It Takes Grit! Becoming Business Insurance’s Women to Watch

Ever wonder what it takes to be nominated and recognized as a Business Insurance Women To Watch Honoree?  In its 11th year, this awards and leadership conference was recently held in New York and honored a diverse group of women from a variety of insurance industry backgrounds.  Honorees are selected based on criteria including recent professional accomplishments, expertise, leadership and future career prospects.

Congratulations to this year’s Honorees, you can read all about them by visiting Business Insurance’s website.

I wanted to write about the event from another vantage point, from that of the Nominator.  Someone who not only took time to write the nomination, but who was so inspired by the nominee to take the time to do so.  I went behind the scenes and spoke with Mary O’Donoghue, Chief Clinical Officer for MedRisk Inc on her nomination of Honoree Shelley Boyce, CEO/Founder for MedRisk.

Q.  What inspired you to nominate Shelley as a 2016 Woman To Watch?

Mary:    At the time, I was working for another company that has been a long-time customer of MedRisk.  I got to know Shelley through that lens.  Shelley started MedRisk over 20 years ago, the concept for her business sprang from a college thesis and is today a thriving business employing over 800 employees providing managed physical medicine and diagnostic services to the work comp industry.

There are two characteristics exhibited by Shelley that inspired me to nominate her.  The first is humbleness.  Shelley may be the CEO and founder of MedRisk, but she has never forgotten the people that helped her grow the business.  She is rooted in her community as well, constantly giving back to causes that are important to her.  The second characteristic is Shelley’s strategic mindset.  Shelley can turn an idea upside, engage her team in providing new ways at looking for a solution and allow them to play out.

Shelley is someone I trusted working with, so much so that she was the first person that came to mind when I was looking to make a career move.  And today I’m honored to be working with Shelley and the MedRisk team!

Q.  Do you see a theme or trend for women that rise to the top in their profession?

Mary:    Financial acumen is good, but equally important is knowing the business from every angle so you can think strategically on how to grow the business.   Shelley set out to solve a very specific problem in work comp, a lack of focus on the benefits of physical medicine.  She built a business based on her knowledge of the work comp delivery system, what was lacking at the time and how to create value for stakeholders while returning an injured worker to work more timely.

It’s important to deliberate about where you want the business to be in five years, what’s next, what are the problems we are going to solve for.  Strategizing, thinking big, not giving up…frankly true grit are important themes.  Also important are working on people skills, respect for others, embracing diversity, creating a culture where women and men can equally be successful.

Q.  What has been the biggest shift you’ve personally witnessed since you began your career?

Mary:    Flexibility in the workplace.  Not only where you work, home or office, but how you work.  More and more companies understand a need to focus on work/life balance.  So what if you need to leave work at noon to pick up your child from day care, or if you do your best work at midnight?  Today’s work environment affords employees the flexibility to decide when and how to get their work done, and have fun while doing so.

Q.  How can we get more women to nominate one another or receive more recognition at work?

Mary:    We underestimate the value of mentoring.  Find someone and mentor them!  There is so much a tenured person takes for granted because you’ve been in the business for a while, you just assume that everyone knows.  Encourage women to take risks in the workplace and allow them to fail without negative ramifications so they can learn from their mistakes and grow.  And promote them when it’s deserved.   Also, make sure co-workers are aware of each other’s successes to keep the momentum, visibility and recognition alive.

Q.  What is your company doing to promote women in the workplace?

Mary:    Shelley certainly leads by example, she is a supporter of anything that helps advance women in the work place.  She encourages her team to be on Boards or get involved in events that are supportive of women.  Our company offers employee recognition programs such as distinguishing an employee for when “they brightened someone’s day” or when he/she created an excellent customer service experience.  We support one another, which is not only limited to women, but offering equal pathways for whoever is the most qualified for a promotion.

Q.  What would be a takeaway or two to inspire younger women to get involved in our industry?

Mary:    We are the perfect industry for millennials, however we don’t do a good job of explaining why.  Millennials are motivated by having a purpose, they want to have an impact.  Think about what we, in workers’ compensation, do every day.  Our work impacts a person’s quality of life.  Our industry strives to provide the best quality medical care an injured worker can receive during a time of crisis.  Injured workers want to get back to work, they want to support their families and they want their pre-injury quality of life.  Our job is to help them do just that, which is something millennials can believe in.

Q.  Last question, did you attend the W2W event?

Mary:    Unfortunately, I was unable to attend due to work commitments.  However, Shelley drove a van full of MedRisk women to the occasion, who were representative of all levels of occupations within our organization!  They couldn’t stop talking about the event when they returned, all of them loved seeing Shelley honored and being a part of the conference.

About Mary and MedRisk:

Mary O’Donoghue is responsible for MedRisk’s new product and business line development as well as strategic leadership of all clinical programs and research. A Registered Nurse by trade, Mary has over 25 years of experience in the managed care, group health, disability and workers’ compensation industries having held senior leadership positions in strategic planning, operations management and product development with top carriers, third party administrators and managed care organizations.  Mary serves on the Board of The Alliance of Women in Workers’ Compensation.

MedRisk is a leading provider of managed physical medicine and diagnostic imaging services for the workers’ compensation industry and related market sectors.  MedRisk ensures high quality care and delivers outstanding customer service. To that end, all customer service professionals, healthcare advocates, physical therapists, and radiologists are based in the U.S. MedRisk is accredited under URAC for utilization management and has successfully completed a SSAE 16 Type II examination. For more information, visit or call 800-225-9675.

Missing 33% Keeping Women from Reaching the Top

The combined forces of the Executive Women in Work Comp and Women in Work Comp were in full swing at this year’s National Workers Compensation & Disability Conference.  The two organizations recently joined together to form “The Alliance of Women in Workers’ Compensation” to talk about women and leadership.

The Alliance is a unique organization bringing together professional women (and men too) in the work comp industry to work together for the common good.  The Alliance’s goal of inclusivity manifests in not only encouraging women and men alike to work together for the advancement of women but with the benefit of industry improvement all around.

For the past three years, the Alliance has hosted the pre-conference event on the Tuesday before NWCDC.  The focus for this year’s event included what women are not told about leadership, what moves women from middle management to the top and developing business, strategic and financial acumen.  Quite an agenda!  And with a packed room of over 400 women, there was certainly a lot of excitement, exchanging and engaging going on!

Nina Smith, General Manager with Mitchell International and an Alliance Board Member, kicked off the event by getting us excited, up and out of our seats, clapping/dancing to some foot-stomping tunes.  It was enlightening to see a respected industry executive like Nina relaxed, having fun.. and still leading!

Next up was the keynote speaker Susan Colantuono, a recognized leadership expert, author, TED Talk extraordinaire and CEO of Leading Women.  If you were unable to attend the Alliance event, at least check out Susan’s TED Talk (click here) which will provide you with some good takeaways.

Susan’s discussion was enlightening:

  • Women are not told the essential skills for moving up, executives look for business, strategic and financial acumen.
  • Women don’t always know how best to speak the language of POWER

EQUALS= what Susan called the “missing 33%” of a woman’s professional background that keeps her from reaching the top.

So what do we do about it? Well that led to the workshop susanportion of the Alliance program, where each table began exchanging dialog on their jobs and practicing speaking the language of power.  Instead of “I feel confident I’m the right person to lead the organization” we practiced using power words such as “I understand the business, I have the cash numbers to talk about what new markets can help fuel our growth, I know our bottom line in terms of what’s needed in ROI and I know our customer…”  It’s a shift from being taught throughout our lives to be strong, confident, assertive, knowledgeable to then speaking the language of a CEO from the business acumen perspective.  It’s an important nuance.

It is no longer enough to understand the business, but women must speak to where the business is headed and her role in getting it there.  As to engaging, here’s where I believe women have a competitive edge that we don’t leverage enough.  We are THE BEST AT ENGAGING!  It’s what we do!  We engage every day from a personal level with family, our community, our faith which is then parlayed into how we interact at work.  Women not only lead, but do so with an engagement experience that sets us apart from men.  Women are great networkers and mentors, it’s in our DNA.  When you combine our natural talents with business acumen, glass ceilings should be blown away.

Leadership is using our own greatness, achieving and sustaining extraordinary outcomes and engaging the greatness in others.  Achieving and sustaining outcomes is the key to advancement, this is the business, strategic, financial acumen necessary to open the door to the top.  We can do this, it’s not only building our confidence but more importantly learning the business for advancement opportunities.

I believe there are already great women leaders in work comp today, I looked around the room and saw many of them there.  Many of them not only exhibit business acumen, but bring their compassion for helping the injured worker, building teams that provide world class service and are constantly trying to improve themselves and their businesses.  I met CEOs, nurse case managers, risk managers, general managers, senior vice presidents…so many in the room, so many that were excited, exchanging and engaging for the betterment of the industry and their businesses.

The Alliance proves that good things can and do happen in our industry.  It was energizing participating in this year’s event, knowing you are a part of a larger network and helping one another work towards professional greatness.  It’s inspiring to know women are not only committed to a career, but dedicated to the work comp profession.  We may not have solved the gender gap in a day, but I can tell you we all left the room with a better understanding of leadership and career success.

The Alliance continues to grow as an organization with local chapter events, pre-networking events at work comp conferences and an Ambassador Program.  For more information, please visit their website at