Imagine you are newly-hired, ready to learn and make your mark. Sadly, your ambitions are thwarted by colleagues who provide patronizing answers to your earnest questions. Or, even worse, they won’t deal with you at all “because you’re a woman.”
While such incidents have occasionally mottled the career of Ann Sommer, the President of a Swedish non-life Insurance company; Ann told me how, “I didn’t take it to heart. I tried to relax and tell myself ‘It’s just a job and I have to work around the problem.’” Ann then applied her natural curiosity and charm to find common ground, get men to answer her questions, and negotiate deals as equals.
Ann recounted for me how she developed this knack early in her career, while leading the clean-up of a reinsurance firm’s chaotic accounting department: “I discovered that I am a very curious person. If there is something I don’t understand – like a loose thread I see – I start pulling that thread and things happen.”
As Ann made it her mission to learn everything about the insurance business, she recalled how, “When I started asking questions, the men around me would say, ‘Well, it’s always been like that’, or ‘It’s supposed to be that way.’”
Realizing that, “Men liked me, but they also stopped me,” Ann devised a strategy. “I had to get them to let their guard down. So, I would always be very friendly and try to change the subject,” she explained. “Then, I would slowly get back to why I was really there. This worked, because the men were not used to dealing with someone like me. I found they are usually more scared than you are.”