‘I Love My Job’: I’m Championing Inclusive Design as a Sr Director of Product Design

Sponsored by Northwestern Mutual – Corporate Careers

Photo courtesy of Northwestern Mutual.

Photo courtesy of Northwestern Mutual.

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July 25, 2024 at 4:13PM UTC

Welcome to I Love My Job, the series where we hear from women who really love their jobs. In this edition, we sat down with Jody Thomas, Senior Director of Product Design, at Northwestern Mutual.

When asked about the culture at Northwestern Mutual, Jody tells us that it is “first and foremost, all about relationships.” From long-term relationships between financial advisors and clients to internal relationship-building, strong connections are everywhere at the company. 

At Northwestern Mutual, “there's a sense of cooperation and openness with everyone here, and that's true whether somebody has been with the company for six months or 35 years,” says Jody. “Everybody is generous with their time and in sharing their institutional knowledge. For me, as somebody who's never worked in the insurance industry before, this has been incredibly helpful.” This open culture also extends through the leadership team, which Jody notes is very accessible and hosts regular Q&As with its employees that focus on critical questions.

And that’s not the only aspect of the culture that Jody is drawn to — she also likes that Northwestern Mutual is a mutual company. “This means that we have a duty to our policyholders as owners of our company,” she explains. “That really shapes how we make internal decisions and ensures that we're putting our policyholders' best interest at the forefront of everything.”

In the video below, Jody shares more about why she loves working at Northwestern Mutual. We also provide lightly edited highlights from the video discussion in the following article.

In case you have trouble watching this video, please click here to watch it on YouTube.

Can you tell us about your job and career journey at Northwestern Mutual?

My team works on our design system and creates UI standards that are delivered through our experience platform. I also run our very important accessibility practice. So, overall, my team is responsible for building efficient design tooling that other teams can use

I've been at Northwestern Mutual for about two and a half years. I was originally brought on to lead our design system team, but then took on our platform team because there were a lot of commonalities in the way that the work needed to be done, managed, and approached.

I've also managed a couple of different design teams here while we were looking to hire new leaders, which has allowed me to broaden my understanding of different areas of the company as well.

What’s a project you’re working on that you find most exciting?

All of my team's projects are exciting, and it’s hard for me to choose just one. So, I'm going to discuss two different projects that showcase the breadth and depth of the type of work that we do.

  1. The first one that my team has been working on is ensuring that all of our design tooling meets or exceeds what are called the WCAG, or the web content accessibility guidelines, along with producing documentation that product managers, engineers, designers, and anyone in the company can reference when they're building digital products. We've also been on a journey to bolster the concept of inclusive design, which really means that we're making informed design decisions earlier in our process to ensure that our experiences are as usable for as many people as possible across a wide range of diversity. Our designers have really embraced this principle as a core aspect of how they design, and it's been really fulfilling to see.

  2. The next project is a little bit different. Although I can't talk too much about the specifics, the piece that's been exciting for me is based on strategic alignment and partnership. At any large organization, it's really easy to become siloed in the way that you work… This project in particular has been a chance for different teams to come back together, take a user-centered approach, and figure out our path forward. It's different from the type of traditional design delivery or executional work, but, for me, it's rewarding because it facilitates how our teams have a clear sense of purpose and alignment.

What is your favorite thing about working at Northwestern Mutual?

My favorite thing about Northwestern Mutual is the investment and space for professional development. I have found that can manifest in a lot of different ways, whether it's developing your skills through hands-on work assignments, taking on a new role on a different team, participating in training, or moving into new roles within the company, which could be via promotion. I found that you can continue to grow and work on new, challenging assignments throughout the company rather than having to leave the company to do that.

How does Northwestern Mutual support you?

Northwestern Mutual and specifically my manager, Chris, have been wonderful advocates for advancing my career… I've been able to flex and play different roles on the team, including being an interim manager. This has allowed me to develop a more well-rounded view of the design team. And, because my team works on tooling for other teams, I've been more empathetic in understanding their needs to really inform my team's work and help prioritize it.

I've been supported in growing my leadership skills via a hands-on leadership program that's tailored to leaders at the senior director and VP level. Right now, I'm partnered on a project for the next six months with different leaders throughout the company who I never would've worked with before. This has helped me learn how I can partner with different stakeholders outside of my core team or my discipline, how to incorporate more diverse perspectives from the organization into my thinking, and, again, facilitated my relationship-building throughout the company, too.

What advice do you have for other women looking to work at Northwestern Mutual?

We're a company with a lot of opportunity as well as a great deal of support. That opportunity can come in the form of the diversity of roles that we have available, our development opportunities, the breadth of volunteerism, or the ability to be involved in various aspects of shaping the organization. For instance, right now, I'm heavily involved in our intern program for this summer, 

I'd encourage any woman to look at our open opportunities, connect with a recruiter, and learn about the roles at Northwestern Mutual.

Interested in joining the Northwestern Mutual team? They’re hiring! Click the link below to browse opportunities.

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