Put your hand up and take risks, says insurance leader

Put your hand up and take risks, says insurance leader

Put your hand up. Sometimes, that simple act of self-nomination is all it takes to kickstart a positive career trajectory. And yet sometimes, it feels like that arm is weighed down by a lead balloon.

Maybe it’s a lack of confidence to self-nominate or offer up an idea. Maybe it’s down to time constraints. Maybe it’s due to a lack of support, mentorship or sponsorship. Whatever the reason behind that lead balloon, it’s a burden that a lot of women in insurance have carried over the years … and it’s one that we need to cut loose.

Tracey Sharis (pictured) has faced her share of challenges and self-doubt during her successful 26-year insurance career. The senior vice president and director of programs at Ironshore, Liberty Mutual’s North America specialty insurance group, will be sharing insights based on her own personal experiences about how to navigate self-doubt as a rising leader at Insurance Business America’s upcoming Women in Insurance conference in Boston on April 07.

Sharis began her career with AIG’s Lexington Insurance Company in 1994. While at Lexington Insurance, she served in various leadership roles including having oversight of the company’s employment practices liability group, chief innovation officer, head of risk & economic capitol modeling, and product line manager in Lexington’s property group overseeing capacity up to $1.5 billion.

She left the AIG firm in 2009 and took a job as managing director with Aon Benfield. There she served as a property facultative reinsurance broker and was responsible for the creation of FAConnect, an online insurance exchange that she described as “somewhat revolutionary in what it achieved.” In 2011, Sharis joined Ironshore, where she teamed up with an executive team rich in AIG alumni, and since then the specialty insurance company has achieved significant growth, spurred on via the Liberty Mutual acquisition in 2017.

Reflecting on her career, Sharis said: “A lot of it was about putting my hand up. I was working in financial services areas that were historically male driven when other women didn’t necessarily want to be in those areas. But I’ve been lucky throughout my career in that I’ve had both male and female mentors. Largely, that’s dictated by the fact that 25-years-ago, there weren’t many women in the upper roles to provide that mentorship and support. That’s changed a bit now.”

Sharis made what she described as “a pretty radical change” to her career in 2003. She was running the employment practices liability group at Lexington Insurance, with a focus on third-party liability, when an opportunity came along to switch over to the first-party liability side in order to shore up their economic capitol modeling.

She put her hand up. With the benefit of hindsight, she admitted that internally she was questioning: “How am I going to do this?” But externally, she took the plunge and made the change. This action kickstarted a new phase in Sharis’s professional career – one in which she understood how to give the boot to self-doubt and take new challenges head on.  

“Both men and women can suffer from imposter syndrome in the workplace,” she told Insurance Business. “The foundations of resolving it lie in cognizant behavioral therapy and encouraging folks to challenge their thoughts (especially those that are negative), clarify their personal stance on things, and change your behavior in reaction to those thoughts. It’s important to discuss those thoughts with other people so that you don’t feel isolated. A lot of self-doubt is born out of isolation and fantastical thinking that creates scenarios that don’t actually exist.”

To hear more from Sharis and a host of other trailblazers that are celebrating and empowering women in insurance, register for Insurance Business America’s Women in Insurance Boston on April 07, and Atlanta on April 14.