Mickey Uphold, Sr. Channel Optimization Executive on the Sales Optimization Team based in Oklahoma, recently shared his experience in partnering with his team to support the Salvation Army Metropolitan Division’s Virtual Angel Tree program.
Throughout my career, and particularly since I joined Assurant in 2019, I’ve been deeply committed to enhancing and bringing innovation to customer experiences across the spectrum. Along the way, I’ve seen how organizations who invest heavily in building a diverse, equitable and inclusive workplace, the way Assurant does, can help equip people to better understand the world around them. A key outcome of this is that individuals also discover more authentic connections with their colleagues, clients and customers. As a global company, it simply makes sense to embrace our differences and seek to understand one another. When we build relationships rooted in trust and authenticity, it enables us to engage and empower one another on an even deeper level.
But how do we expand our reach and drive even more effective change? Honestly, it doesn’t have to be a major effort to drive a lasting impact. Everyone has their own special skillset they can bring to the table to make a difference.
In my personal and professional mission to continue driving impact for others, it is an honor to share with you that I was recently selected to participate in The Atlanta Women's Foundation's (AWF) Inspire Atlanta Class of 2022. This foundation is very close to my heart because the AWF’s mission is to empower women and girls in underserved populations and steer them into becoming effective leaders, in their lives, their businesses and their communities. If it weren’t for similar programs I had access to years ago as a low-income mother trying to provide for my family while scaling my own career in the corporate world, I wouldn’t have the privilege of collaborating with this program. I am so grateful for Assurant’s unwavering support for this cause the last several years.
I also want to share that in addition to Inspire, I’ve taken on an executive sponsor role for Women @ Assurant, the first Employee Resource Group (ERG) at Assurant which opened for membership on 2/8 and will officially launch on 3/8, just in time for #InternationalWomensDay. Over 600 team members have already applied for membership to create a space for allyship, networking, idea sharing, and deeper connections across the enterprise. I’d like to particularly thank Khristie Pattison, Carol Miner, Amanda Menard, Yadira Rivera-Cintron, Naz Manji and my co-sponsor Biju Nair for their support and collaboration in helping this take flight.
In preparation for our ERG launch, a few colleagues from Assurant asked me to participate in a brief Q&A about our emerging ERG and my participation with AWF. As I learned with the #ThisLittleGirlIsMe campaign back in October, being vulnerable and sharing my truth resonates in a BIG way with other women, so I’m sharing a snippet of the interview below in the hopes of inspiring others to get involved and pay it forward for women and girls.
Q: Hi Deb! Can you walk us through your background and current role with Assurant?
A: Absolutely! When my early college and career goals right out of high school were derailed by an unplanned pregnancy, I had to get pragmatic and take jobs I thought would enable me to care for my family – I did a lot of receptionist jobs and temporary work, but eventually a friend who worked in the call center at USAA asked if I’d like to apply there – she said the pay was great and the people were nice, so I took my typing test and signed right up!!
I spent about eight years in the contact center while completing my bachelor's degree, then began moving around the organization. One great thing about large financial service organizations like USAA and Assurant is that they provide such a great environment for taking on different roles and finding out what fits your skills and attributes the best. I took roles in UX/UI Development, Product Management, Process Engineering, Organizational Transformation, DEI, Employee Experience, and Customer Experience Ownership.
When a friend told me about this role at Assurant it seemed like the perfect fit for all the work I had done previously, and so I joined Assurant in 2019 and it has been amazing – I absolutely love the people, the culture, our MCOM’s vision and ability to set us all up for success, and the fact that our products and services really help people protect themselves and their families from the unexpected.
I lead the Customer Experience (CX) team for the Enterprise, with team members embedded across most of our lines of business and geographical regions – and what they do on a daily basis varies significantly from area to area, but with a common thread throughout: they help all Assurant employees focus on making all our products and processes be more customer-centric.
As a historically very client-centered B2B organization, this is a journey, but we’ve made so much progress just in the time I’ve been here – we have an amazing team and their business partners have really embraced the drive for CX by actively inviting them to be a part of all the work going on around the Enterprise.
Q: What responsibility do you feel you have to help other women succeed or advance themselves in the workplace?
A: I was so young and new to the business world when I started my first corporate role, and truly had no idea what it took to build a career. My leaders during those first 5-10 years saw talent in me that I didn’t even know existed, and they pushed and pulled me into positions of greater and greater responsibility. I didn’t even know I HAD a leadership story at that time, much less have the ability to tell it – but the women and the leaders ahead of me paved the way and showed me how to be successful.
They did this first by being good role models, and then by taking an interest, showing they cared, teaching and mentoring me and investing their time and energy into helping me be successful.
I wouldn’t be where I am today if it wasn’t for those leaders, and so I am keenly aware of the responsibility I have to continue to give on to those around me.
Q: What advice can you offer to young women who strive to follow in your leadership footsteps?
A: I’m firmly convinced that authenticity is the key to success. Whatever you choose to do, you have to do it with your whole heart. I’m a huge fan of vulnerability in the workplace, because I know that it is our connection to each other that enables us to achieve our goals as a team – you can’t be successful by going it alone, you will always need to rely on others, and so it is relationships built on deep trust which will sustain you long term in all your endeavors.
The other practical advice I would offer is that performance in your current role is always table stakes for moving on and up – you have to master and outperform in what you’re doing now before you can be ready to take on the next thing and expand your sphere of influence.
Lastly, being a good leader to those around you, both personally and professionally, is the best place you can invest in to be impactful long term. As a leader, you have to be both incredibly effective AND incredibly inspiring – you need to be able to effectively communicate a vision, get folks aligned to it and see their role and path to success very clearly.
Q: How has your journey led to your engagement with the mission of AWF?
A: On the personal side, I’ve been deeply interested in giving back within my community almost my whole life. As an unwed, low-income young mom, I utilized California’s Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program to gain access to items such as peanut butter, cheese and milk in order to provide healthy foods to my growing baby. It was clear to me even at that time how difficult, complex and inaccessible most of our social services can be, particularly for women of color.
There is also a huge social stigma associated with utilizing those services. So, from the time that I was first able to afford to give back, I did. I would volunteer at food banks, homeless shelters and boys and girls clubs whenever I could and I would engage my children in family give-back events like holiday gift delivery to underprivileged kids.
As I have grown in my career, it has become even more important to amplify my individual impact and utilize my unique skills and talents to make a difference on a larger scale.
In this way, the timing of Inspire is perfect, because Assurant has been a key sponsor of AWF for a long time. AWF’s mission is squarely aligned with Assurant’s core values and commitment to be a catalyst for change in our local communities, and that is what AWF is all about – empowering women and girls to be successful, and to do so in ways that can truly be amplified and have a larger impact.
The grantmaking that AWF does is earmarked specifically for efforts that can spread throughout the community – such as a grant to a woman to start a daycare business, which then both employs others in the area and provides low-cost daycare to other women seeking to return to work.
To donate to the Atlanta Women's Foundation Inspire campaign to benefit women and girls, click here.