An Interview with our COO, Fran Young
March is Women’s History Month and this year it is recognized across social media with the hashtag, #ChooseToChallenge, which focuses on challenging inequality, calling out bias, questioning stereotypes, and working to create an inclusive world.
We are capping off Women’s History Month 2021 with an interview with someone who truly knows what it means to challenge the antiquated view of women in the workplace-Francine (Fran) Young, Chief Operating Officer at Nippon Life Benefits.
Someone meeting Fran for the first time wouldn’t need to pry hard to understand that Fran is a realist. And working in the insurance industry, which historically has been a difficult industry for women to break into, she’s had to be. She knows there is a lot of work to do. She knows what it would take to get it done. And she’s the type of person to do it. We wanted to find out more.
NLB: What led you to work in the insurance industry and on to Nippon Life Benefits?
F: Right out of college, I decided I wanted to live in Boston and that is where I got my start in the benefits business. I happened to walk by New England Life and saw they were hiring group reps, which at the time was an uncommon role for women. I was hired into their group training class and was among the first female group reps New England Life ever hired.
I stayed there for 15 years before moving on to New York Life. There I had my first female boss, which I found incredibly transformative both personally and professionally, and the things I learned from her would help to shape my career.
From there, I continued my career at other insurance companies but always had a desire to work in international business. The role of VP of Sales at Nippon Life Benefits checked all the boxes for me and I would go on to eventually move into my current role as the first permanent COO in 2011.
NLB: What qualities do you think make a good leader?
F: For any leader, it doesn’t matter how talented or smart you are if you lack the core principles that help to drive a team -integrity, transparency, courage, and trust. With those qualities, especially trust, you can get almost anything done. Hire good people and get out of the way. Micromanagement is the death of creativity. Also, a sense of humor goes a long way anytime you are dealing with people.
Nippon Life Benefits, though small, has been as successful because these qualities are evident throughout the organization.
NLB: What women inspire you?
F: There are so many! Just to name a few;
- My mother - she is the embodiment of resilience
- My daughter
- The women in leadership at NLB!
- My first female boss
- Katharine Graham who took over the Washington Post to become the first ever CEO of a Fortune 500 Company
- Katherine Johnson, whose work on the first crewed spaceflights were critical to their success
- Pat Summit, NCAA Championship Women’s basketball coach from Tennessee
- Women of science, especially Marie Curie who revolutionized her field even at the expense of her own health
NLB: Are there any assumptions about women that you would like to change?
F: Yes! The ideas that women are weak, emotional, not committed, and want to be liked too much. This industry, like many in the financial services sector, has been traditionally male dominated. It’s up to all of us, especially women in leadership, to support other women. We need to amplify good ideas and give credit where it is due, but also be willing to call it out when someone doesn’t.
NLB: What do you think will be the biggest challenge for the generations of women behind you?
F: Balancing a career and home life, specifically in regards to child care. The way child care is currently set up and how it’s viewed by people prevents women from moving forward. There needs to be a foundational change in how we view women in the workplace, and also how childcare is provided in the US.
Women often have to pretend. Whether it be in the workplace, pretending you don’t have a family and that work comes first, or as a parent, pretending you don’t have a career so as to avoid being judged by other parents. One of the things the pandemic has shown us is that flexibility can enhance productivity for everyone.
I’ve been fortunate to see positive change over the course of my career and believe there is more good news to come!
This Women’s History Month, Nippon Life Benefits thanks the women who have paved the way to make it possible for Fran and others like her to be successful. However, we acknowledge that there is plenty more to be done. We stand by our promise to challenge inequality, question stereotypes, and keep working to help create a more inclusive world.