While they took their own unique approaches to reaching the VP level, Lisa Pires, Cilsy Harris and Danielle Goulet do have one commonality across their respective career paths. They didn’t see themselves working in the tech space one day — let alone becoming leaders within it.
“I stumbled into my first tech job,” Harris, today a vice president and CIO of corporate and enterprise, said. “I had a degree in chemistry but wanted to pursue an MBA.”
Applicants to the MBA program were strongly encouraged to first spend a couple of years in a business setting. So, Harris became a business analyst in insurance and was quickly hooked by technology’s role in advancing the industry. Pires similarly came to STEM through roundabout means. Now a vice president of digital transformation, she previously worked in marketing and operations until her affinity for leveraging technology in those spaces drew attention.
“There was a leader in technology who observed this, and she became one of my biggest advocates and encouraged me to move over to the technology team,” Pires said. “That’s when I really pivoted into IT.”
Goulet, meanwhile, noted that if you’d told her 20 years ago she would land in the technical field, the then-aspiring lawyer “would’ve thought you were delirious.” Today, she’s a vice president and chief information security officer.
Unexpectedly hitting their stride in technical careers isn’t the only thing these VPs have in common, though. All three work at The Hanover Insurance Group, a top-rated company where women make up 60% of the workforce. And as leaders at the top of their industry, they have some advice to share with women who are just starting out on their paths. Read on for more.
Tell us a bit about your job. What’s your current role and how long have you been in this role?
Lisa Pires: “I joined The Hanover Insurance Group in November of 2019 as vice president of digital transformation. My role is focused on helping The Hanover move forward with its digital journey. In this role, I own the development of the company’s digital vision, creating the digital operating model as well as chairing the Enterprise Digital Council.”
Vice President of Digital Transformation, The Hanover Insurance Group
Cilsy Harris: “I have been with The Hanover for over 20 years. I am a member of the IT senior leadership team and have been in my role as CIO for the corporate and enterprise functions for just about two years. Prior to this, I focused on personal insurance. My role is focused on delivering IT capabilities for those services that support our insurance business. The scope of work is varied, which means it’s never dull. From supporting our corporate areas (legal, finance and HR) to insurance-focused services (claims, agent commissions and billing), there is significant demand for automation.”
VP and CIO of Corporate and Enterprise, The Hanover Insurance Group
Danielle Goulet: “I joined The Hanover as the chief information security officer in August of 2019, so just about a year ago now. In my role, I’m responsible for establishing the security strategy for the enterprise and ensuring that data and information assets are protected. My job requires me to understand the evolving threat landscape of The Hanover and the insurance industry and to manage the risks associated with everything from malware and hacking to insider threats and vulnerabilities.”
Vice President and Chief Information Security Officer, The Hanover Insurance Group
What first got you interested in pursuing a career in tech?
LP: “Early on in my career, I naturally gravitated toward finding tools and technology to help me better do my job. I did not start off in IT— in fact, I worked in both marketing and operations first. In those roles, I found and leveraged technology to get better outcomes. At first, it was to help me improve my own work, and then what I was learning or developing was shared with the rest of my teammates. There was a leader in technology who observed this, and she became one of my biggest advocates and encouraged me to move over to the technology team. That’s when I really pivoted into IT.”
CH: “I stumbled into my first tech job. I had a degree in chemistry but wanted to pursue an MBA. It was strongly encouraged that applicants spend a couple of years in a business setting before starting in the degree program. My first role as a business analyst in insurance had me hooked, both on the financial services industry and on technology’s role in advancing it.”
DG: “If you had told me 20 years ago that I would land in the technical field, I would’ve thought you were delirious. My goal was always to be a lawyer, but my parents had the foresight to redirect that notion and put me on a different path. My first job in tech was as a business analyst, which was amazing because it allowed me to use my business skills to write technical requirements.”
What has been the biggest challenge or obstacle you’ve faced working as a woman in tech?
LP: “Technology can be challenging if it is done without the context of why. What I mean is technology cannot exist just for the sake of technology. Early on in my career, this meant that at times I was working on projects where the approach didn’t align clearly to the goals. I had to be brave in these moments, step up and push back when things didn’t make sense. This was challenging because I was not in roles that were positioned to influence these decisions. This required understanding the business problem, the technology and how it fit the need. It meant I needed to understand how things worked so that I could raise questions, and most importantly, it required building relationships to connect the dots.”
Does The Hanover provide any resources or programs to support women in your field?
CH: “The Hanover has really embraced inclusion and diversity. From having an active Inclusion and Diversity Council to employee-run Business Resource Groups, inclusion and diversity is part of what we do. As women at The Hanover, we have the Women @ Hanover group, as well as an active Women in IT group, with nearly 80% of IT women participating. We also have a board seat at [email protected], which is focused on advancing gender equality, especially when there is intersectionality with other diversity markers.”
What is your favorite aspect of the culture at The Hanover?
DG: “The Hanover’s culture inspires me on many fronts — from our CARE (collaboration, accountability, respect and empowerment) values, to our people, to our work in the community, to our important resource groups for women and underrepresented groups. Every individual employee comes to work every day wanting to make a difference, be collaborative and deliver value to our customers.”
What advice do you have for other women who are beginning a career in tech?
LP: “Be courageous and if technology is a passion, stay the course. There is a need for female talent within technology. As you pursue technology, know that there will be challenges and obstacles. It will be critical to develop relationships and to find mentors along the way. These mentors will champion, guide and advise you on your journey.”
CH: “Step into your authentic self. Female voices in IT are essential to bringing diverse thought to the creative side of IT. The opportunities abound, from data science to security and digital. Find your passion and step into it. Build a network of support. Find a sponsor and mentor. There is a great future ahead for you!”
DG: “Be curious. Go the extra mile. Build relationships. When others are afraid to lift the rock, you know that when you turn it over you might find something amazing. Go the extra mile not because you are female, but because it’s inherently what you do. Build strong, career-long partnerships with your peers and business partners because having a team to turn to during a time of crisis is critical. But above all, be focused, find what makes you happy and let that drive your success.”
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