“Every woman’s success should be an inspiration to another. We’re strongest when we cheer each other on.” – Serena Williams
In the spirit of women supporting one another and cheering each other on, and to celebrate International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month, we asked women across Cigna Corporation to share a piece of career advice with their younger selves. Their advice is below (in alphabetical order, by last name), and can certainly serve as words of inspiration for anyone looking to advance their career.
Katya Andresen, chief digital and analytics officer at Cigna
I would share this quote with my younger self from James Kouzes and Barry Posner: "Leaders are in love – in love with the people who do the work, with what their organizations practice, and with their customers." If you don't love yourself – or feel loved – then it's hard to be this kind of leader. If you haven’t gotten curious and built your own emotional quotient (EQ) from a foundation of self-compassion, you won’t be able to connect deeply with others. So do the work on the inside to heal old wounds, gain the confidence to put love over ego and bring forth your authentic self. Yes, these are messy, hard and weighty endeavors, but only through this work are we able overcome our shortcoming as leaders and be who we should be – people who model shared values, inspire with vision and elevate others.
Ann Asbaty, CEO, Americas, International Markets at Cigna
You will need to trust who you are, be brave, and be willing to stand alone. That may not be easy. When you fail, try not to take it personally – you will never be as good as you are on your best day and never as bad as on your worst. Be careful of letting other people define how you did or your capabilities.
Amie Benedict, vice president, specialty solutions at Cigna
Prioritize building relationships and networking both inside and outside of your organization. It will broaden your perspectives, provide inspiration, and fuel innovation. Investing in these types of activities is akin to how I think about my 401k plan. If I set aside a little time every month to have a conversation with someone, my network will grow exponentially and pay back handsomely over time.
Eva Borden, president of behavioral health at Evernorth, Cigna's health services business
Pace yourself and play the long game. Focus on having a long, fulfilling career journey rather than short-term wins. Keep your sights on building your breadth of experience in a way that works for you professionally and personally because you'll have many opportunities to grow your career over the years.
April Chang, vice president of sales (East Region) at Cigna
Women in the workplace can sometimes underestimate their abilities, which can lead to missed opportunities. This is something you might struggle with, so please, never underestimate yourself. Be strong and believe in yourself. See the value in strong mentors, they can help you identify your own strengths and “reach for the stars.” They will be a source of guidance and reassurance. They will help teach you the importance of going beyond your comfort zone. Embarking on the unknown can be scary, but it will help you build resilience, adapt to change and grow. The road that feels uncomfortable is often the road that we will come to value the most. Always strive to push beyond your comfort zone, believe in your capabilities and explore the unknown.
Giselle Cushing, market president for South Florida and the Caribbean at Cigna Healthcare
Find passion in your work, inspire and motivate others to be confident and sparkle. Believe in yourself, and as you climb the corporate ladder, don’t forget to help other women by pulling them up the ladder with you. Women leaders have a tendency not to help other women in their careers. We need to continue supporting, celebrating women, and sharing the lessons learned with those starting in their careers.
Noelle Eder, executive vice president and global chief information officer at Cigna
Recognize the value of your emotional intelligence – by harnessing that and combining it with humility, experience, wisdom, and gratitude, you can cultivate authentic, powerful leadership skills.
Julia Huggins, senior vice president of U.S. commercial at Cigna
My advice to my younger self would be to ‘cut yourself some slack!’ When I first started in my career, I was always so concerned about making sure I knew everything about a topic before I opened my mouth. Many people do this, but you need to show yourself some grace and realize that you likely know more than you think you do and that your contributions are valuable. And, to my slightly-less-younger-self becoming a leader, I would double-down on that advice. Develop your own authentic leadership style, so you can build trust with your team and let them feel safe learning and taking risks – knowing they can make mistakes as they develop. I firmly believe we learn more from our mistakes than we do from our successes.
Nicole Jones, executive vice president and general counsel at Cigna
Embracing your whole self, and bringing all of you to work each day, with no apologies, will enable you to be the best you can be in your job.
Michelle Leung, vice president, international health human resources at Cigna
Always know and remember your worth. Throughout your life and career, this will manifest itself in many different ways – whether it is being kinder to yourself and others, honoring your word, or keeping your own promises to yourself. This simple reminder will serve you well. It will help keep you resilient and graceful as you learn to navigate the tougher times in your career journey and beyond. Finally, you must always embrace change and remember to feel grateful for new experiences and opportunities. They will help you become a stronger person and progress your career.
Lisa Lough, president of Individual & Family Plans and Medicaid at Cigna
Early on in my career I was lucky enough to have a boss push me into a role that I assumed I wasn’t qualified for. What I have learned since – and would tell my younger self if given the chance – is that there is a big difference between not being qualified (having the raw talent) and simply not having the training or experience. They are not the same. Luckily, my boss believed in me and my raw talent. I took on the leadership role and was able to turn around a business area in a very short timeframe. The lesson here is if you can check all the boxes for a job, then you are likely overqualified. Be bold and be brave and believe in your raw talent.
Eliana Nunez, senior director of technology, portfolio and operations at Cigna
The journey is going to be hard and with constant struggle. Courage and perseverance will help you overcome all obstacles, and when others tell you "no" or "you can’t," find the strength in your inner self to pull through and not only survive, but thrive. It will never be easy and the doors won’t open for you to walk through to the next growth opportunity. You will need to knock on those doors to be let through. Know that you can achieve greatness and touch the lives of others by lifting them up. Be bold, be courageous, and create the path for others to become great leaders.
Celeste Player, vice president and general manager, strategic drug sourcing and contracting at Express Scripts (part of Evernorth)
Always remember that success starts with a willingness to take calculated risks. The most successful people I've met throughout my career all had one thing in common -- a willingness to bet on themselves. They overcame any self-doubt and replaced it with the courage to take their skills, talents, and leadership to new heights. So, when uncertainty tries to take over, remember that there’s no one else worth betting on in your career than yourself.
Mary Picerno, chief nursing officer at Cigna
Be courageous. Don’t fear failure or rejection because they’re inevitable. Fear is the enemy to personal satisfaction and fulfillment, as well as career growth and success. Find the strength to push through any failures or missteps and learn from them. No one has a crystal ball. Thoughtful risk-taking, even when we can’t be sure of the outcome, moves us forward in life and opens the doors to new opportunities.
Cindy Ryan, executive vice president and chief human resources officer at Cigna
The biggest piece of advice I’d give to my younger self is to have more confidence and take more risks. Particularly when I was starting out in my career, I viewed a mistake as something to be embarrassed by as opposed to something that I could learn from and do better at next time. I think that mindset kept me from trying new things sometimes – even when I probably would have succeeded had I tried. My confidence has grown the further I’ve gotten in my career, but it’s something I make sure to instill in my daughters each and every day – know what you know, and know what you don’t know, and don’t be afraid to try, as leaning into the discomfort is where the best learning often occurs.
Christen Shelton, managing director of client service and operations at Cigna
Have more confidence. Of all the barriers women have faced at work, one of the biggest is lack of self-confidence. We have this notion that confidence stems from our accomplishments. That we can – and should – only be confident when we have achieved success. This way of thinking limits us. Confidence doesn’t come from our achievements – it comes from within. It’s about taking risks, trying something new instead of sticking to what’s comfortable. And not being afraid to fall flat once in a while. Keep your focus. Ask questions. Trust your gut. Stay true to the goals and expectations you set for yourself. We all stumble and fall, but confidence allows us to pick ourselves up and try again. And when all else fails – fake it ‘till you make it. Once people see you as self-assured, you’ll start seeing yourself that way, too.
Deb Smith, Medicare Advantage regional vice president for the southeast region at Cigna
We have all faced challenges we never imagined as we have lived through the pandemic these past two years. For many of us, our work and home lives have become completely intertwined. For me, it’s been especially challenging, because I lost my husband a year ago, and have battled loneliness. It has been so easy to immerse myself in work to keep busy. I have had to force myself to step away from the laptop, establish boundaries, and learn to not feel guilty about taking personal time. I certainly have not mastered all in managing my energy and time commitment to my work life and retaining energy for my personal life. But, I would tell younger me to be more intentional about what to say yes to, and that it is okay to replenish my energy with time away from work with no guilt.
Joana Sousa, CEO and country manager at Cigna Australia
Success is never easy and you’ll need to work hard. Always remember to value those around you – your family, friends and the amazing people you will work for, and with. Always look to learn from leaders you respect, they will play formative roles in your journey. Most importantly, listen to them when they push you to grow beyond your limits and welcome the support and advice they give - you will need it to succeed. The advice these leaders can share will help shape your career and make you an invaluable employee and person. Never settle for less and seek out environments where you feel empowered and supported. Always consider what kind of guidance you need to nurture you and your career, and don’t be afraid to communicate this to the people who can provide that support.
Neema Stephens, MD, national medical director for health equity at Cigna
The best advice I have for my younger self is the awareness that your career journey may not be linear. Your goals and motivations often change as you mature and gain more life experience. During medical training, I imagined working in the clinical setting until retirement. Mid-career, I realized I wanted to pursue new challenges and entered the corporate world. The message is to not be afraid of change. Don’t be afraid to re-invent yourself. I have made a few course corrections in my career, and I am incredibly happy that I did. Another piece of advice is to learn early on that there is power in teamwork. You will go further and achieve more when you learn to seek the input and collaboration of others. This is why networking is so important, and keeping an enterprise mindset is key. When we understand the interconnectedness of the work we do, and work across teams, we achieve more.
Susan Stith, vice president of diversity, equity and inclusion, and charitable giving at Cigna
First, remember to always follow your own path. You will come across a lot of bumps, curves and roundabouts along the way, but no matter what, remember to always keep moving forward. Because if you’re not moving forward, then you’re falling back. Another thing, always keep learning. Learning is an active process, and you will be at your best when you look for new challenges and opportunities. Lastly, always remember your ancestors. Remember who came before you, those who didn’t have the same opportunities as you, and those who had the courage to tread the path for you to follow in their footsteps. You owe them for all the wonderful opportunities in your life, and the time will come for you do the same for others.
Wendy Zacchio, chief information officer for international markets at Cigna
Change is a constant, so embrace it. Be persistent, believe in yourself, and go after what you truly want to achieve. Never stop learning. Insist on understanding “why” so that you can help lead others through the change; it will make a huge difference to you and to those around you. Speaking of those around you, listen to your team. They will talk to you if you really listen. Don’t pretend; people can tell when you’re insincere. Believe that people matter, find ways to encourage open dialog, and spend your time on relationships to foster teamwork and success. And finally: lighten up. Find moments when you can laugh, and don’t take everything so seriously.
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