March 8, 2024

Peer networking to inspire inclusion with Jessica Bacelar and Jillian Badanes

In a relationship-centric industry like insurance and reinsurance, your network is central to your day-to-day business success. Whichever side of the business you sit on, the power to achieve your core function successfully will often depend on the connections you’ve made. But a career is much more than the regular tasks designated to your role. Often, there will be situations when your connections can provide so much more.  

The professional network that you invest in will be a constant source of support, knowledge and opportunity throughout your career. However, there is a gender networking gap, as referenced by a LinkedIn study that showed that women are 28% less likely to develop a strong network in comparison their male counterparts. Men and women also network in different ways, with women focusing more on in-depth, long-term relationships that require nurturing and which are often more rewarding as opposed to a wider spread community [2]. Although, women who have networks are using them to good effect, their comparative lack makes it worthwhile to explore how women can better facilitate making connections.  

Often the worth of a network is placed on the strength of relationships across levels of seniority as those can provide the largest amount of knowledge transfer and opportunity. However, the power of peers should not be underestimated for learning and development. Therefore, we spoke with ISC members Jillian Badanes, Growth & Innovation Lead and Jessica Bacelar, Senior Vice President, Key Account Manager both of Swiss Re to learn how their peers have helped them through their careers.  

Q. What impact has the support of an industry peer had on your career development?

Jillian: I think industry peers have been critical to my development. I remember going to a session with a very senior leader and she gave the advice of “many people focus only on finding a mentor that‘s very senior but look around at your peers, you're going to get much more value over time from building deeper relationships with your peers. Those are the people who rise up in the organization over time”. But also they can share your experiences and your network and stories. It's a more natural relationship as well. It resonated with me at the time, whether it's balancing work and life, sharing routines, practices or a specific business challenge, sometimes it’s really helpful to have someone outside of your own group to just share experiences. These relationships have helped encourage me to try something new or take on a new project or go for a new opportunity.

Jessica: I would say it’s had a tremendous impact on me, especially the support of peers here at Swiss Re. Knowing you have somebody you can confide in, bounce ideas off, can really build the confidence to move forward in difficult or uncertain situations and then give you more confidence as you face similar, new situations in the future. Another big thing is having balance as different life events happen, for example, navigating motherhood, and being able to get as much advice from others who have been in the same or similar situations before while also being career oriented.

Jillian: I had a peer who recommended the daycare I use and then another peer sign up her son in the same daycare. These things may seem small, but they are impactful in organising life to enable your career.

In addition to support, peer networks are able to promote a sense of belonging for marginalised and underrepresented employees by amplifying the day-to-day experiences and challenges of those groups. By drawing awareness to these experiences, you can highlight areas in which allies can open doors, collaborate or advocate for their colleagues and so help create a more inclusive culture.

Q. Has your perception of the lived experience of your peers across the industry changed as the product of these relationships?

Jillian: By gaining a greater understanding of everything that someone is bringing with them when they come to work, and awareness of what is going on in their life, we’re able to bring more realism to our relationships and appreciation of what we share and what makes us different.

Jessica: You might come in anxious one day, say, your kid is really sick. I think it's good to be able to have someone to talk to as it can relieve your anxiety, then you can focus on the next task. There's also an element of creating psychological safety so you're not hiding who you are. You're being you, you feel comfortable being yourself and bringing yourself (or "your authentic self") to work. Understanding and being able to relate to the fact that there's going to be throughout your career, so many life changes and things that happen, being able to navigate those challenges while still being able to move forward alongside your peers, you're able to see the humanity in everyone else and feel supported

Q. What importance would you place on networking and building intentional relationships when considering specifically women's career progression?  

Jessica: I think it’s extremely important. My network has been key in introducing me to different people who have been beneficial either to my role or on a personal basis. In that sense, of finding people you can align with, it’s fundamental to women's development.

Jillian: It’s not just about the upwards trajectory. When I think about my network there are people who are much more senior and there are people that are more junior. I get value from all of those relationships in different ways. They challenge me or teach me. I think our industry is a lot about relationships. You collect them as you go and you never know where they will lead you. There's just so much value you gather from building those relationships.

Q. What value have you seen from peer relationships external to your organisation and how did you seek them out?

Jessica: Through this program [ISC], I've developed a mentor relationship with somebody outside of my company. It's interesting to see the differences and the similarities in our journeys. There's also the opportunity to reflect on their development and how they got to their role, especially if they're in a different industry.

Jillian: I went to an [ISC event] attended by women from other insurers and I found it really energising. It was validating to hear some of the same experiences I had gone through, that aren't exclusive to my experience. I also loved to hear about the diverse paths that led women to this industry and the choices they’ve made in terms of job or geographic moves along the way.  

Jessica: The power of expanding your network is expanding your perspective of the lived experiences across the industry and inspiring action. Networking with as many people as possible, understanding that some may have similar experiences or values, or may have a completely different path that you find you can connect with.

Jillian: I came into insurance originally because I met my future manager when I was seeking a mentor. I was working in tech startups at the time. I didn't have a lot of senior women around me where I could see potential career paths. I met her while searching for inspiration from other people and asking, “OK, what do career paths look like? What are the options out there? What are choices that you make?” I guess you never know where that networking will take you.

It can be all too easy to become completely focused on the regular aspects of work and not take the time to look up and consider the long-term impacts of those around you. However, the benefits of a network and specifically one made of up of peers able to empower women to reach the next stage are irrefutable. Moreover, by connecting with a dynamic blend of backgrounds, expertise and access to leadership, industry colleagues are afforded a unique opportunity to actively engage in and shape culture. The relationships that develop between peers can bridge difference, whilst also creating a greater sense of appreciation for varied experiences. As your peers advance their way through their careers and reach senior leadership, the mutual understanding and support will act as an example of truly inclusive culture for those coming up behind you.  




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