Black women, you own your experience

Shawn Quildon is the client service director, employee benefits at Holmes Murphy, an independent insurance brokerage.

By SHAWN QUILDON

Holmes Murphy

 

Do you think we make our experiences, or do you think experiences make us? I guess one could argue it’s a combination of both. I was of a similar belief for most of my adult life until an experience at Holmes Murphy helped me see that I make and own my personal and professional experiences, and how being a Black woman at my workplace forever changed my perspective.

Shortly after accepting a position with Holmes Murphy, I transitioned onto one of the long-time client accounts. The current consultant shared that she had been on the account for some time, and rarely attended meetings with the client, also mentioning that the owner and COO most often communicated directly to our account lead, a very well-respected White male.

Getting inside my own head, I started noting to myself that if this account hadn’t been super inviting or engaging with my White female colleague, how could I expect them to be with me? I was beginning to wonder how in the world this was going to work out for me.

I was nervous as I prepped for my first renewal with the group. I negotiated the extremely unfavorable renewal to identify viable options, checking my spreadsheet formulas at least a dozen times, and reviewing the presentation multiple times. I was somewhat surprised when my account lead asked me to attend and present. I remember it like it was yesterday.

Overall, it was a bit of an awkward meeting. As I presented to the owner and COO, they directed all of their questions to the account lead. But then the experience changed. At every opportunity, my account lead would re-direct them to me for a response. He knew I knew the account. He knew I knew every piece of information that would be valuable to the client. He knew how much time I spent ensuring I was prepared. He knew I could do it.

At the end of the meeting, the owner asked the account lead if he agreed with my recommendation. When the account lead responded that he did, the owner thanked him for working so hard on their behalf. Guess what my account lead’s response was? As a testament to who he is as a person and a leader, he said, “You should thank Shawn; she did all the work.” How awesome!

The owner thanked me, and we developed a great partnership. In every meeting thereafter, I was addressed with respect and professionalism.

After the meeting, I shared how nervous I was and why with my account lead, and my fear saddened him. He understood that in addition to preparing for the meeting, I also walked in feeling isolated and extremely self-conscious. He went on to teach me a very valuable lesson as it pertains to my attention and focus – there is no need to focus on the fact I am an African American woman. I’m not defined or valued by my skin color or gender. In that room, my role was the consultant. I was there to deliver the client with peace of mind in my area of expertise. I held the key to making that experience great. I make my experiences what I want them to be; my experiences do not make me.

It’s ironic but true, on the day of that meeting, my account lead had more confidence in me than I had in myself because my focus was misdirected.

In the insurance industry, being the only African American woman in the room or on the Zoom call happens often. Many of you are also the only woman in the room, the youngest in the room, the only Hispanic, or maybe the only single mom on the client team. The list goes on. Whatever your personal scenario, remember and appreciate that progressive, forward-thinking, DE&I supportive businesses, like Holmes Murphy, encourage and empower you to own your experiences every day.

 

Shawn Quildon is the vice president of client service, employee benefits at Holmes Murphy, an independent insurance brokerage.

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