Career growth is something we all aspire to and work hard for. For women in male-dominated fields, growling a career is much more difficult. You need hard work, dedication, and sometimes, the guiding hand of a mentor. In this episode, Rosie Zilinskas discusses careers with Brittany McLaughlin. As a female in a traditionally male position, Brittany shares her experiences and insights to gain success. Learn more great lessons from women, for women by tuning in.
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Growing Your Career In A Male-Oriented Field With Brittany McLaughlin
We’re going to be talking to Brittany McLaughlin about the challenges of being taken seriously at work due to her age, and how she navigates these challenges by making connections with people. She graduated from the University of New Hampshire in 2017. She started her career in the insurance industry as a Sales Executive for The Hartford in Boston, Massachusetts. Within five years, she has completed a training program, was assigned to New England territory, and finished 2021 as a Top Sales Representative.
Despite the challenges of being a young female in the industry, she has been able to accomplish these goals with hard work and perseverance. She continues to learn, take on challenges, and strive to grow in her career every day. You will also know from Brittany about the difficulties of being a female in the insurance industry and how she has been able to navigate these difficulties.
Thank you for being here, Brittany. I’m so excited for you to be on the show and to talk to you because you are a Millennial. I’m going to start straight away. My mission is to eradicate the gender gap. I’m doing it through women’s career development. As a Millennial, what have you experienced as some of the challenges from the time that you graduated because it hasn’t been too long ago to where you are? Let’s start there.
First off, thank you for having me, Rosie. I’m excited to be here. I am a Millennial. I didn’t graduate too long ago. One of the main challenges is the age gap within the industry. That is a big one. I’m starting off in a career where it’s mostly male, but those males are probably of an average age of 50. That is a challenge of getting that credibility as well, being more compared to as a child. It was a struggle that I dealt with when I first started gaining that credibility.
Having to maybe even appear older than I am. Those are more of the challenges that I’m facing. I still do face it every day meeting someone new. Going into a restaurant meeting with my clients or brokers here and there. They don’t expect it sometimes. Sometimes I might sound older on the phone as well. That is a challenge being a Millennial in the industry that I am in now.
There was a poll that I read that 36% of the younger Millennials, because now Millennials are split with the older Millennials and the younger Millennials, are experiencing ageism at work. For the first time in the history of the world, we have Baby Boomers all the way down to those Gen Z-ers or whatever they’re being called nowadays like the newbie people.
Ageism is going to be one of the biggest challenges that Millennials deal with. You’ve been in the workforce for a few years and you’re still dealing with it. Let’s talk a little bit about ageism at work first, meaning inside your office with your coworkers, and then we can transition and talk a little bit about it with external clients. When you are at work and someone says something to you about your age, how do you respond? What do you say? Do you even address it?
With my company, it hasn’t been that much of a challenge given the age because a lot of companies have gone into the training right out of college, which has been a huge step, but some companies have not as well. Even deciding on a career for a company to give someone that opportunity right out of college is great. I don’t ever get the question of the age, they put it in the experience you have. It’s the rewording of that question.
When I first started, I was like, “I don’t know if I should say my opinion of it. I don’t have the experience that they’re asking for or that they know of.” That was a challenge of the years of experience that people do have, being internally as well. “Are they going to take me as seriously? Are they going to listen to me?” First starting, that’s a challenge of your experience or age. It’s another way to put it.
I would encourage all of the readers out there that whenever you have an opinion, don’t hold yourself back from giving that opinion because that’s one of the ways that people whether they realize it or not, they’re intimidating you a little bit. If you have an opinion, you should feel confident to express your opinion. Whatever they say they say. That’s one of the ways how we get socialized as women to not speak up and not say what we think. Do you have any examples especially more now that you’ve had a little bit more experience of how have you been able to overcome that by speaking up?
I do internal as well as external sales. Internally, I’m not afraid to use my voice. My manager has been very supportive of wanting me to speak up. Once you do speak up, that’s when you do get noticed. I’ve learned the times that I haven’t spoken up that I sit there and nothing gets done. Am I happy? I might be happy, but I’m not going anywhere in my career. Speaking up internally is a huge thing that I’ve learned and not to be afraid.
These people are here to work with you. They wouldn’t have hired you if you weren’t going to put anything into what they have to offer as well. When it comes to externally, I have to prove myself. I have to say, “I may be younger, but I’m willing to work harder.” I have to prove to them. I might be doing a little cleaning up for them before I do get that first sale. I have to convince them and then also stay on top of them. “Brittany is still here. I’m not going anywhere.” It’s that extra hard work that you have to put in in the industry being a female and being younger as well.
When it comes to those external clients and you said that a lot of external clients are much older than you, sometimes they may say something to you like, “You remind me of my daughter or my granddaughter.” Give me some techniques or some ways that you have dealt with those comments because you’re not going to be rude or whatever, especially with the clients. What are some things that you have used that have worked for you in the past?
I connect with them. I ask the questions more. If they mentioned their daughter or granddaughter, I’m like, “How old are they? Where do they go to school?” There is usually sometimes a mutual connection. “What do they do on a daily basis? I might know them if they’re within the area.” We get into connecting of where they’re from a little bit and then it turns into where they grew up. What they were doing back when they were my age?
Everyone has to start somewhere. Sometimes the older generations forget that they’ve had to start where I was too, but once you remind them, “Where did you start? How did you get into the industry?” It goes back and relates to them. I question it and try to find topics of interest for them because we do have other interests.
That’s a smart way instead of saying something like, “I have enough experience. I’m very knowledgeable,” or anything like that. I like the way you handle it. I’ve also known that people sometimes use humor. They will joke, “I’m old enough. I stay out of the sun. I’m much older than you think I am.” They don’t necessarily address their age, but they’re directing the question away from their age. That’s one way to do it.
Another way is if they say something about your age, you can always say, “I am more directing to current events.” It’s something like that where you’re pulling away from that particular comment that they have. What you do is smart to try to connect with them so that your age is not apparent. By the way, I don’t know if you do or you don’t, but never say your age because when you say your age, you lose credibility. That’s what they’re trying to fish for. They’re trying to fish for, “Can I do business with this person or not?”
In their minds, and I’ve heard a lot of people say, “They’re just babies.” They may not necessarily mean to be derogatory but to your point, it feels like they’re calling out your inexperience, but you have to start somewhere. It’s important to get your credibility back without giving away any of your power. That’s important. You’re handling it well. You’re going to get that question or that comment for a long time. You’re going to have a lot of experience with that question.
I hope by the age of 50, it stays that way still.
You had said something about you getting a lot of support from your manager and that the people that hired you to want you there. That’s important. Tell me a little bit more about how you have gotten support from your manager specifically.
In my role, there are seven of us and I’m the only girl. My manager has developed mentorship internally for me. “Can you reach out to Brittany? She might have questions on what to wear to a meeting.” He is always there looking out for me. He doesn’t mean to do it intentionally, but he does it with a purpose too because it’s different going to a male, “What are you wearing to this meeting?” and then to a female as well.
Also, certain topics like I’m not planning to have a baby yet, but when it comes to that time, having a connection there to maybe someone that has gone through it. He has been leading me in the right direction of who he looks up to in the organization as well as he thinks as partners, which has been tremendous in my career as well. I thank him for doing that because without it, I wouldn’t know the experience or not have the support that I do need or to see people or females lead in these roles.
To clarify, did he pair you up with a female mentor then?
The female mentor that you now have, has she been in the company for a while?
She has. She also came over from an acquisition. She came over from a company that we have acquired. He also did pair me up with another woman who was not in a sales role, so more of an operation. It’s different parts of the company to get those connections. He is pairing me up with other females that do have more experience.
I absolutely love that. Kudos to your manager for doing that. Specifically, if you’re the only female in your department. Sometimes it’s a little intimidating to be the only person. When you are in meetings, even if all the gentlemen include you because you’re female, you naturally stand out if you’re wearing a dress or a pretty yellow summer dress or something like that.
To that point, I want to make sure that you realize that when you are in those meetings, you need to have that executive presence of you know that you belong there. They say from the executive presence point, take up space in the room and lean in into the table, all that good stuff. I hope you’re doing that. If you’re not, start doing it.
I also think being the only female, I would go unnoticed if I wasn’t there too because I am an outlier.
Let’s go back to your mentor. I’m glad that you said that your mentor is not necessarily even in the same department because your mentor doesn’t have to be in the same department.
We talk about everything and anything.
That’s good. I love hearing that because being in the position that I am, I love helping women. I mentioned this to you in our call before, I went to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. I talk about this all the time, but the alma mater has a statue and a saying on the statue that says, “To the happy children of the future, those of the past, send greetings.”
When I think about that saying, those women that came before me paved the way for me. Now it’s my job to pave the way for younger women like yourself. Your mentor is doing the same thing. She’s helping and assisting you. When the time comes, when another younger female comes into your team, you will be able to be there for her and assist her. It’s women helping women because what we’re trying to do here is eradicate the gender gap. As far as your comfort, I know you’re the only female, what is the comradery with the rest of your team?
I am very comfortable. I played girls’ ice hockey as well as softball. Being in sales, you have to be competitive. It’s always like, “I’m trying to beat out the boys.” I want to get to the top. I want to be competitive, but there are certain topics where they’re talking about football and I’m like, “I don’t know.” It’s funny because they’ll try to like be like, “Did you watch the Kardashians?” I’m like, “You’re trying to loop me in. I know you’re not watching it. If you are, we’ll talk about it.”
There have been points where I’ve gone to a Celtics game and it’s been all guys. I maybe felt a little uncomfortable or don’t have much to say because they are talking about sports or who’s playing this where I’m more going to be there and be in the social aspect and show my presence. Those are some challenges as well with being more with the guys. I have to be a bro in that sense with them.
There are some things that you can do. You can be up on current events. Maybe look at the scores for the day or something like that. I’m not a sports person either. I asked my husband, “Who’s in the Super Bowl?” He rolls his eyes but he told me. That brings to light that as women, in order to stand out, we have to try a little bit harder than our male counterparts. Being that you’re in sales, you already know that you have to be competitive, that you want to get to the top, that you’re competing with other males in your department because you’re the only girl.
That gives you a lot of confidence and opportunity to be able to stand out. Quite honestly, women are much more able to organize and prioritize. Sometimes we beat out the boys pretty quickly, not everybody but that is an advantage. What are some other ways that you can think of that maybe your manager is supporting you other than the mentorship?
On daily basis, if I need something to go to, he’ll get it done for me. I’m not scared to reach out to him even if it comes to a personal level or a career profession, just someone to go to when I need to. Every organization has issues each and every day. He’s also a person that when a client call might not go the right way, he’ll give me a call and say, “Brittany, take a second and breathe,” and it’s fine. Even calling up and saying, “Is this how I’m supposed to do it? Do I do it this way? What is your experience of things?”
He has been very supportive for me. He’s also a younger manager. There’s not a little bit of an age gap, but he’s been here for several years, so he has experience as well. I’m looking up to him. He also was the one that wanted to hire me based on being a female. He realizes that in this role, it’s rare. He did know there was leverage up for hiring me based on my gender.
Let’s talk a little bit back into your history. You graduated a few years ago. What were some of the challenges that you experienced during college, specifically during your senior year of college or your last year trying to get a job? What were some of the challenges that you as a Millennial had in searching for a job?
It’s where to start the experience. Usually, you don’t get that unless you know someone or have a connection. My advice is to just apply. For the first internship I had, I didn’t know anyone and I applied. They ended up hiring me because I did apply and they wanted someone that they didn’t know. That would be one of my suggestions. Have the confidence too. Going out there, you might not be as experienced, but connect what you have been through.
If you’ve done a study abroad, you’re in a sorority, or you’re in an organization, tell them about those experiences. I was nervous about expressing myself professionally because we were not used to that in college. You don’t need the nicest blazer. Go to Target and get a blazer and you can show that you’re very professional. Those would be my advice to the girls just starting. It doesn’t have to be based on what your parents did. Look for what you did or what you want to do.
I love that advice, especially the Target tip because people think that you have to go to Ann Taylor or whatever to get a suit. You’re right, Target has a lot of super cute clothes. I agree with that. Once you started applying for your job, how was that experience? How did that go for you? You got hired.
It was difficult. The role that I have now is the last one I accepted and the last offer I got. I did at least ten or so interviews. What I’ve learned from them all is even if you don’t think you’re going to want the job, go for it. It’s a learning experience and it’s a practice as well. Also, during the interview, some recruiters do give feedback by saying, “You didn’t say this. Maybe next time you say this.” You learn overall what to expect going forward.
Don’t get discouraged because the perfect one will land I had a job lined up and it was June right after college. My role contacted me and I went a different way and accepted another offer because I kept waiting it out. I was like, “Do I want to do it?” Now, I like what I do. I like my job. I’ve been there for a few years. If I went a different way or had given up, I wouldn’t be where I am now.
You said a couple of good things. One of them is applying for an internship or a job. A lot of times, women don’t apply for jobs or internships because they don’t think that they’re qualified when the guy next door to her or another gentleman might apply and not have half of the skills that the females have. You have to admire men and the fact that they’re almost fearless and they just apply. Women are socialized to have that fear. That’s what we’re trying to bust out. We need to stop being afraid to be out of our comfort zone and apply for that position. That’s great.
The second thing that you said was networking. Networking is huge. It could be networking with your family, parents, any of your aunts, uncles or family friends. When you are right out of college, the very first line of defense in order to get a job is to go to all of your family and friends and see who knows who. It’s not like what you know, it’s who you know. That’s crucial. Did you get any help from your parents or any family or friends as far as to mock interviewing or anything like that?
No. I’m the first one out of my family to go to college, so first-generation college. My dad is a firefighter. My mom works for the state. They have been on the same job for 30 years. They don’t even know what I’m doing either. I would use the career center at school. I would go and have them look over my resume. An organization I also went to in high school was a boys and girls club. They helped me with the college essays as well as starting off being one of my first jobs at the age of sixteen.
I would use the resources as well as those mock interviews that the college does provide. My first resume was nothing perfect. They destroyed it and wrote through it, but I kept going back and resubmitting it. It’s not hard to take a second to go through and sit down with them and use those resources because I didn’t have anyone besides maybe cousins who have jobs, but my parents didn’t have to go through that when they were applying.
I can relate to that because I too was a first-generation. My parents didn’t even know what a college credit was. I can totally relate. To your point, using the resources that either high school or college or university has, that’s huge. Another thing that I have recommended to people is nowadays online, whether you have a computer or not, you can go to the public library and there are so many resources there.
The other thing is to go online and google behavioral interview questions. You will have hundreds of questions. For what I recommend to people is to take 10 or 20, and start answering them either in your head or write them out, and then have a story that you can reference in your work history that you will be able to answer that question. That works well because if you answered 10 or 20 questions, it gives you a little bit of flavor of what kinds of questions are being asked now. There are hundreds of questions online.
I love the fact that you use the college resource center and they were able to kill your resume first and then rebuild it from there. That’s excellent. Let’s talk about high school a little bit because you’re way closer to high school than I am now. What are some things that you would recommend for high school young women in order to either get an internship, whether it’s a summer internship in high school or apply for college and start their college careers?
I would honestly look up to other girls that you see are doing what you might want to do and don’t be scared to ask them. Someone will be there to help you. There are other people that are going in your shoes. Those people that you look up to, ask them how they got there, what are they doing, and what are the steps that they are taking. Use those resources as well.
In high school, I know people can be mean, but don’t have it deter you from what you want to do. You have to start somewhere. I started babysitting. Even if it’s a little job like that. Your dreams are high, but that’s not holding you back. You have to start somewhere. Whether it is nannying or volunteering, do that because those are where you gain the most experience. I have gained the most experience from being a lifeguard and some of those lessons. You have to start at the bottom to get to the top. It’s not easy, but there are people there to guide you and ask them questions too. Everyone likes to talk about themselves or their experiences.
For those younger high schoolers, high school is a tough age these days. It was tough when I was in school. It’s even tougher now. For them to stay on track regardless of what’s happening to them and reach for their dreams, that’s fantastic. There is an organization called Toastmasters International that any age can join, high schoolers specifically.
It’s $57 every six months. They can go and practice speaking. When they practice their speaking, that will help them through college interviews, high school jobs, or anything like that. That’s always a resource that I recommend because it’s super cheap and you can go and mess completely up. All of the members there will support you and give you feedback on how to improve every single time. No matter if you’re a public speaker or a professional speaker, you will always get feedback. For those younger readers out there that are looking to up their game, Toastmasters International, it’s all over the world. There’s a Toastmasters near you somewhere, just a little tip there.
Brittany, first of all, I would like to thank you for your time, but I want to ask you one final question. Do you have a couple of final recommendations, whether it’s college women going into the workforce or those Millennials that started in the last few years? Do you have a couple of final recommendations for them?
My final recommendation is to be yourself. Don’t pretend to be anyone that you’re not. I have learned from that. As we spoke about age, don’t pretend to be older, be yourself. Also, you don’t need to know everything. If you don’t know something, you can say, “I don’t know,” or put it in a different way saying, “I will get back to you.” You do not need to know everything and anything, especially just starting. People might trick you off with those questions of trying to get you for your experience, but you can always say, “Let me get back to you.”
Those would be my main thing is one, be yourself. Two, don’t be afraid to speak up. Three, you don’t have to always know everything, but you do know a lot. Remember that you do know a lot and you can always find the answer to something if that means going back and saying, “Let me double-check on that for you.” Those would be my three things or advice for Millennials if anyone else wants to take that going forward.
I’m going to add one extra thing now that I’m thinking about it because when you’re not as experienced, you’re bound to maybe make a mistake. The one thing that I always told my direct reports in the past or that I did myself if I did a mistake, I would be the first one to go to my manager or call my client back and say, “I’m so sorry. I made a mistake.”
If you admit it right away, instead of trying to hide that you made a mistake, or try to pretend that you’re superhuman and that you don’t make mistakes, it’s going to leave a bad taste in people’s mouths. If you do make a mistake or when you do make a mistake, confess to it right away and try to fix it. More importantly, learn from that mistake. Would you agree with that?
I would completely agree with exactly the way you put it. Mistakes happen. Everyone makes mistakes. You learn from there. Admitting it is a great way to put it as well.
Brittany, thank you so much for spending time with me. This was an awesome conversation because it’s been a very long time since I’ve been your age. It’s good to hear from someone new to the workforce in general, and that you have so much sage and wise advice even at your age for those younger folks.
What a valuable conversation we had with Brittany. To recap her two tips, tip number one, she said, “To be yourself.” Don’t try to be somebody that you’re not. Tip number two was that you don’t have to know everything. It’s okay to say, “Let me get back to you.” I added tip number three, which is we’re all human. We’re all going to make mistakes, but you need to admit that you made a mistake and figure out how to fix it. Go talk to your manager, fess up that you made a mistake, and figure out how to move forward from there. Brittany has a few years in the insurance industry under her belt. She’s going to continue to grow and build her self-confidence as time moves on, but I know she is going to do great in her career. For everybody else, remember to be brave, be bold, and take action. Until next time.
About Brittany McLaughlin
After graduating from the University of New Hampshire in 2017, Brittany McLaughlin started her career in the insurance industry as a Sales Executive for The Hartford in Boston, MA.
Within the past 5 years, Brittany has completed a training program, gained a New England territory, and finished the 2021 year as a top sales representative.
Despite the challenges of being a young female in the industry, Brittany has been able to accomplish these goals with hard work and perseverance. Brittany continues to learn, take on challenges and strives to grow her career every day.