Senior Vice President & Chief of Strategy at Symetra

Can you describe your path to becoming Chief of Strategy at Symetra?

It all started when I took my first accounting course at Bellevue College and fell in love with it. From there, I transferred to Seattle University and began to figure out my passions and direction career-wise. During college, I interned for Ernest and Young, and eventually went full-time with them for four years and was able to learn about many different sectors and companies. I eventually landed at Symetra, starting as an individual contributor helping the company prepare to go public. I spent most of my career in the accounting and finance space until recently, when our CEO asked me to help create a strategic vision for Symetra, a north star that we could all rally around. I spent about a year working with the executive team and others in the organization to develop our strategy, “Symetra Empowers”. Our vision is to create a world where more people have access to financial freedom. This led to the creation of my role as the Chief of Strategy where I focus on how to bring “Symetra Empowers” to life.

What projects and goals are you currently working towards?

At this time of the year, we’re trying to either reset, reestablish, or reaffirm the enterprise priorities. I work across the organization to determine our goals, resources, and ultimately what success looks like in the organization. Currently, I’m leading an effort to build a digital platform and am learning so much about technology and how it can be leveraged to improve and disrupt how financial transactions are done today. That includes financial products, the contracting process, the pricing process, actuarial work, etc. I’ve also been working to develop the operational infrastructure around the technology.The better part of this year has been around building out the digital platform.

Can you describe your experience as a woman in leadership at Symetra?

My experience at Symetra has been incredible. I have worked with the CEO and the Corporate Controller, who are both women, for 14 years now. I have also had several colleagues in the finance leadership team who are women. Sometimes, I have to check myself when I talk with women in the technical teams where the gender balance is so different and I can't relate to the challenges they face because I am part of a team where women are in leadership positions. In working with the women in the technology sector, I have grown to appreciate what a privilege that is.

What are some of the challenges you have faced during your career?

In college, I decided to apply for an internship at one of the big four accounting firms, Ernst & Young. There was a girl in one of my classes who had interned there previously so I asked her for advice on the application process. She said, “they only hire the best people” which implied that I wasn’t qualified enough. Honestly, I almost didn’t apply. In hindsight, I realize that she might have just been defensive because the role was so competitive and she had worked really hard for it. However, it’s important to remember that we should celebrate individual successes because there is room for everyone to thrive.

I have also faced challenges later in my career. I have three children so it can be almost impossible to balance being a mother and a working professional. After having my second child, I turned to female colleagues who had older children and asked how they were able handle it. Across the board, they said that they took a break from work. It was a stunning moment to realize that that was just how women had to navigate the workforce. I think it’s important to see people who have been successful through a difficult time similar to yours, but in my case I had no role models.

What traits do you think have contributed most to your success?

I am very outcome-driven and truly believe that where there’s a will there is a way. That definitely contributes to my success because I am good at balancing priorities. I love good questions, iterative thinking, and challenges but I’m also hyper-focused on delivering the outcome. When I work with others, I am able to affirm and acknowledge our differences while also aligning my team members under one goal.

What advice would you give to young girls pursuing a career in STEM?

Hard is not bad, hard is just hard. Take that class, learn that skill, apply for that job even though it might be challenging. If something is difficult, see it as an opportunity to improve and grow. Ultimately, show your grit, show up, and do the hard work.