Women in STEM: ‘Google Doesn’t Own the Monopoly on Innovation’
By Cathy Scerbo, Vice President and Manager of IT Business Operations, Liberty Mutual Insurance
My mother is part of that generation of women who embraced Gloria Steinem and fought long and hard for freedoms that we today take for granted. And, wow, does that make her mad. Women today should be grateful, she says, for everything her generation did to move the needle on our place in society. By taking for granted all that she and her peers accomplished—think about something as basic as having a credit card in our own name without our husband’s approval—we diminish their struggle. I may be a successful career woman and parent, but my reaction to this argument remains ever that of growing up in a different generation.
I believe that our very ability to take for granted the building blocks put in place by the previous generation of remarkable women is what allows us to make even more progress. Women in my generation attended college without a second thought and integrated into a male-dominated business world highly educated and armed with skills in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) that we parlayed into today’s leadership positions.
Today’s Young Techies
Standing on the building blocks of my generation’s trailblazing accomplishments, college-aged women today are increasingly pursuing degrees in STEM and the corresponding careers in technology, traditionally top-heavy with men. Today’s generation was born with a smartphone in their hand and the image of technology as “only for boys” is quickly fading from memory as Gen Y and Gen Z women turn their natural affinity for tech into fast-paced careers.
In addition to women’s entering STEM careers, today’s work environment has been impacted by the expansion of technology in ways that were unimaginable just five years ago. Microsoft Lync and its IM function have profoundly changed the way we communicate with colleagues. Virtual networks and their secure remote connectivity have provided the tools to make “work-life balance” a reality. Today’s generation is uniquely suited to take full advantage of all of this, including and, especially, with more young women pursuing STEM degrees. To tap into their talent, we need to show college students that Google doesn’t own the monopoly on innovation and that there are cool, challenging, innovative technology careers everywhere.
For example, STEM is a highly valued area of expertise and an important part of the insurance business—from actuaries and data analysts to IT professionals who create the systems and products that keep us competitive. But with the increased need in every industry—not just insurance—for STEM skills, we have to be innovative in how we engage with these highly-sought-after candidates. So we adapted our recruitment collateral, increasing the interactive aspects and “showing not telling” that insurance is a technology-rich career. To reach female STEM college students and professionals, we were a major sponsor of the Grace Hopper conference, a large national recruiting event for women in the U.S., and created a booth experience that included a roaming iPad robot to demonstrate Liberty’s innovative culture. While our recruiter physically remained at the Liberty Mutual booth, she “traveled” the conference via the roaming iPad and encouraged people to come to the booth to interact with us.
Another area where Google and Amazon don’t own a monopoly is in the use of drones. Drones are an exciting area for insurers and the benefits of drone technology cuts across all of our insurance products. Drones can help our personal insurance customers better understand the damage to their properties; they can help our commercial and global specialty clients better control the total cost of claims by getting a more accurate picture of the damage and engaging the right resources to do necessary repairs and look at opportunities in underwriting, risk engineering and risk monitoring.
High School Outreach
Our need for employees with STEM skills is so great that we have started engaging with high school and middle school students to encourage them to pursue STEM in college and increase our candidate pool. In Boston we bring select high school students into our office to spend the day with our actuarial executives who discuss the real-world applications of a math degree. In New Hampshire, our women’s employee resource group organized in-school events at two local middle schools for the international Hour of Code, to interest young boys and girls in coding. And in Washington State, Liberty sponsored the annual Actuarial Foundation scholarship, in which high school students compete to solve a “Kagglesque” problem.
There are so many opportunities young women at all age levels can—and should—take for granted. By not resting on our laurels and helping this next generation of women leaders seize all of the opportunities available to them, we honor the progress that we and the previous generations of women have made. Keeping that torch lit for others to find their path is, in the end, the best form of “gratitude” we can show my mother and her generation.