Utilizing Mentorship, Overcoming Hurdles and More: These Leaders Share Their Best Career Advice

Sponsored by American Family Insurance

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Photo courtesy of American Family Insurance.

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May 19, 2024 at 9:34PM UTC

Changing lives, making a difference in local communities, joining a people-focused team and having the opportunity and flexibility to achieve your dreams: these are only a few of the reasons that women choose to start, and continue, their careers at American Family Insurance.

Whether they’re newer to the company, or have been there for nearly two decades, the women leaders featured in this article have successfully used their unique backgrounds, experiences and talent to excel both personally and professionally — with American Family Insurance supporting them every step of the way.

One anonymous employee shares that the “leadership and resources available to grow my industry understanding, leadership and business skills have been amazing. There are tools, programs and resources if you are willing to put in the time and energy.” As Katie Dykstra, Diversity Recruiting Manager, says, “AmFam sees transferable skills with people.”

In this article, these American Family Insurance employees share their best career advice for overcoming hurdles, finding balance and utilizing mentorship.

Overcoming workplace hurdles.

Before Dykstra worked in HR, she used to work at a Fortune 500 company as an Asset Protection Manager, where she was one of the only women in the department. “I felt like I constantly had to keep proving myself,” Dykstra explains. But, she was able to overcome this feeling by utilizing “sponsors and mentors to help build my brand and my skill set so I didn't feel like I was doing it alone. I also started to get involved in professional communities so that I could meet other women who I could relate to,” she says. Having a sponsor was particularly important when Dykstra was switching careers from loss prevention to Human Resources, since her sponsor helped highlight her transferable skills. 

Being a manager came with its own hurdles for Dykstra. “When I became a manager for the first time, I was the youngest woman in my department, and most of the people I managed had an average of 25 years of service with the company,” she says. While this created a challenging situation, Dykstra said that she addressed it by learning quickly and focusing on team and relationship building. “That's when I started to fall in love with learning about how to be a good leader,” she notes. “I realized that's the key to getting stuff done and helping others accomplish their goals. Ever since then, I have made it a priority to put people first and business results will follow.”

For Dykstra’s colleague Elicia Azali, Enterprise Chief Marketing Officer, one big challenge she faced was balancing the needs of her young family, growing career and herself. For instance, “I traveled to an advertising shoot while I was nursing and had to get all of my equipment and milk with my colleagues nearby,” Azali explains. “I remember how my anxiety built approaching the scanning machines and having to announce what the Medela bag was. When the security guard asked what the 'golden substance' in the plastic bags was, I held my head high and asserted it was breast milk.” 

It was then that Azali learned something important about balancing work-life and home-life. “In that moment, I chose to always be a proud, unapologetic working parent, no matter the circumstance,” she says.

Improving your work-life balance during the pandemic.

When asked about how their views on work-life balance have changed during the COVID-19 pandemic, the American Family Insurance leaders shared some helpful advice:

  • Find control: One anonymous employee noted that the ability to control their own schedule is important to feeling like you have good balance. 

  • Set goals: Lillett Johnson, Sales District Leader, says that working “on goals that will reflect myself professionally and personally” has helped her.

  • Be flexible: When she started working from home, Dykstra says that she didn’t believe she could handle working remotely. However, she surprised herself with how much she enjoys her remote role. Additionally, although she was concerned about managing a remote team, they have a great bond. “I'm always impressed with how the team drops everything to help others,” Dykstra explains.

  • Think positive: “Living through the pandemic reminds me that happiness is a choice every single day,” says Azali. “No matter what outside forces occur, it is my responsibility to choose happiness.”

The importance of mentorship and sponsorship.

At American Family Insurance, mentorship is key. They know that, no matter where you are in your career, you can always have a mentor or be a mentor — there’s always more to learn and people who are eager to learn from you.

Just ask Estelle Blockoms, AMFAM Agency Life Distribution Director, who says that she enjoys mentoring and being a mentee and believes that “it's part of my duty as a human being to be a mentor, and I have learned valuable lessons as a mentee.”

This opinion is shared throughout the company, with an anonymous employee stating that, “Mentorship is one of the most underrated opportunities for learning and growing. It can look very different and should not be based on tenure or experience only. Learning from another person and connecting with them makes us remember the humanness within the organization. Through mentoring, I have found courage to lead differently, embrace my abilities and gain confidence along the way.”

Johnson agrees, stating that, “Mentorships are important professionally and personally. I've had the opportunity to be mentored and have been a mentee to many.” She notes that being mentored helped her “see situations in a different light,” deal with issues in a calmer manner, become more accountable and even “become a better person and a stronger leader.” “Being a mentee has been a win-win situation,” she elaborates. “As a leader, I would never advise on things I would not be willing to have done in the past. It allows you the opportunity to create the pros and cons in decision making.”

Dykstra has had mentors since she was 19-years-old, and still keeps in contact with her first mentor. She also serves as a mentor herself, both by getting involved in her local SHRM chapter where she started “mentoring and helping people who were in transition or were early in their career,” as well as “volunteering time at the Mom Project, which helps women who have been caretakers get back into the workforce after stepping out for a period of time.”

As for some top advice for a successful mentor-mentee relationship, one anonymous employee had this to say: “I have mentored a number of people. I honestly care for these people a lot, so always lead with personal stuff first. Get to know them as people really well.” This will help you form bonds and guide each other.

Interested in learning more tips and tricks for advancing your career? Check out this article! You can also browse current job listings at American Family Insurance via the link below.


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