NWCDC: Women in Workers' Comp

In Pursuit of the Missing 33 Percent

On the eve of the NWCDC, nearly 400 gathered for insights on what's standing in the way of closing the gender gap.
By: | November 30, 2016 • 4 min read

As a young employee of the Connecticut General Life Insurance Co. (now Cigna) in 1972, Susan Colantuono looked around and puzzled at why all of the company’s rank-and-file employees were women, and yet the ranks of management were filled only with men.

Possessed of the potentially disastrous combination of boldness and naivete, Colantuono, all of 22, fired off a memo to the CEO, advising him of the disparity.

To his credit, CEO Henry Roberts took the memo in stride. In fact, he took the matter quite seriously, and the company put in place numerous initiatives designed to support the goals of female employees, including the country’s first on-site workplace day care.

Within a mere four years, a fair percentage of the company’s management positions were filled by women.

Susan Colantuono, author, speaker, CEO of Leading Women

Susan Colantuono, author, speaker, CEO of Leading Women

Fast forward 40 years, however, and that progress needle hasn’t moved nearly as far as Colantuono imagined it would have by now, and she’s made it her mission to understand why.

Colantuono, author, speaker, and CEO of consulting firm Leading Women, shared what her research revealed during the 3rd annual Alliance of Women in Workers’ Compensation leadership forum, held in conjunction with the National Workers’ Compensation and Disability Conference® in New Orleans on Nov. 29.

Top female executives have long stressed the role of mentoring in women’s professional development. But Colantuono said that not all mentoring efforts are created equally – particularly between the sexes.

The advice that mentors commonly give, she said, falls into one of three buckets: personal growth, engaging others and business acumen. Women have received plenty of advice on the first two: speak up, project confidence, set goals, build interpersonal skills, find mentors, network, create a personal brand.

But most women aren’t given much advice, if any, on business acumen. It’s what Colantuono calls the “missing 33 percent” of women’s professional development.

“Understand how your function fuels the growth of the business.” — Susan Colantuono, author, speaker, CEO of Leading Women

The result: The last four decades of business advice given to women has been geared toward helping them move from their early career years into middle management. But it has left most of them ill-prepared to take the next step into the realm of senior executives.

The qualities related to that elusive 33 percent, according to research, account for at least 50 percent of what the C-suite is looking for in potential executives. Engaging others — where women typically outperform men — only accounts for 26 percent of what chief executives value most.

“Engaging others, we tend to double down on that, sometimes to the exclusion of [all other objectives],” said Colantuono.

The Language of Power

The C-suite perception is that women don’t know what’s going on in the industry, don’t have business or financial acumen, and are so focused on doing their jobs that they’re not capable of next level thinking.

That puts the onus on women leaders to develop their business acumen and to demonstrate it effectively.

“Embrace your identity as a leader,” said Colantuono, and take action to fill in the missing 33 percent.

It’s important to keep in mind that the path to the executive level, she said, isn’t all about promotions. It’s about shifting identity and others’ perceptions.

To advance professionally, she said, women leaders should focus on:

  • Developing strategic acumen.
  • Establishing a track record.
  • Cultivating an executive presence.
  • Developing external strategic relationships.
  • Honing executive level communications skills.
  • Seeking out mentoring that earns sponsorship.

Colantuono added that women also need to learn to speak in a way that connects with C-level executives — what she calls “speaking the language of power.”

“What you see depends on where you stand,” she said, explaining that women leaders must learn to look at their organizations from the CEO’s point of view.

Colantuono gave the nearly 400 attendees a 45-minute MBA crash course, parsing the finer points of cash, growth, return, quality, customer churn and more. She encouraged attendees to start paying attention to earnings calls and to other company news.

Women leaders stand to gain a great deal from understanding how such news impacts returns and profitability, and how their own programs do as well.

“Understand how your function fuels the growth of the business,” she said.

Through a series of workshop exercises, she encouraged the workers’ comp professionals in attendance to discuss their roles using the language of the C-suite.

It’s a habit that women leaders can leverage to gain buy-in for new initiatives or investments, but it will only become second nature with practice. Try it while pitching ideas or giving progress reports, she suggested.

“Every day,” said Colantuono, “[look for opportunities to] shift your language to the language of power.”

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

More from Risk & Insurance

More from Risk & Insurance

4 Companies That Rocked It by Treating Injured Workers as Equals; Not Adversaries

The 2018 Teddy Award winners built their programs around people, not claims, and offer proof that a worker-centric approach is a smarter way to operate.
By: | October 30, 2018 • 3 min read

Across the workers’ compensation industry, the concept of a worker advocacy model has been around for a while, but has only seen notable adoption in recent years.

Even among those not adopting a formal advocacy approach, mindsets are shifting. Formerly claims-centric programs are becoming worker-centric and it’s a win all around: better outcomes; greater productivity; safer, healthier employees and a stronger bottom line.


That’s what you’ll see in this month’s issue of Risk & Insurance® when you read the profiles of the four recipients of the 2018 Theodore Roosevelt Workers’ Compensation and Disability Management Award, sponsored by PMA Companies. These four programs put workers front and center in everything they do.

“We were focused on building up a program with an eye on our partner experience. Cost was at the bottom of the list. Doing a better job by our partners was at the top,” said Steve Legg, director of risk management for Starbucks.

Starbucks put claims reporting in the hands of its partners, an exemplary act of trust. The coffee company also put itself in workers’ shoes to identify and remove points of friction.

That led to a call center run by Starbucks’ TPA and a dedicated telephonic case management team so that partners can speak to a live person without the frustration of ‘phone tag’ and unanswered questions.

“We were focused on building up a program with an eye on our partner experience. Cost was at the bottom of the list. Doing a better job by our partners was at the top.” — Steve Legg, director of risk management, Starbucks

Starbucks also implemented direct deposit for lost-time pay, eliminating stressful wait times for injured partners, and allowing them to focus on healing.

For Starbucks, as for all of the 2018 Teddy Award winners, the approach is netting measurable results. With higher partner satisfaction, it has seen a 50 percent decrease in litigation.

Teddy winner Main Line Health (MLH) adopted worker advocacy in a way that goes far beyond claims.

Employees who identify and report safety hazards can take credit for their actions by sending out a formal “Employee Safety Message” to nearly 11,000 mailboxes across the organization.

“The recognition is pretty cool,” said Steve Besack, system director, claims management and workers’ compensation for the health system.

MLH also takes a non-adversarial approach to workers with repeat injuries, seeing them as a resource for identifying areas of improvement.

“When you look at ‘repeat offenders’ in an unconventional way, they’re a great asset to the program, not a liability,” said Mike Miller, manager, workers’ compensation and employee safety for MLH.

Teddy winner Monmouth County, N.J. utilizes high-tech motion capture technology to reduce the chance of placing new hires in jobs that are likely to hurt them.

Monmouth County also adopted numerous wellness initiatives that help workers manage their weight and improve their wellbeing overall.

“You should see the looks on their faces when their cholesterol is down, they’ve lost weight and their blood sugar is better. We’ve had people lose 30 and 40 pounds,” said William McGuane, the county’s manager of benefits and workers’ compensation.


Do these sound like minor program elements? The math says otherwise: Claims severity has plunged from $5.5 million in 2009 to $1.3 million in 2017.

At the University of Pennsylvania, putting workers first means getting out from behind the desk and finding out what each one of them is tasked with, day in, day out — and looking for ways to make each of those tasks safer.

Regular observations across the sprawling campus have resulted in a phenomenal number of process and equipment changes that seem simple on their own, but in combination have created a substantially safer, healthier campus and improved employee morale.

UPenn’s workers’ comp costs, in the seven-digit figures in 2009, have been virtually cut in half.

Risk & Insurance® is proud to honor the work of these four organizations. We hope their stories inspire other organizations to be true partners with the employees they depend on. &

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