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Apr 2020

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Prepared to speak up

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Source: Asia Insurance Review | Feb 2020

Barbara Scalzi is UnderwriteMe’s director of Asia business operations, a subsidiary of Pacific Life Re. Moving from the banking industry to insurance, Ms Scalzi has had a successful career in traditionally male-dominated sectors. We get her input on the topic of diversity and inclusion. 
By Ahmad Zaki
 
 
The main difference in her current role is that she is less distant from the customer, said Ms Scalzi. The learning curve was steeper than usual, moving from banking to insurance, as there were new acronyms, jargon, processes and products to learn. “And I need to learn those of my clients as well, because in order for me to be effective in my job, I need to understand each of our clients’ processes and range of products.”
 
The most challenging experience for her, throughout her career, was in transitioning into her current role with UnderwriteMe. “I was entering a completely new world, with a very steep learning curve. And a number of months into that experience, finding myself in a situation where I had to juggle multiple client commitments and project deliveries at the same time as having to rebuild my team and learning a whole new world,” she said. “It was a very challenging time. I think what was really helpful at the time was to have incredibly supportive management teams from both UnderwriteMe and Pacific Life Re.”
 
On the flipside, that experience ended up being the most rewarding for her a year later, after she had managed to fulfil commitments and saw the results of her work. “It was completely different from my previous roles in that now, I can see the contributions made by my team. In the last few years alone, UnderwriteMe in Asia has really taken off, and I’m proud to be a part of the team that made it happen. We have received lots of good feedback from our clients, ranging from the speed of the implementation to the UnderwriteMe technology itself. All these serve as positive reinforcements for my team and me to work consistently harder to serve our clients better.” 
 
Saying your piece
The advice Ms Scalzi gave other young women who are thinking of joining the finance or tech industries is simple: “Be prepared.”
 
“As a woman in a junior position, you’ll be walking into a lot of rooms with men in more senior positions. And it will be very scary. What I’ve learned through all these years is that the best way to be less scared is to go in prepared. If you don’t know things, find out. And the second thing I’ve learned is to never go into a room without making it a point to participate. Have courage, develop a voice,” she said. 
 
Preparation helps women contribute in what would otherwise be an intimidating situation, she said. “If you’re convinced that what you’re saying is right, then say it. Obviously say it in the right way. Use your negotiation and your influencing skills, but don’t remain quiet because you think that they are not going to listen. People will naturally listen if you’re seen to be providing something valuable.”
 
Being inclusive
While attitudes on diversity have changed over the past decade, inclusivity is still an elusive goal for many companies. Her advice is to be open-minded and patient. “Everyone acknowledges that we are diverse. However, there is still some room for improvement in terms of understanding and accepting the fact that if you have different people from different backgrounds, they will speak and think differently.” It is about awareness and education, and it will be a multi-year process, she said. UnderwriteMe and Pacific Life Re have begun by forming small committees to engage the workforce in a similar way they engage their clients – finding out issues within the workplace, problems that might only affect a small subset of the staff and resolving those issues.
 
“One thing that was clear from the start was how passionate my colleagues are about this. It took five minutes just to say, you know, we are putting together this committee, is anyone interested? And you get lots of hands,” she said. A 
 
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