This article is part of a series of posts from National Life’s Women’s Inclusion Network. WIN is a concentration of bright and forward-thinking women (and men!) who collaborate on the leadership development, diversification, and empowerment of National Life’s female field affiliates and home office employees.
Carol Carlson, elected to the National Life Board in 2016, is a retired partner from the accounting firm of Ernst & Young, LLP, where she served for over 36 years as an audit and accounting specialist working with companies in the insurance industry. Her clients included many of the largest life and annuity writers in the world, as well as many of the largest global property and casualty insurers.
While with the firm she advised insurers on their strategic transactions — acquisitions, dispositions and IPOs. In addition, she advised companies on the impacts of new and developing accounting and financial reporting guidance. She serves on several committees of The Boston Club, including the Not-for-Profit Board Committee. She has always had a special interest in gender-equity and inclusiveness and led EY’s efforts on these initiatives for a number of years. She was a past member of EY’s Partner Advisory Council and is frequent speaker at insurance industry technical conferences. She earned a Bachelor of Business Administration with high distinction from the University of Iowa.
Can you share one or two turning points in your career that brought you to your executive leadership level?
In 1994, our firm’s Chairman formed our first Diversity Committee while I was on maternity leave with my second daughter. I received a call from him asking me if I would like to join the committee, and, if so, could I be at a meeting in NYC on March 30th. My daughter was born on March 1st, and as this would be my first out-of-town trip since she was born, I naturally hesitated a bit, but then said “of course!” This was the start of Ernst & Young’s mission to increase not only the number of women in firm leadership, but also to make the firm more racially and culturally diverse. By being a part of that inaugural committee, I was fortunate enough to get to lead many of the firm’s initiatives in this regard. This became an important part of my entire career, certainly one of my favorites.
How did you become a board member for National Life Group? And what attracted you to National Life?
Throughout my career with E&Y I worked with the insurance industry. I always found Insurance to be a fascinating industry, so when one of my colleagues from the firm brought me the opportunity to join the Board of National Life, I jumped at the chance. I met with all of the Board members including Mehran and got the sense that this was an exceptional company and a great place to be.
What do you like most about working with the National Life Group?
Working with National Life has been such a great experience. I think the culture is what I admire most; it’s open, welcoming, diverse, with lots of super-smart people who really want to do good for the company, for the customers, for themselves and for their families. The company has a great deal of energy that makes it hard to resist.
Is there a particular woman who has inspired you in life?
There have been many women who have inspired me, but one in particular stands out… The wife of the managing partner of EY in Houston while I was working there was an entrepreneur who owned her own business. It was widely thought by all that she out-earned her husband even though he was head of a significant practice of a Big Four accounting firm. She was someone I would describe as an “outside person.” They both were very active in the community on several boards, and she inspired me because she never took a backseat to her husband’s career.
What advice would you give to young women who are just beginning their careers?
Sometimes it will be very tough, especially when you are working a lot and trying to grow a family. But no matter what, you should stick with it — it will be worth it in the end. You, your kids, and your partner will be better for it.
What leadership qualities would you recommend new leaders aspire to?
Be authentic, be yourself, and ask for help when you need it. Don’t assume that you know everything. And most of all, take others with you. Support the people who work for you and with you.
Do you have a cause or a favorite “Do good” passion?
I have several. I am very active in my church and currently serve as the Chair of Finance. I also volunteer through an organization called Boston Cares. They are a conduit for finding volunteers in the Boston area to work at soup kitchens, food pantries, the prison book project, packing meals, packing care packages for our military, and writing support letters. I am also on the Board of the Wellesley Free Library Foundation, where I get to combine my love of reading with giving back to our community.
What would you tell someone who is considering either joining the National Life team or doing business with us?
I would enthusiastically tell them to do it! National Life is a great, great company with lots of great people and many, many opportunities. There is really good positive energy about the company and its business.
Any other words of wisdom you’d like to share?
You should never underestimate your own potential.