2017 NWCDC

Embracing a Common Purpose

As women leaders push upward into the executive ranks, they must help others to follow in their footsteps.
By: | December 7, 2017 • 3 min read

The numbers are telling. Women make up 56.5 percent of the insurance workforce, yet 85 percent of industry employers have no female executives. The figures are more or less the same across the corporate landscape, where women account for only 6.4 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs even though close to half the overall workforce is female.

Margaret Spence, strategist, author, consultant; founder, The Employee to CEO Project

There is a dual imperative within those figures, said Margaret Spence, speaking at the Alliance of Women in Workers’ Compensation’s 4th Annual Women’s Leadership Forum on Dec. 5, the eve of the National Workers’ Compensation and Disability Conference & Expo at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas. That imperative is for women to continually reevaluate their goals and the barriers to those goals, and also for the women who break into the upper ranks to reach back and help other women to do the same.

“If one woman makes it, it kicks the door down for two, or three, or five more,” said Spence, a global business strategist, author and consultant. She is also the founder of The Employee to CEO Project, a global initiative to increase the representation of women in the C-suite.

Speaking about the challenges of young women coming up through the ranks, Spence told parts of her own story as a newly minted graduate offered a position at CNA (then INA). Spence packed up and drove her red and gray Datsun B210 from St. Petersburg, Fla., to Glendale, Calif.

After passing claims school, Spence got down to work but found the environment unwelcoming.

“I was told that I wasn’t important, that I had no potential,” said Spence. Even as she gained experience, Spence still faced supervisors routinely negating her value.

Women coming up through the ranks today may not face an environment as harsh as the one Spence described, but the same barriers remain — they’re just more subtle. Every time a woman walks into an organization and discovers the leadership team is womanless, she learns her voice will not be heard, said Spence.

That’s why it’s important for women to be aware they have a common purpose, and for senior-level women to identify high-potential women in their organizations and “move them through the pipeline,” grooming them to lead and challenging them to reach higher.

“If one woman makes it, it kicks the door down for two, or three, or five more.” — Margaret Spence, strategist, author, consultant; founder, The Employee to CEO Project

At the same time, said Spence, women must help their male counterparts understand the barriers that are keeping talented women from moving beyond middle management.

“It is important that we empower men to empower us,” said Spence, challenging women leaders to bring their male peers along when they attend the AWWC forum next year.

Looking Within

The core message of Spence’s presentation, “The Power to Succeed Starts With You!”, is designed to give women the tools to overcome the conditioning that affects most women from a very young age. Women are prone to stall in their careers unless they actively pinpoint where they want to go next.

Women must take the time to look within and ask the tough questions that will help define their purpose and their goals. “What do I want?” “Why do I want it?” and “Why don’t I have it already?” are all key questions that deserve reflection and will help women understand and identify the action steps that can help them advance their careers.

It’s also important to identify and own up to the personal and professional fears that create barriers to success, said Spence. Self-awareness is often half the battle.

It’s important to keep reaching, Spence added, to keep setting higher targets and stepping out of your comfort zone, or risk letting inertia take over and pin you in place. Women must ask themselves, “What if I did nothing at all about my career; would I regret that decision?”

“Where you start out should not be where you end up,” she said. “If you set a goal and you’re comfortable with it, it’s not a high enough goal.” &

Michelle Kerr is associate editor of Risk & Insurance. She can be reached at [email protected]

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The Profession

For This Pharmaceutical Risk Director, Managing Risk Means Being Part of the Mission to Save Lives

Meet Eric Dobkin, director, insurance and risk management, for Merck & Co. Inc.
By: | September 28, 2018 • 5 min read

R&I: What was your first job?
My first job out of undergrad was as an actuarial trainee at Chubb.I was a math major in school, and I think the options for a math major coming out are either a teacher or an actuary, right? Anyway, I was really happy when the opportunity at Chubb presented itself. Fantastic company. I learned a lot there.

R&I: How did you come to work in risk management?
After I went back to get my MBA, I decided I wanted to work in corporate finance. When I was interviewing, one of the opportunities was with Merck. I really liked their mission, and things worked out. Given my background, they thought a good starting job would be in Merck’s risk management group. I started there, rotated through other areas within Merck finance but ultimately came back to the Insurance & Risk Management group. I guess I’m just one of those people who enjoy this type of work.


R&I: What is risk management doing right?
I think the community is doing a good job of promoting education, sharing ideas and advancing knowledge. Opportunities like this help make us all better business partners. We can take these ideas and translate them into actionable solutions to help our companies.

R&I: What could the risk management community be doing a better job of?
I think we have made good advancements in articulating the value proposition of investing in risk management, but much more can be done. Sometimes there is such a focus on delivering immediate value, such as cost savings, that risk management does not get appropriate attention (until something happens). We need to develop better tools that can reinforce that risk management is value-creating and good for operational efficiency, customers and shareholders.

R&I: What’s been the biggest change in the risk management and insurance industry since you’ve been in it?
I’d actually say there hasn’t been as much change as I would have hoped. I think the industry speaks about innovation more often than it does it. To be fair, at Merck we do have key partners that are innovators, but some in the industry are less enthusiastic to consider new approaches. I think there is a real need to find new and relevant solutions for large, complex risks.

R&I: What emerging commercial risk most concerns you?
Cyber risk. While it’s not emerging anymore, it’s evolving, dynamic and deserves the attention it gets. Merck was an early adopter of risk transfer solutions for cyber risk, and we continue to see insurance as an important component of the overall cyber risk management framework. From my perspective, this risk, more than any other, demands continuous forward-thinking to ensure we evolve solutions.

R&I: What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced in your career?
Sticking with the cyber theme, I’d say navigating through a cyber incident is right up there. In June 2017, Merck experienced a network cyber attack that led to a disruption of its worldwide operations, including manufacturing, research and sales. It was a very challenging environment. And managing the insurance claim that resulted has been extremely complex. But at the same time, I have learned a tremendous amount in terms of how to think about the risk, enterprise resiliency and how to manage through a cyber incident.

R&I: What advice might you give to students or other aspiring risk managers?
Have strong intellectual curiosity. Always be willing to listen and learn. Ask “why?” We deal with a lot of ambiguity in our business, and the more you seek to understand, the better you will be able to apply those learnings toward developing solutions that meet the evolving risk landscape and needs of the business.


R&I: What role does technology play in your company’s approach to risk management?
We’re continuing to look for ways to apply technology. For example, being able to extract and leverage data that resides in our systems to evaluate risk, drive efficiencies and make things like property-value reporting easier. We’re also looking to utilize data visualization tools to help gain insights into our risks.

R&I: What are your goals for the next five to 10 years of your career?
I think, at this time, I would like to continue to learn and grow in the type of work I do and broaden my scope of responsibilities. There are many opportunities to deliver value. I want to continue to focus on becoming a stronger business partner and help enable growth.

R&I: What is your favorite book or movie?
I’d say right now Star Wars is top on my list. It has been magical re-watching and re-living the series I watched as a kid through the eyes of my children.

R&I: What is the riskiest activity you ever engaged in? When I was about 15, I went to a New York Rangers versus Philadelphia Flyers game at the Philadelphia Spectrum. I wore my Rangers jersey. I would not do that again.

Eric Dobkin, director, insurance & risk management, Merck & Co. Inc

R&I: What is it about this work you find most fulfilling or rewarding?
I am passionate about Merck’s mission of saving and improving lives. “Inventing for Life” is Merck’s tagline. It’s funny, but most people don’t associate “inventing” with medicine. But Merck has been inventing medicines and vaccines for many of the world’s most challenging diseases for a long time. It’s amazing to think the products we make can help people fight terrible diseases like cancer. Whatever little bit I can do to help advance that mission is very fulfilling and rewarding.

R&I: What do your friends and family think you do?
Ha! My kids think I make medicine. I guess they think that because I work for Merck. I suppose if even in a small way I can contribute to Merck’s mission of saving and improving lives, I am good with that. &

Katie Dwyer is an associate editor at Risk & Insurance®. She can be reached at [email protected]