Why women need to keep raising their hands | Insurance Business America
Christina Geller (pictured) started in insurance straight out of college. From ratings management and industry analysis to financial planning and analysis, Geller worked across multiple disciplines, driven by her desire to learn more. She was intrigued by the operations side of the business, and when the company began looking for directors’ and officers’ underwriters and asked the finance group if there were any analysts who were interested, Geller didn’t hesitate to raise her hand.
“Going to the underwriting side was out of my comfort zone, and a bit of a risk because it was outside my career trajectory at the time,” said Geller, now senior vice president, national financial institutions product leader at AXIS Insurance. “But early on in my career a mentor gave me great advice: if you’re given the opportunity to try something new, take the risk. What’s the worst that can happen?”
That approach served Geller well and underwriting was a good blend of her skillsets: analytical work as well as sales, marketing, talking to clients about their exposures and problem-solving solutions. But as she progressed in her underwriting career, at times she felt stuck. The advice she received at that point was to think about her values and sift through competing priorities, including in her personal life. In evaluating what her next goal would be, Geller took a hard look at her life: did she need increased flexibility at work, a different corporate culture, more management experience, an opportunity to learn new skills? She also kept track of what tasks energized her versus which exhausted her because “it’s important to be self-aware – that helps you figure out what will give you the most job satisfaction,” Geller noted.
Geller accepted her role as a financial institutions product leader in part because it offered her a blank canvas. As well as handling the responsibilities of a traditional insurance product manager, she’s had the opportunity to redesign the make-up of the team with the end goal of greater efficiency and collaboration. Going from a structure that was more traditionally linear in authority to breaking out into the field by having experts focused on different asset classes within financial institutions share knowledge with different regions and respective underwriters, Geller is thriving as she shapes the future of the team, soaks up more knowledge and has increased opportunity to share her own.
A driving force for Geller is helping others with career development, and she measures her success by her ability to help her team do their jobs better whether that be through analytical tools such as benchmarking data or by presenting ongoing underwriting exposures developing in real time – such as SPAC and DeSPAC litigation trends – or thinking about ESG initiatives and how COVID impacts the financial institutions sector by asset class. Geller is also passionate about diversity and inclusion and dedicating herself to initiatives that give her the “something more” she has craved throughout her career.
“I facilitated DEI workshops at CNA 20 years ago and now I’m doing it in a grassroots way with AXIS by co-chairing the Women’s Employee Resource Group in its first year, fully supported by the board, senior management and HR,” Geller said. “I want to help others with my lived experience, what I’ve learned from mentors, coaches, women’s leadership programs, and the practical skills I was taught. If people succeed based on our interaction, that’s what success means to me.”
In the spirit of sharing her insights, Geller is speaking at the upcoming Women in Insurance Chicago event. Her panel’s message – “Creating a space for everyone” – is one she stands behind wholeheartedly. Through management experience, courses she’s taken, and much self-exploration, Geller has come to the simple yet powerful realization: not everybody is like you.
Everyone has different personalities as well as skillsets, strengths, weaknesses and communication styles. While you tend to lean towards people who are similar to you and overlook others, it’s important to recognize your team is stronger if you create space for everyone. As a team building exercise, Geller gave her employees and her manager the DiSC analysis profile which measures dimensions of an individual’s personality and they came together as a team to discuss the results.
“It gave us a deeper understanding of how we interact and made us aware that we might rub each other the wrong way because of those differences, and, more importantly, how could we leverage those differences to be a stronger team,” Geller said.
It’s also important to create space for yourself, Geller noted. During the pandemic especially, she made a point of having weekly one-on-one checkpoints with her team to discuss what they’re going through personally and professionally. Women especially do a lot of multi-tasking in life as moms, partners and professionals and tend to be their own worst critics. It serves nobody to burn yourself out trying to do everything, Geller warned, and, as far as she’s come in her career, she’s held on to her sense of self. In many ways she’s still that eager, curious young woman seeking a challenge – and she’s still putting her hand up.
“Step back, look at what you’ve accomplished and celebrate that, but don’t be afraid to continue trying different opportunities,” Geller said. “Life has so much to offer.”
To learn more from Christina as well as from other successful women on a variety of topics, reserve your spot at the Women in Insurance event today.