A Unique Mission to Ensure Equal Representation of Women and Men in Senior Management

Date: Nov 11 2019

Caitlin Rascelles, Vice President, New York Metro Regional Executive, PURE Insurance with Ann Watson, Family Office Exchange

When exploring the landscape of culture in today’s workplace there is a company that stands out. Recently featured in a FOXCast, Mark Galante, President, Field Operations, PURE Insurance, discussed the qualities of PURE’s outstanding culture. One notable element of their culture is PURE’s Women’s Leadership Council, a group formed to mentor high potential female employees and guide them towards leadership. For a closer look at how this program drives talent engagement, below is a conversation FOX recently had with one of its leaders, Caitlin Rascelles.

PURE (Privilege Underwriters Reciprocal Exchange) is a policyholder-owned insurer, known for having an outstanding culture. Here, Caitlin Rascelles discusses a program that was launched three years ago at PURE, The Women’s Leadership Council (WLC), whose goal is: To ensure an equal composition of and contribution from women and men across all levels and functions at PURE. The formal mission is: To keep PURE extraordinary by building a powerful, passionate, network and support system to attract, retain and elevate talented women, while strengthening PURE’s culture of collaboration and community. When this initiative began, about one in every five executives were female. Today, PURE has one in three women executives, with an almost even distribution of male to female employees countrywide. 

“WLC MISSION: To keep PURE extraordinary by building a powerful, passionate, network and support system to attract, retain and elevate talented women, while strengthening PURE’s culture of collaboration and community.”

Ann Watson: Tell me about the culture at PURE that drove the creation of The Women’s Leadership Council three years ago?

Caitlin Rascelles: The culture at PURE encourages all employees to create exceptional results, while continuously challenging themselves to hone in on their own personal and professional development. Since PURE is such a collaborative environment that values contributions from all our employees, our three male founders noticed an opportunity to ensure that there was a more equitable balance of men and women in all roles at PURE. Since this Council was formed there has been a lot of movement in executive development, and PURE has continued to make space for leadership roles for women. Pairing high potential talent with the best mentors and sponsors, and making sure that they are vocal about career advancement opportunities within the firm, ensures that PURE’s female colleagues are amongst the candidate pools for all open positions. The Human Resources department was involved from the beginning to track success metrics and support the logistics of the WLC. In fact, our Chief HR Officer, Katherine Richardson, is an executive sponsor of the WLC, and is heavily involved in helping us drive our initiatives forward. 

AW: What kind of company changes are you seeing in the last few years as a result of the WLC?

CR: I am seeing an increased awareness around including women in all executive development conversations, and in the candidate pools for all our open positions. We want to make sure the best person gets the job but also make sure qualified women are being considered. At our inaugural Women’s Leadership Forum this spring, a theme that emerged was “Reach back and pay it forward.” Sally Helgesen, a featured speaker, discussed how others helped her along the way in her career and how the attendees need to continue this positive momentum. We brought in an incredible panel of speakers that encouraged our younger colleagues to take responsibility for their own upward mobility. Utilizing the resources that are available to them, women create opportunities to build relationships with mentors and sponsors, and to take advantage of different opportunities that PURE offers, including reimbursement for passion courses and professional development. We also discussed creating opportunities to differentiate yourself in the marketplace, and how to be your own best advocate when it comes to development. 

“We want to make sure the best person gets the job and make sure qualified women are being considered.”

This program has become cross-functional and multi-regional. Remote employees have the same access to development programs as their in-office colleagues. There has been a lot of interest from the various offices across the country as “local champions” to take the lead. For example, in Scottsdale, Arizona, the regional office developed a five-part leadership program spearheaded by local women that participate in the WLC. It is just a matter of time before the WLC programs move across the country to all 10 of the PURE offices, and that is one of our 2019 initiatives. We see this regional growth continuing because of the success of the WLC and the commitment from the Corporate Executive Council. Caitlin adds, “No one has told me NO yet, so I keep asking! The support that we feel from our senior leadership around this important initiative is so appreciated, and it inspires all of us on the council to keep going and keep pushing.”

AW: I know mentoring is a big part of your program. Can you tell me a little more about that?

CR: A great story to illustrate how our WLC works to help others: We recently had an underwriter who was interested in raising her hand for a regional underwriting manager position. However, when she looked around the country for assistance in helping her prepare for her interviews, she was disappointed to see that the role she was interviewing for was currently dominated by men. Two WLC members, who held senior level underwriting management positions, teamed up to coach this underwriter through the interview process. As a result, she was offered the role of Regional Underwriting Manager, and through that process has now created a formal mentor relationship with one of the women that helped her prepare. 

A formal sponsorship program was also developed that paired very high potential female employees with executive level sponsors. The participants in the sponsorship program were selected from all ranks and departments within PURE. The focus of the sponsorship initiative is on advocacy and professional development. The group of chosen women must be committed to the mission, willing to learn new skills and be motivated to change. Leadership opportunities, networking events and a commitment to young talent are the pillars of this sponsorship program. The women are strategically paired with executives outside of their core discipline so they would learn the business from several perspectives. This helps to better identify blind spots, become well rounded, and develop into robust candidates for future positions.

“The women are strategically paired with executives outside of their core discipline, so they learn the business from several perspectives.”

AW: Both programs are great illustrations of how mentorship can be an effective component of a successful talent development program. I understand the WLC takes their efforts out into the cities they serve, who are some of the WLC’s community outreach projects? 

RC: Not only is PURE trying to support women in their career growth internally, they are taking the WLC’s mission outside of the company and helping women in many communities. 

PURE sponsors the New York Women’s Foundation (NYWF), which provides funds to the organization and programs within the five boroughs of NYC.  The NYWF have community-led solutions to propel all women, girls, and gender non-conforming individuals living at or below the poverty level towards long term economic security. In addition to being a corporate sponsor, I also represent PURE on the NYWF’s Corporate Leadership Council. In addition, PURE supports me by allowing me the time to dedicate and serve on the executive board of the NYC Association of Insurance Women (NYCAIW). As part of the NYCAIW, PURE has been a very proud host of an annual backpack drive to benefit Sanctuary for Families, a women’s shelter located in the Bronx. Employees at PURE are encouraged to think more broadly and to get involved in their individual communities by volunteering for causes that are important to them. 

SheEO is a national organization that supports, finances, and celebrates female innovators. PURE was supportive of Caitlin becoming an Activator in SheEO, where PURE contributed $1,100 toward selected women entrepreneur start-up companies. The model brings together 500 women (called Activators) in each year’s cohort, who contribute $1,100 each. The money is pooled together and loaned out at zero percent interest to five women-led Ventures selected by the Activators. All Ventures are revenue generating and creating a better world through their business model or their product and service. As an example, the Alinker, a SheEO backed product, is a three-wheeled walking bike designed for anyone that wants to stay active, needs support when walking, and allows people a way to move about more freely.  

“Not only is PURE trying to support women in their career growth internally, they are taking the WLC’s mission outside of the company and helping women in many communities.”

AW: Do you have any recommendations to other organizations who may be considering a similar initiative?

CR: Be clear on your mission and what you want to accomplish. Be diligent in the execution, be patient and choose the right people to drive the initiative. Ultimately, empower employees to go out and create this movement on their own. Grow it from a headquarter’s effort to other locations and outside organizations that fit the mission.