Conversations around personal branding often dive into clichés about “being yourself.” But it’s rarely so simple, as leaders who’ve spent decades building and honing their professional image know only too well.
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“Developing your brand allows you to have that consistent approach to who you are, how you view your work and life, and the balance between the two,” said Lisa Gentile (pictured), vice president of middle market umbrella, at Liberty Mutual.
“When I started in the industry in the early 90s, it was very male-dominated, as you would expect. But I never apologized for leaving at 4:30 [in the afternoon] every day because I had things that I wanted to do outside of work,” she recalled. “I decided that I needed to get that stake in the ground because that would define who I was in the industry and how I was known, even if that meant having to turn away or give up certain jobs that would require me to be available 24/7.”
Gentile, who has over 25 years of insurance expertise, is set to speak about the importance of a personal brand at the Women in Insurance conference in San Francisco. Sharing her story with Insurance Business, she said she made it a point to push back against the nine-to-five mentality throughout her career.
“I wanted to come into work earlier but also leave on the earlier side. That involved stepping back and having a conversation with my manager, saying, ‘You can have confidence in me getting the job done.’ Women need to be somewhat unapologetic about our priorities and how work fits into that,” Gentile said.
But authenticity sometimes comes with sharp edges that must be softened with gentle firmness, Gentile added: “Being unapologetically you is essential, obviously with tact and grace. But it’s important to stay true to who you are because your career is incredibly long and will take many right and left turns. Sometimes, you may be in a position where you feel like you’re taking a step back. But [your brand] should always be embedded in your truth.”
Gentile’s career has taken her through a gamut of insurance roles, from underwriting, to broking, to consulting and executive leadership. Throughout her journey, she said it had been important for her to draw work-life boundaries. But she also admitted it hadn’t been an easy subject to tackle.
These days, as remote work and Zoom business meetings become the norm rather than the exception, employees can often feel like the lines between work and personal time are blurring. “As we became more of a global economy, we got some folks from all over the world on these phone calls. It isn’t easy to get away from that. Someone somewhere is making a sacrifice. It’s all about choosing the times when you feel that it’s essential to put that boundary in place. But then you have to show some flexibility around that at other times,” Gentile advised.
The insurance industry has come a long way in improving work-life balance, and Gentile said this makes those uncomfortable conversations about priorities easier for both men and women to broach. “I know three or four colleagues at Liberty Mutual that recently went on paternity leave. That was unheard of when I was coming up in the ranks,” she noted.
Gentile’s confidence about taking control of her boundaries helped her gain a sense of respect from colleagues that’s now become a part of her brand. According to the insurance veteran, a brand is “that package of things that folks think they’re going to get when they get you.”
“It’s important to figure out what those things are and what characteristics are important to you because they will shine through,” added Gentile.
“Women in the insurance industry, particularly in upper management positions, are still trying to find our way. But we don’t all need to come from the same cookie-cutter image [of a leader]. We can all have various attributes that give us strength as well.”
Want to join the discussion on personal branding and other hot-button issues in the insurance industry? Join the Women in Insurance summit in San Francisco on October 4 at the JW Marriott Union Square. The in-person conference is returning this year to unite women leaders for a day of empowerment and celebration.
Find out more about the summit and how to register on sanfrancisco.ibwomenininsurance.com.