Kirstin Simonson is 2nd VP, Cyber Lead Global Technology for the Travelers Companies, Inc. Her primary expertise is professional liability, errors and omissions and cyber coverages. She has written several articles on cyber risks faced by companies and has spoken at several conferences on cyber-related and social media risks. Her objective is to educate various audiences on the exposure environment and provide the basis for risk analysis as well as the framework for discussion on the various insurance coverages available in the market.
We recently spoke with Kirstin about her role at Travelers, how she sees women leading the way and what she hopes you will take away from her panel participation at this year’s National Women’s Business Conference.
Q: Tell us a little bit about you.
I started in the insurance industry almost 30 years ago, focusing on professional liability insurance programs. I have been fortunate throughout my career in insurance to work with some of the brightest people in a highly specialized area of the insurance world. Currently, I am responsible for managing the development of professional and cyber products focusing on the technology industry.
Q: What are some areas today where you see women entrepreneurs leading the way
Perhaps the best way I can answer this is to relay an experience. I have been attending a very large network/IT security conference annually for the past 10 years (RSA Conference). When I first attended, there were very few women at the sessions or speaking on panels (unless they were attorneys or other non-tech professionals). What I now see is vastly different. There are more women attending who are network experts, IT security experts, white hat hackers and CISOs, creating and designing new and exciting technologies—it is really exciting to see this shift in what was a very male-dominated career path.
Q: How have you led the way in your organization and community in the past year?
I lead by being available and open. I frequently share my knowledge by speaking on panels at conferences about the challenges of cyber, and how insurance can be part of the solution for businesses. I also am a big believer in mentoring others.
Q: In what areas do you hope to see women leading the way next?
In every area! I grew up in the male-dominated world of farming—I drove tractors, drove trucks, did everything on the farm that the men did. There should be no barriers to women if it is something they want to do. Women are a critical, contributing factor in our society.
Q: Why is a conference like this one for women entrepreneurs critical?
It is important to entrepreneurs in general to meet and share ideas that can help them continue to generate new products and bring a new service to market. For women, I think there is still a lack of mentorship for some—and conferences like this can help fill that gap.
Q: If women walk away from your presentation with one thing, what do you want it to be?
Risk management is key to business resiliency, and insurance is not a commodity. Engage in the purchase of insurance the same way you would engage in any key business deal—it can be that important.
Q: Who is one woman from the past or present who inspires you when you think about leading the way, and why?
There have been several, starting with my mother who had an independent spirit and provided me with the foundation for who I am today.
One who has inspired me every time I hear her speak is Corbette Doyle, Lecturer: Leadership, Policy & Organizations at Vanderbilt University (previously with Aon). I have never met her, but have had the opportunity to hear her speak on several occasions. In one instance, she talked about her experiences where she was asked to take on jobs/responsibilities that were not entirely in her area of expertise or that maybe she questioned whether she was the right person for the job. As she continued to describe how she approached these requests to take on the new role, the question became not whether she was the right one for the job, but more about whether she was qualified to do the job, interested in doing the job and could provide value by taking on the job.
This played a key role later when I was asked to lead the creation of a program where I had no previous experience. In the past, I might have turned it down. I took on the challenge and it was one of the best things I could have done at that time. I learned so much, I had the opportunity to engage with people in my organization that I probably never would have met, but for that project, and I was part of a team that delivered something that was new to the organization and that other leaders are now taking forward to the next stage.