The Importance of Finding Women Who Will Help You Build Confidence and Resilience

Sponsored by The Hanover Insurance Group

Shirley Woods. Photo courtesy of The Hanover Insurance Group.

Shirley Woods. Photo courtesy of The Hanover Insurance Group.

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Sales, human resources, underwriting, operations, and learning and development — Shirley Woods’ career journey has spanned all of these areas. And, she tells us that “every experience — both positive and negative — helped me grow and prepared me for my next role as well as for where I am today.” Through these experiences, she was able to gain new skills and knowledge, all while increasing her confidence and comfort with risk.

One key theme throughout Woods’ journey was the women who supported her along the way. “Having a strong support system of women to listen, share, be vulnerable, and provide encouragement makes all the difference in building confidence and resilience,” she shares. For instance, mentors and sponsors throughout her career have helped her grow, including her first manager who Woods says “opened my eyes to the many career options available and helped me make the decision to pursue a role as a commercial lines underwriter.” Thanks to her assistance, Woods was able to secure a position as an underwriting trainee. “That experience was a turning point in my career,” she reflects.

Now, as the AVP of Sales Effectiveness at The Hanover Insurance Group, Woods tells us that her growth has only continued after entering the company. “I was encouraged to network with senior leaders across the organization and to bring fresh ideas to the table,” she says. “The receptivity to my ideas and the encouragement I received gave me increased confidence and empowered me to be innovative and bold.” Today, she’s using this confidence and her great experience to foster a strong sales culture and mindset at The Hanover.

Looking back on how she grew to where she is today, Woods says that she’s learned three key things, which are to:

  1. Listen more and talk less. Seek the perspective of others before making a decision.  

  2. Know that change is inevitable, so be flexible. Those who stay positive, quickly adapt, and focus their energies on where they can have the greatest impact tend to be the most successful.

  3. Understand that the one thing that you can control is your attitude and how you react. Keep your emotions under control, maintain composure, and give yourself time to think before reacting.

In this exclusive interview, Woods gives us an inside look into her career journey, the role of women in her growth, and how The Hanover supports her and other women!

To start, looking back on your impressive career, what career move are you the most proud of?

I was leading an organization that had developed a strong brand in the industry and was asked to take on an additional organization that had not been performing well. My goal was to produce the same results; however, there was no mention of a compensation increase or promotion to take on the additional responsibility. 

My initial reaction was to be grateful for the opportunity and accept the additional responsibility at my current level and salary. Before accepting, I discussed the decision with a few mentors and leaders that I respected, and they convinced me that the additional responsibility warranted both a promotion and an increase. I remember being very nervous and uncomfortable when negotiating the conditions of these new responsibilities, but I had practiced the conversation and was clear, confident, and concise in my request. As a result, I was given both the promotion and a pay increase. That was a proud moment for me and a turning point both personally and professionally.  

Next, as you grow your career, how do you ensure that you are lifting other women up with you?

I have been so fortunate to have many women lift me up throughout my career, and I try to pay it forward by doing the same for others. 

For instance, I find that many women lack confidence in their career journey, which holds them back from pursuing roles with increased responsibility. In my role, I provide women with opportunities to work on projects and facilitate learning events that not only increase skill and confidence, but also provide them with exposure to leaders across the organization who they may not have otherwise met. These types of opportunities can help women begin to see their potential and the possibilities for career growth.

I also consider forming mentorship and sponsorship relationships as an important aspect of my role as a leader within the organization. These relationships, both formal and informal, are also a two-way street. I learn as much from the women I mentor as they do from me, and I find the shared learning experiences extremely beneficial and rewarding. 

In your experience, what are the top three ways women can help advance the careers of those around them?

  1. Make yourself available. Ask questions, listen, be encouraging, and offer to role play challenging scenarios. Provide coaching to help other women define a career path, and offer to make introductions that open doors.

  2. Encourage others to make networking a priority. Learning about the journeys of other women — their successes, challenges, and learnings — not only provides fresh insight and perspectives into the possibilities, it can also lead to new opportunities. 

  3. Get involved and inspire others to do the same. Expand your knowledge, experience, and network by joining a business resource group (BRG) to learn about others’ unique experiences and perspectives and to help advance diversity and inclusion strategies within your organization. Support channels where women and allies help attract, develop, and retain female talent in the industry.

Finally, how does The Hanover support women?

Hanover embraces its CARE (collaboration, accountability, respect, and empowerment) values, which nurture a culture committed to building and maintaining an inclusive and equitable environment for individuals of all races, ethnicities, genders, abilities, backgrounds, and experiences. The Hanover is a strong supporter of our employee-led BRGs, which support women and underrepresented populations. For instance, the vision of the Women@Hanover BRG is to empower women to reach their fullest potential by building confidence, creating work-life balance, developing leadership skills, and broadening professional networks — all while simultaneously advocating for an inclusive environment.   

Another important aspect of what makes The Hanover different is our culture. We are a very flat organization, which removes the hierarchy felt in other large organizations. We want employees to have a voice, and, as leaders, are accountable for helping employees to find opportunities to have a seat at the table

At The Hanover, employees are encouraged to network with leaders across the organization and, as leaders, we are encouraged to find opportunities to help individuals build skills and experiences within different areas of the organization. Helping others see their potential and the possibilities surrounding them is embedded in our DNA and promotes internal mobility.

Ready to join a workplace filled with people like Woods who will support your growth? Check out open positions via the link below.

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