Women in Workers’ Compensation Hits a Nerve
The panel at the 2014 Women in Workers’ Compensation (WiWC) Forum. From left to right: Eileen Ramallo, Elaine Vega, Nina Smith-Garmon, Nancy Hamlet, Michelle Weatherson, Nanette de la Torre, Danielle Lisenbey.
What happens if you plan an event hoping for at least 50 attendees and more than 400 show up? It’s an enviable problem that faced the cofounders of Women in Workers’ Compensation last year. Indications are this year’s event won’t be any different — except perhaps larger.
Created to support and promote current and emerging women leaders in the workers’ comp industry, the organization’s inaugural leadership forum was held just prior to last year’s National Workers’ Compensation and Disability Conference® & Expo, and it will again this year. The organizers had lined up an author to be the keynote speaker, put together a panel, and booked a small room.
“We really did start the conversation with a much smaller plan in mind,” said Elaine Vega, senior vice president of account management at Healthcare Solutions. “It really evolved. We realized we really struck a nerve.”
Together with Nancy Hamlet, senior vice president of marketing at Healthcare Solutions, the two saw a gap in which the majority of the workforce is comprised of women but there are more men in leadership positions. Following last year’s success, they now plan to take their effort to a whole new level.
“We’re really trying to lay the foundation for truly turning this over to the industry so it’s owned by collective women in the industry,” Hamlet said. “We have 13 corporate sponsors and expect that will continue to grow, and so will our impact and ability to touch and affect more women.”
Since last year’s forum, the pair has been inundated with questions about exactly who and what WiWC is. “It’s about something so fundamental yet impacts so many: to support and promote existing and emerging leaders in our industry,” Vega said. “While the focus is predominantly on supporting and promoting women leaders and emerging leaders, a lot of topics ironically can apply across any gender. We’ve tried to bring in as many men as possible because they too can benefit from the topics and some of them manage women or have young daughters or wives at home and might benefit from learning.”
“We’re really trying to lay the foundation for truly turning this over to the industry so it’s owned by collective women in the industry.” — Nancy Hamlet, senior vice president of marketing, Healthcare Solutions
A distinguishing characteristic of the organization is keeping things in perspective in terms of success. The word means something different to everyone.
“You don’t necessarily have to become a CEO to find success in your career path,” Vega said. “Leadership is not defined by title. Many people are accomplished. As long as they feel comfortable — if they are happy, we are happier. Success is defined many ways for individuals.”
More than half the 400 attendees from last year filled out questionnaires. The responses were “overwhelmingly positive” with several subjects topping the list.
In addition to advice on negotiating and work/life balance, guilt was cited as one of the overarching themes expressed in the questionnaires. The forum included extensive discussions on the subject as it affects “a lot of women in our industry and people overall, women particularly, who are traditional primary caregivers and are required to travel and have very stressful things at work and are required to stay late,” Vega said. “We as women tend to beat ourselves up more than our male counterparts, or [focus on] perceived failures. We impose a lot of that on ourselves. That was a point last year that struck a nerve with members of the audience — how do we manage that guilt.”
Many attendees were interested to learn that other women in successful positions also feel guilty and wanted to know how they manage that. Other topics related to things such as “taking the big risk and how to navigate your career,” Hamlet said. “Studies, for example, show many women won’t apply for a job if they feel they don’t meet 100 percent of the criteria, whereas men will apply if they feel they meet 60 percent. A lot of discussion was around that.
Among the changes they’ve made since last year’s forum has been to increase the involvement of additional companies. The advisory board is comprised of women from several different employers, and the 13 sponsors represent organizations in all facets of the industry. They also are welcoming input from competing organizations.
“When we talk to competitors about this topic, everything melts away,” Vega said. “We just have this comradery and agreement that this topic will be isolated to this one goal.”
The advisory board members, sponsors, and last year’s attendees have all contributed input to this year’s forum. Feedback from attendees, for example, indicated a desire for more audience/panel discussions.
“We’re making it more interactive with more time for audience participation to ask questions and comment,” Hamlet said. “The second session will include role playing different scenarios to help with soft skills, for example, how to ask for a position of more responsibility. We’ll do some role playing to show some of the challenges we fall into about not having strong negotiating skills and show best practices. I think that’s really going to hit home. Overall, we are trying to make it more engaging and more interactive.”