With almost 30-years of experience in the insurance industry, Brigitte Spencer (pictured) knows a thing or two about how to build a successful career. It’s all about being “intentional,” she said.
Following in her parents’ footsteps, Spencer started out with State Farm straight out of college, where she took an entry-level auto underwriting position. She stuck with personal lines underwriting for many years, progressing into middle management and leadership positions. Once she’d worked her way up the ranks of State Farm, Spencer decided she wanted to “expand her career and business acumen” by switching into sales and contact center operations.
“That gave me an opportunity to build relationships and use my personal lines underwriting knowledge to support State Farm agents out in the field,” said Spencer, who will be speaking at Insurance Business America’s upcoming Women in Insurance Atlanta virtual conference. “It was definitely a risk – doing something different after a successful career in underwriting – but I’m glad I took it.”
After 28-years with State Farm, Spencer made another career-defining decision; she left to join Hanover Insurance Group as its director of personal lines, a position she holds to this day. At Hanover, she has become known for her ability to drive engagement and results through collaboration and bringing diverse perspectives to the table – skills she has developed and nurtured through her involvement with the National African American Insurance Association (NAAIA).
A strong advocate for diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I), Spencer is a member and board vice president of the Atlanta Chapter of NAAIA. Through NAAIA’s strategic goals, she is positively influencing both professionals on the long-term benefits of a career in the insurance industry and corporations on the critical role that DE&I plays in their future success and profitability.
Within Hanover, Spencer recently co-founded and led the strategic implementation of Hanover’s first African American focused business resource group (BRG), Kinship Village. She’s also driving an enterprise culture change, with strategic focus on external recruiting, internal talent identification and development, as well as agency ownership recruitment.
Spencer’s intentionality behind DE&I has not only reaped benefits for Hanover as a business, but it has also helped Spencer to grow her network and given her access to career development opportunities. She said: “I’ve always been intentional about building my network and developing connections with other leaders within Hanover. My work around DE&I at Hanover has given me an avenue to reach out to other leaders and build relationships with colleagues in other departments that I’m interested in for building my career.”
Networking as we knew it – attending in-person events, arranging meetings, joining BRGs like Hanover’s Kinship Village – has shifted into the virtual realm as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and remote working environment. But this hasn’t stopped Spencer from building her connections and sharing her voice.
“What’s really important is that you have to work as an individual and as a leader to be very intentional about using technology – things like Microsoft Teams and Zoom – to maintain that connection,” said Spencer. “Because I can’t walk down the hallway and into someone’s office to say ‘hi’, I’ve been very intentional about reaching out to people via chat tools and setting up calls and meetings. We’ve all had to use these tools in the past year, so it’s really about execution and how we embrace opportunities to communicate in a different way.
“Sometimes, dependent on where someone is in their career, people are hesitant to reach out and form those connections. I think, as leaders, we can help people with that, and we can incorporate how to do that into our mentoring. I’ve heard people say: ‘I don’t know enough about X to talk to that person,’ or ‘I don’t know how to approach that vice president or get in touch with them.’ You’ve really got to be intentional about it.”
Another practice that Spencer swears by for more effective communication in the virtual environment is showing her face via video. Over the past 12 months, we’ve all experienced speaking into a blank screen or a bunch of initials. Sometimes, when there’s pandemonium with kids, pets, builders (you name it) in the background, camera off is the only way to go, but as Spencer pointed out: “Much can be lost in communication” when you’re only hearing voices.
“You can lose a lot of that connection and the voice inflections when you’re not looking at somebody,” she said. “I might be saying something very candidly to you with a smile on my face, but if you can’t see me, you might think I’m upset. All of that gets cleared up when we’re looking at each other. There’s a connection as human beings when we can see each other. And so, I think we all have to be really intentional about switching on our video, engaging with people face-to-face, and being really cooperative in that endeavor.”
Be intentional about supporting equity in the insurance industry. Register now for Women in Insurance Atlanta – a virtual conference on April 13, 2021 - and join the mission to advance and empower women in the insurance industry.