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Celebrating International Women’s Day

Coronavirus canceled our International Women’s Day plans, but we didn’t let that stop us from learning from the Haven Ladies about life as a woman in tech.

At Haven Life, we were set to celebrate International Women’s Day with a series of panels in our New York City office when the ongoing coronavirus pandemic forced us to postpone our plans. We didn’t let that stop us, however, from marking the occasion anyway, and using it to foster a deeper understanding of what we, and our industry at large, are doing right — and to learn where there’s still room for improvement.

To do so, we spoke with a number of women at Haven Life (while following social distancing protocols, of course) to hear more about their experiences, and how we can all do better. Here’s what we learned, organized by topic.

On representation in the workplace

Although the percentages are improving, both tech and insurance are still male-dominated fields, which means that women who work in them sometimes have the experience of “walking into a room and being the only person who looks like you,” as Anja Draskovic, a Full Stack Engineer, puts it. That can be a challenge. “At my old job,” she says. “I was the youngest person on a team of senior-level male engineers – speaking up and trying to be included was a huge problem.”

Being one of only a few women can also have other effects, says Aneesha Deshpande, Head of Product Innovation. “When I worked in more traditional insurance environments, I used to feel a lot of pressure to curb the way I was expressing myself,” she says. “Something I struggled with – and I’ve talked to my girlfriends about this – is that sometimes we have to dress less feminine. Wearing frilly skirts, makeup and these things can feel out of place if the majority of the office is male,” and it’s possible to wonder if you’ll be taken less seriously because of your appearance.

Is that different at Haven Life? “For sure. The culture at Haven Life is completely different from traditional insurance businesses,” she says. “You can feel it right when you walk in the office. The diversity that you see – not just in terms of gender but the other aspects – was quite a culture shock. I’m an actuary, and most of the actuaries at Haven Life are women – it’s very empowering.”

"I’m an actuary, and most of the actuaries at Haven Life are women – it’s very empowering.”

—Aneesha Deshpande, Head of Product Innovation

On empowering each other

So is the tech industry a good place for women to flourish professionally? “Absolutely,” says Deshpande. “It’s a great place for women to grow and develop. At Haven Life, we have very strong women in leadership positions that serve as mentors. I’m a prime example of development. I was in a product actuary role before and now I’ve been promoted in less than a year.” Draskovic considers tech to be an industry with “so much opportunity. For women it’s welcoming,” she says. “I would say tech is extremely progressive; the industry has worked to get over a lot of stereotypes.”

That doesn’t mean the industry can’t do more, though. “Haven Life recently had a winter intern program specifically oriented towards female interns,” says Deshpande. “That’s a good example of how companies can work towards equalizing the two different populations in the workplace, by providing accessibility to job experience for younger women.” Draskovic has noticed, by volunteering with Girls Who Code, that a lot of female college students think tech is only for people with backgrounds in math or science – subjects which are often stereotypically thought of as “male.” She says it’s important for people to understand that “there is a lot of opportunity in tech, not just for people who are interested in those subjects. It’s an expanding universe of things you can do.”

On motherhood and the workplace

“One thing tech provides that a lot of the older traditional industries don’t is a lot of flexibility,” says Deshpande. That’s particularly important for mothers. Janna Mullane, Haven Life’s Head of People and Culture, has two young children and works between New York and Massachusetts. She likes the fact that Haven Life is in-office based, but, “When I think about the ability for me to work remotely if I have to, or to work different hours to make up time or get back to someone on a different schedule, I think that’s super fortunate,” she says. “I also think my colleagues are very comfortable working with people who may not be sitting right next to them. They have that tech acumen, so it’s easy to collaborate remotely.”

This is seconded by Laura Boylan, Head of Underwriting Solutions, a new mother who recently returned to full-time work. “My son is going to be 7 months old tomorrow, and he’s sitting next to me looking at me while I talk to you on the phone,” she says. “That’s not what I was expecting today, but his daycare has just closed indefinitely because of the coronavirus.” Luckily, “my job is flexible, I can work from home if I need to. The company culture is really supportive. I feel lucky to be in the world I’m in. I love my job, my team is so amazing, so supportive and it’s been surprisingly joyful to return to work. I was so anxious about it and it turned out to be the best possible thing for my mental health.” Inevitably, having a child has meant that Laura “can’t get as much done, but becoming a mother has been awesome for me team because it’s made me a better manager,” she says. “I’ve had to delegate more because I have less time. It’s given my team members the opportunity to really blossom – I’ve given them more responsibility, which has been good for everybody.”

Businesses can still do more to help mothers in the workplace. “Providing paternity leave is one of the best things companies can do to support moms,” says Boylan. “When women give birth they don’t have a choice about taking time away from work,” she says, but that doesn’t mean that they can or should do child care on their own. “A lot of men who have paternity leave feel a pressure not to take it,” she says. “My company is very supportive of men taking paternity leave, but until we as a society normalize every parent taking time off after the birth of a child, it’s always going to be challenging to women,” since they end up shouldering more than their share of the burden.

That’s particularly unfair since there are already certain parts of child rearing that mothers can’t hand off to their partners. Before becoming a mother, says Boylan, “one thing I didn’t understand was how time-consuming and important breastfeeding and pumping is for moms that choose to and are able to. In order to maintain breastfeeding at home you really have to pump every three hours. You’re on a fairly fixed schedule, it’s time consuming, it requires space and a fridge and a sink. Making people more aware of what that entails would be helpful. We have a lovely mothers’ room at Haven Life with everything we need and a nice leather chair,” but if that kind of thing was standard across the industry it would make work easier for working mothers.

“Providing paternity leave is one of the best things companies can do to support moms."

—Laura McKiernan Boylan, Head of Underwriting Solutions

On why everyone should honor this day

Companies can support all women – parents or otherwise – by “acknowledging the fact that gender inequality is a reality,” says Draskovic. “It can’t be ignored just because you don’t see it. Even Haven Life wanting to celebrate different initiatives throughout the year, like International Women’s Day and Black History Month, is extremely important. It shows everybody, ‘Hey this is what we’re about.’ More exposure to all of these experiences will create a connection and those things in time will start becoming habits.

As much as companies should support their female employees, their male colleagues also need to do the same thing. The best way is to do two things which may seem contradictory: be aware of gender bias and treat people as if gender isn’t a factor. Says Deshpande: “Be mindful of the fact that there is an underrepresentation of women in the workplace, so there will be biases. Most people aren’t trying to be malevolent, but you can curb those biases by being aware of them.”

At the same time, one of the best ways for men to support their female colleagues is to “just think of them as colleagues,” independent of gender, says Draskovic. In the end, treating all people as true equals in the workplace will help improve things. Beyond being the right thing to do, it has tangible benefits for businesses. “Being mindful of this issue will result in your female workers’ productivity being increased,” says Deshpande. “And that’s going to work toward the better of your company.”

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Photos of Laura McKiernan Boylan were taken by Christine Han for Cup of Jo.

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About Michael Davis

Read more by Michael Davis

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Haven Life is a customer-centric life insurance agency that’s backed and wholly owned by Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company (MassMutual). We believe navigating decisions about life insurance, your personal finances and overall wellness can be refreshingly simple.

Our editorial policy

Haven Life is a customer centric life insurance agency that’s backed and wholly owned by Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company (MassMutual). We believe navigating decisions about life insurance, your personal finances and overall wellness can be refreshingly simple.

Our content is created for educational purposes only. Haven Life does not endorse the companies, products, services or strategies discussed here, but we hope they can make your life a little less hard if they are a fit for your situation.

Haven Life is not authorized to give tax, legal or investment advice. This material is not intended to provide, and should not be relied on for tax, legal, or investment advice. Individuals are encouraged to seed advice from their own tax or legal counsel.

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Haven Term is a Term Life Insurance Policy (DTC and ICC17DTC in certain states, including NC) issued by Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company (MassMutual), Springfield, MA 01111-0001 and offered exclusively through Haven Life Insurance Agency, LLC. In NY, Haven Term is DTC-NY 1017. In CA, Haven Term is DTC-CA 042017. Haven Term Simplified is a Simplified Issue Term Life Insurance Policy (ICC19PCM-SI 0819 in certain states, including NC) issued by the C.M. Life Insurance Company, Enfield, CT 06082. Policy and rider form numbers and features may vary by state and may not be available in all states. Our Agency license number in California is OK71922 and in Arkansas 100139527.

MassMutual is rated by A.M. Best Company as A++ (Superior; Top category of 15). The rating is as of Aril 1, 2020 and is subject to change. MassMutual has received different ratings from other rating agencies.

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