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]

More from Risk & Insurance

More from Risk & Insurance

2017 Teddy Awards

The Era of Engagement

The very best workers’ compensation programs are the ones where workers aren’t just the subject of the program, they’re a part of it.
By: | November 1, 2017 • 5 min read

Employee engagement, employee advocacy, employee participation — these are common threads running through the programs we honor this year in the 2017 Theodore Roosevelt Workers’ Compensation and Disability Management Awards, sponsored by PMA Companies.

A panel of judges — including workers’ comp executives who actively engage their own employees — selected this year’s winners on the basis of performance, sustainability, innovation and teamwork. The winners hail from different industries and regions, but all make people part of the solution to unique challenges.


Valley Health System is all-too keenly aware of the risk of violence in health care settings, running the gamut from disruptive patients to grieving, overwrought family members to mentally unstable active shooters.

Valley Health employs a proactive and comprehensive plan to respond to violent scenarios, involving its Code Atlas Team — 50 members of the clinical staff and security departments who undergo specialized training. Valley Health drills regularly, including intense annual active shooter drills that involve participation from local law enforcement.

The drills are unnerving for many, but the program is making a difference — the health system cut its workplace violence injuries in half in the course of just one year.

“We’re looking at patient safety and employee safety like never before,” said Barbara Schultz, director of employee health and wellness.

At Rochester Regional Health’s five hospitals and six long-term care facilities, a key loss driver was slips and falls. The system’s mandatory safety shoe program saw only moderate take-up, but the reason wasn’t clear.

Rather than force managers to write up non-compliant employees, senior manager of workers’ compensation and employee safety Monica Manske got proactive, using a survey as well as one-on-one communication to suss out the obstacles. After making changes based on the feedback, shoe compliance shot up from 35 percent to 85 percent, contributing to a 42 percent reduction in lost-time claims and a 46 percent reduction in injuries.

For the shoe program, as well as every RRH safety initiative, Manske’s team takes the same approach: engaging employees to teach and encourage safe behaviors rather than punishing them for lapses.

For some of this year’s Teddy winners, success was born of the company’s willingness to make dramatic program changes.


Delta Air Lines made two ambitious program changes since 2013. First it adopted an employee advocacy model for its disability and leave of absence programs. After tasting success, the company transitioned all lines including workers’ compensation to an integrated absence management program bundled under a single TPA.

While skeptics assume “employee advocacy” means more claims and higher costs, Delta answers with a reality that’s quite the opposite. A year after the transition, Delta reduced open claims from 3,479 to 1,367, with its total incurred amount decreased by $50.1 million — head and shoulders above its projected goals.

For the Massachusetts Port Authority, change meant ending the era of having a self-administered program and partnering with a TPA. It also meant switching from a guaranteed cost program to a self-insured program for a significant segment of its workforce.

Massport’s results make a great argument for embracing change: The organization saved $21 million over the past six years. Freeing up resources allowed Massport to increase focus on safety as well as medical management and chopped its medical costs per claim in half — even while allowing employees to choose their own health care providers.

Risk & Insurance® congratulates the 2017 Teddy Award winners and holds them in high esteem for their tireless commitment to a safe workforce that’s fully engaged in its own care. &


More coverage of the 2017 Teddy Award Winners and Honorable Mentions:

Advocacy Takes Off: At Delta Air Lines, putting employees first is the right thing to do, for employees and employer alike.


Proactive Approach to Employee SafetyThe Valley Health System shifted its philosophy on workers’ compensation, putting employee and patient safety at the forefront.


Getting It Right: Better coordination of workers’ compensation risk management spelled success for the Massachusetts Port Authority.


Carrots: Not SticksAt Rochester Regional Health, the workers’ comp and safety team champion employee engagement and positive reinforcement.


Fit for Duty: Recognizing parallels between athletes and public safety officials, the city of Denver made tailored fitness training part of its safety plan.


Triage, Transparency and TeamworkWhen the City of Surprise, Ariz. got proactive about reining in its claims, it also took steps to get employees engaged in making things better for everyone.

A Lesson in Leadership: Shared responsibility, data analysis and a commitment to employees are the hallmarks of Benco Dental’s workers’ comp program.


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