Women in Leadership: An Interview with Healthcare Insurance Veteran
My first job out of college was as a worker bee in a health insurance sales office. With a staff of about 75 working in the office, the support roles were democratic, representing all genders and a diversity of races and sexual orientations. The leadership roles were less so: mostly men, mostly white. But you could see the gears of change churning toward progress. There were a few women sales reps on my floor, and while I was there, I saw another get promoted to the role. The doors were clearly open to women in leadership, but even in the early 2000s, it was not smooth sailing for women who wanted to climb the career ladder. Of those women, one was known as the crazy-bossy one, another as the unfeeling perfectionist, and a third as the beautiful and charming one. Despite these stereotypes, they were all able to get the job done and to do it well.
In recent days, I’ve been considering how the doors to women in leadership in the healthcare insurance field were first opened, and whether there is anything other sectors of healthcare (or even other industries) can learn from the field.
I was fortunate to stay in touch with Greg Armer, a VP in the insurance company I used to work for, and last month I had the pleasure of interviewing him on the topic. As a veteran in healthcare insurance, he has seen a lot of change take place, not only in the role of women in the field, but also in technology and policy. Here’s an excerpt from our interview:
AR: You started working in health insurance in 1976. What roles did women have then?
Greg Armer: Primarily assistants or receptionists. Mid-level management positions were probably as high as I saw. This would be the manager of a customer service or proposal unit.
AR: How does that compare to the roles women have now?
Greg Armer: It’s very different today. But, at the same time, you have to remember I’m primarily in the healthcare business, and healthcare has many more women involved than men—yet men still control most of the management positions. We’ve had a female CEO, we have a female Senior VP in charge of operations, a female CMO (Chief Medical Officer), and women throughout the company managing people, developing strategy, messaging the public/media, and, in general, helping to improve the healthcare delivery system.
AR: Did these changes happen organically, or were there company initiatives that supported the change? Or both? In other words, what did this change look like over the years?
Greg Armer: I think it was a combination. To my mind, it’s been critical that women took initiative. In fact, I think that initiative for change and recognition is still occurring. It may not be as visible today because of the progress made by women in the workforce, but it still seems like there is some disparity in higher-level positions. On the other hand, as women have proven their ability to lead, to make good business decisions, and to more or less “control” the direction of an organization, they have received recognition and reward, and that has opened doors for other women to follow and expand on the success and results of those before them.
AR: Was there ever pushback (overt or behind closed doors) about welcoming women into higher positions? Did you, or do you, ever hear of any of these women described as crazy or bossy?
Greg Armer: I never heard overt pushback, but you have to remember, the women’s movement had already begun when I started in business in the late 1970s. I wasn’t in a management position then; I was still learning what business was all about. I definitely heard mention that some of the women trying to be recognized and to exert some power were “bossy.” In my first role, in my early career days, we were dealing with a lot of mental health professionals, and there were more women in the field who gave our service staff a hard time. There was talk in the office about it. We wondered if, in fact, they had the attitude they had because they were women—to get the same attention as a man—did they have to exert themselves in a way that came across as pushy and rude?
AR: Do you have any final thoughts you’d like to share?
Greg Armer: I think that in healthcare insurance, women are gaining prominence. But this should be a business where women are prominent, because it not only fits the stereotype—that is, women are the more caring of the two genders—but it’s also a business with women making up a large majority of the caregiving roles. So this shouldn’t be a surprise. Given that, what might be a surprise is the percentage of women in the field versus those in senior-level management positions. I’m betting if you look at the demographics comparing the numbers of those who are providing care or service to patients or insured members versus those in management of the companies they work for, the ratios may look better than in other industries, but they are not nearly a reflection of the job force.
While there is still room for improvement, as Armer points out, women are getting it done. And it makes sense: CredSimple believes that diverse perspectives contribute to stronger solutions. For this reason, as we seek to add new talent to our team, we are committed to bringing on the best and brightest, while avoiding stereotypes. We should all be aware of and working to remove the stereotypes that have lingered in the conversation about roles in the workforce. At CredSimple, we are lucky to have hired several woman to our team.
One of our first hires, Kate, shared these thoughts after her first day on the job at CredSimple, when she realized she was CredSimple’s first female employee:
The first day at a new job often comes with mixed feelings: while it is exciting to think about what can be achieved, there is also a great fear of the unknown. For many women, the first day is often more scary than exciting. Will I be accepted for who I am an as employee and team member, without it being affected by my gender? Will I be given the ability to succeed and grow?
During my first day at CredSimple, I looked around and realized I was the only female on the team. It was an overwhelming experience. I wonderded how I would I fit in as the only female? Would I be accepted?
I can honestly say that I have been treated with warmth and respect as a credible team member, with no bias due to gender. The transition into the job as the only woman has been smooth, because our comfortable environment allows me to bring an added perspective to the office, regardless of gender. I hope other companies can take an example from the team at CredSimple about how women should be treated in the workplace.
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