As an insurance company, Allstate knows the importance of having a team that reflects the diverse range of customers they serve. Allstate has made many strides to promote an inclusive workplace. Their programs, including the Emerging Leader Program and Women in Technology at Allstate (WITA), encourage women to join the tech field and help them thrive in their careers.
We spoke with Marisela Brum, the Director of Technology for Encompass Insurance, to discuss how she got involved with tech and how she is working with Allstate to further support the company’s female technicians. Read on for a short Q&A. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
What got you interested in tech?
I came from a humble background. My parents emigrated from Mexico, and there was no higher education background in my family. The high school I went to was a small Christian academy, and there were very few resources for me for after graduation. I didn’t know my options.
I had a part-time job and one of my co-workers had gone into the Marines. He came back and told me all about his experience. I didn’t know if college was an option for me, but I knew joining the Armed Forces was. I joined the Navy with no designation. Your designation is a lot like your major in college—you can take some time to figure out what designation you want to go into. I worked at the Naval War College and my roommates and friends were in data processing. They were the ones who introduced data processing to me and got me interested. I worked with them and found out I was pretty good at it, so I made it my designation.
During my time at the War College, I was setting up computers in rooms, setting up the servers, setting up the network, etc. Then I moved forward to a telecommunications station in Puerto Rico where I managed the IT shop at the station and did server and desktop support. I did many different tech-related roles.
How did you get into insurance?
When I was done with my service in the Navy, I returned home to Chicago and worked. I had received my degree in psychology as I thought I wanted to be a psychiatrist, but I had no experience, so it was hard to find a job in that field. I worked in tech roles and happened to hear about an open house at Allstate. I went to the open house and was interviewed by several people and managers. Two days later, I was offered a job. I didn’t see myself as getting into insurance but rather as going to a larger tech organization that just happened to focus on insurance.
What has your experience been as a woman in a large tech organization?
I’ve been at Allstate for 16 years. I started working as a Windows server administrator. I’ve had a very positive experience at Allstate. I’ve been able to witness the evolution of their support towards women in tech. When I started, my direct manager said, “Let’s lay out a plan. What do you want to do 10 years from now?” There was an officer at Allstate who was a woman, and back then it was rare to have women in high positions. I wanted to be like her and to get to that level. I found the support to make this goal a reality.
I’ve also been part of many Allstate programs, including the Emerging Leader Program which supports entry level leaders. My experiences and the support I’ve received have made me feel successful and confident.
You’re now on “the other side of the desk” as a manger. What would your advice be to young women in tech?
Get involved outside of your direct role. Interact with people outside of your area and outside of your company.
It’s also good to plan your career path. Allstate has a program called Power 5 where officers mentor directors who then mentor five other leaders. They help them design and reach goals just like my first manager did for me. Having a plan helps, even if you don’t go in a straight path towards your goal.
How does technology play a role at Allstate?
Allstate may be an insurance company, but we rely on tech to sell our products. Our CEO focuses on how to make our technology compete with other companies, even those whose main focus is tech. Every company will need to be a tech company in order to compete. At Allstate, we get a tech and a business background and experience, and we put these two together. I’m a tech representative for an insurance company, and I get to see the business side of things like how an insurance company is actually run.
What do you feel needs to be focused on to support women in tech, especially minority women in tech?
For me, what worked were the opportunities I had to build up my confidence and knowledge, from personal development to gaining tech knowledge. Many times you’re the only woman in tech in the room, or the only Mexican woman in tech in the room, but I’ve used my confidence and knowledge to move forward. Allstate helped me with that.
I’m co-president of Women in Technology at Allstate (WITA) where we try to provide women with the opportunities for personal development and gaining tech knowledge. It’s a group of women in tech helping women in tech.
I feel I’ve gone full circle. I still have mentors and lean on people for support, but I can also give back, especially with WITA.