hard work always pays off. People notice that more than anything. Offer your opinion, and don’t be shy. If you see something that needs change, speak up. If you don’t speak up, people can’t listen. Then, once you have children, family always comes first. I really do think women can have it all, but you have to have that balance. Do your work, but don’t miss soccer games or teacher conferences.
MBK: Ask a lot of questions. It doesn’t hurt to ask questions, and then people see that you have initiative. Volunteer to do different things either in the community or at work. Be personable, even to the receptionist or cleaning staff. Respecting all the people you work with goes a long way.
RP: There are really three bits that I focus on. First, be flexible with your plans. I think sometimes one gets tunnel-vision with plans and misses the possibility of doing something different that could add to your knowledge base, your network, your interests. Second, I would say nurture your network. Creating a network of people at all levels is huge. And lastly, I think we all put a lot of pressure on ourselves to have everything. To me, we’ve been painted a picture that we can have everything all the time and now. What I say is that you can have everything, but not all at the same time. There will be seasons of your life where you’re more focused on your family and seasons of your life when you’re more focused on your career. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself to do everything at once. It’s OK to take a step back and focus on what you want when the time’s right.
TB: Be confident in yourself. I think a lot of women are more intimidated, especially younger women. I know I was, being a business owner at such a young age. The world that I was playing in at that time was heavily male-dominant, and my customers were all males. Beyond having the education and knowledge to back up what you’re saying, you’ve got to have the confidence that you can do it.
Cobbs Allen is a national independent agency focused on risk management in niche practice groups. We deliver commercial insurance, employee benefits, personal insurance, and alternative risk financing services to our clients. Headquartered in Birmingham, AL, the firm is ranked in the top 100 of privately held brokerage firms and the top 100 of all U.S. brokerage firms.
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