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Thriving As A Woman In a Male-Dominated Industry: Bobbie Collies of Coterie Insurance On The Five Things You Need To Thrive and Succeed as a Woman In a Male-Dominated Industry

An Interview With Candice Georgiadis

Understand gender biases exist and are not going away. You have to manage your behavior within an organization and expect other people to have gender biases. It’s not about getting rid of them because that’s impossible but focus on a better awareness around them. Understand that as a woman, you’re going to be in a more difficult position than your male peers and you’re going to have to work harder to get where you need to go. That’s a fact.

In the United States in 2022, fields such as Aircraft piloting, Agriculture, Architecture, Construction, Finance, and Information technology, are still male-dominated industries. For a woman who is working in a male-dominated environment, what exactly does it take to thrive and succeed? In this interview series, we are talking to successful women who work in a Male-Dominated Industry who can share their stories and experiences about navigating work and life as strong women in a male-dominated industry. As a part of this series, we had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Bobbie Collies.

Bobbie Collies is an insurance junkie that comes from an extensive background in commercial underwriting and P&C insurance carrier leadership. She is Chief Growth Officer at Coterie Insurance and a passionate servant leader who loves to help drive strategy and execution. She is a champion for innovation, customer experience, and a change agent. Some might describe her as a “intrapreneur,” always looking for ways to improve the organizations she works with by bringing new ideas to the table, and more importantly, seeing those ideas come to life.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, can you tell us the story about what led you to this particular career path?

I started as a underwriting trainee out of college, working in various underwriting and underwriting leadership roles for different insurance carriers. Then in 2016, I was tagged to do a strategic research project at the company I was working for about how technology will impact the future of the independent insurance agency channel.

Delving into discovery and research about insurtechs, what problems they were solving and how they planned to solve them, enabled me to get a deep dive look at how the insurance industry was changing. I pulled multiple data points together to see where our overall industry was going and how insurance carriers would need to change their strategies to stay relevant.

The project brought me to the realization that the insurance industry was going to have a revolutionary change in how we do business. I had been in the industry for 15 years at that point and nothing had changed. The way we transacted business, acquired new customers, underwrote risk and serviced policies had been almost stagnant for a decade and a half. I had a unique opportunity that allowed me to see over the horizon and I wanted to be a part of the change wave.

Instead of sitting and observing, I wanted to be in the driver’s seat and get ahead of the future changes. I kind of became an insurtech junkie which ultimately led me down the path of joining Coterie Insurance.

You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?

Assertiveness — a lot of the time women are not comfortable with assertiveness in male-dominated workplaces. I tried to not hold back even if it was uncomfortable if I felt what needed to be said was best for our team or for our company. It is unfortunate that assertiveness can sometimes be perceived as aggressiveness, particularly for women. That said, I have worked hard on a delicate balance of the amount of assertiveness for any given situation, but it was and continues to be a learning process.

Emotional intelligence is something I worked really hard on improving over the years because that skill in and of itself is a very high predictor of success. Investing development in your emotional intelligence is one of the best investments you can make as a leader. It will serve you tenfold not only personally for your own development but also in the development of those on your team and any mentorship relationships. I continue to spend time working on emotional intelligence so I can be a better leader. That said, it’s been more difficult to exercise high levels of EQ in a virtual work environment. Common social queues are not as easily read through a video conference and the level of effort it takes to stay self-aware is much higher.

Lastly, a high level of curiosity. I always want to know and understand more which leads me to successfully executing on plans and developing strategies for success moving forward. Take the research project I worked on in 2016. Prior to that, I had not taken the time to really consider the impact technology was going to have on our industry. As soon as I was able to dig in, I realized how large the opportunity was and that forever changed the direction of my career.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. Can you help articulate a few of the biggest obstacles or challenges you’ve had to overcome while working in a male-dominated industry?

Early on in my career, the largest obstacle was finding female mentors and leaders to aspire to as insurance was very male dominated. I was super fortunate when I first became a leader to have a female leader as my direct boss. That said, there was a lot of trail-blazing and breaking through male-domination earlier in my career. That was super challenging, as there were not a lot of other examples to follow. I had to figure it out as I went.

At points in time, I understood accomplishing a goal was more important than having an idea be mine. I would intentionally seed ideas with male leaders to take my idea and then present it so the idea would receive the respect and consideration it deserved. There were countless times when I would call a male leader to ask him to bring up an idea of mine because I truly felt it was best for the business. Sure enough, he would do so and the idea would be accepted when before, I wasn’t listened to when I brought it up. While not ideal, keeping my eye on what was best for the business served me well.

Can you share a few of the things you have done to gain acceptance among your male peers and the general work community? What did your female co-workers do? Can you share some stories or examples?

This might not have ever been intentional as to me, it’s more about what is the right thing to do to get results. I focused my energy on being the leader that my team needed to set them up for success.

It wasn’t intentional for me to say I need to get acceptance; I did what I thought needed to be done and the right thing for the business. Things fell in place for a result.

What do you think male-oriented organizations can do to enhance their recruiting efforts to attract more women?

It’s more about once women are in the door, how do you develop them? I love the idea of having female leaders mentor male high-potential leaders so they experience a balance on leadership between the genders. There is a different style women bring to leadership, and a style that can benefit every employee no matter their gender.

From a recruitment perspective, it’s difficult for a female to come into a male-dominated leadership team. You almost have to start with developing from within for higher roles, as well as making a concerted effort to recruit female board members, and then everything from there will fall into place.

If the entire senior leadership team and the board of directors are men, it doesn’t feel like there’s a clear path or career into senior leadership for women.

Ok thank you for all of that. Here is the main question of our interview. Based on your opinion and experience, what are the “Five Things You Need To Thrive and Succeed as a Woman In a Male-Dominated Industry?” (Please share a story or example for each.)

  1. Understand gender biases exist and are not going away. You have to manage your behavior within an organization and expect other people to have gender biases. It’s not about getting rid of them because that’s impossible but focus on a better awareness around them. Understand that as a woman, you’re going to be in a more difficult position than your male peers and you’re going to have to work harder to get where you need to go. That’s a fact.
  2. Having a male mentor as an advocate is important. In a male-dominated workplace, it’s critical to get the information you need to advance, and to have a better lens into how the leadership is functioning. Having a male champion that truly believes in developing women is key. Also, we must understand that men play a huge role in helping women in advance in male-dominated industries.
  3. Get a female mentor to help you navigate through gender biases and their experiences so you’re not making the same mistakes they made. A female mentor provides guidance that a male mentor cannot. Not only can a female mentor be a safe haven, a woman can problem-solve specific situations unique to women.
  4. Confidence — looking over my career, I’ve never let being the only woman in the room get to me. I lead knowing what I have to say or do is just as important as anyone else. Confidence tells me to keep raising my hand and to keep contributing because what I have to say is just as valuable as my male peers.
  5. Assertiveness — women in both professional and personal relationships don’t always advocate for themselves or say what they need or want. We’re conditioned to get along. Women are less likely to negotiate their salary, putting them at a financial disadvantage. Being assertive means standing up for yourself and your ideas, and not being afraid to ask for what you want.

If you had a close woman friend who came to you with a choice of entering a field that is male-dominated or female-dominated, what would you advise her? Would you advise a woman friend to start a career in a field or industry that’s traditionally been mostly men? Can you explain what you mean?

I don’t think it matters. I would advise her to chase her dreams — if the field is dominated by one gender, that’s circumstantial. If you’re truly passionate about the field and you can immerse yourself into it, do it. There will be different challenges in both paths. The way the world is going with more of a focus on DEI, there might be more opportunities in male-dominated industry. That shouldn’t be a trigger for the decision, however. Consider what you want to do, then find the right people to surround you. I highly recommend a personal board of directors. This is a group of people who can help you, coach you, call you out, and build you up in your career. That’s been key to my success.

Have you seen things change for women working in male-dominated industries, over the past ten years? How do you anticipate that it might improve in the future? Can you please explain what you mean?

I see more women in insurance having a seat at the table. The improvement in the future is seeing women expand their influence on decision-making, strategy, and leadership at their organizations. Just because women have a seat at the table, doesn’t mean there is true influence on direction of company. As more senior level women gain credibility over time, female influence in decision-making will increase.

We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.

Sarah Blakely who is the CEO of Spanx. She’s a fabulous human being, her leadership for her organization and her investment into women in general is admirable. I’d love to have coffee with her and talk through challenges, and understand her story at a deeper level.

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.

Thriving As A Woman In a Male-Dominated Industry: Bobbie Collies of Coterie Insurance On The Five… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.