At ELEMENT, we’re immensely proud of the incredibly talented women working in our various teams. Our “Women of ELEMENT” series highlights the incredible female talent committed to redefining the future of insurance. Our purpose is simple; to increase awareness of women’s roles in a traditionally male-dominated industry, and to highlight the expertise and passion these women bring to their roles each and every day.
Our guest in this edition is Beril Adikutlu who is a Product Owner for Numbers in our Product Team.
I'm originally from Turkey and studied Business Administration at the Middle East Technical University, so it was an open field and while most people went into marketing, I started with HR on the training side. I always felt there was more I could do besides training, so I took a short break to strategize on things that piqued my interest. Furthermore, I didn’t want to stay in Ankara, so I moved to fast-paced Istanbul and applied for various jobs. I came across Anadolu Sigorta which is Turkey's first national insurance company. This was my first contact with their HR Manager, who was a woman. She conducted a few personal traits tests and guided me to become a business analyst in Digital Insurance. I would say she directed me to my passion.
Personally, I believe she was able to see the big picture. My immediate supervisor who was also a woman took her time in helping me discover which areas of Digital Insurance I was passionate about, she gave me autonomy in my job, introduced me to the senior leadership team and the freedom to make active contributions in the company. Her input helped me gain confidence and develop my own voice in a male-dominated company. It was nice to know that another woman was watching out for me. I would consider her an empowering person who especially encouraged female employees to be at the forefront and make themselves heard.
As the company went into agile transformation, the new role of product owners were vastly men and I believe she was able to push for more women including myself to become product owners and have a voice. In my role as a product owner, I learnt more about insurance basics, mobile technologies and applications. I also learned a lot about Insurtech, and that would lead me to ELEMENT. This is one of the reasons why I joined ELEMENT because insurtech is one of my passions and I know it has a lot of growth potential.
The thing I enjoy most about my role is I can ask questions. As the product owner, I am able to properly ask and understand the needs of others. I don’t just settle for the answers, but do a deep dive to properly understand the details of it. It's very easy to communicate with others, and you can directly talk to them in person, at the office or over Slack. Open communication provides a lot of different perspectives on insurance, technology and what I do.
I think product ownership to me is something I can own and raise it and see how it evolves in time. I enjoy working with the team to grow the product. It involves having the bigger picture, thinking strategically, and digging down to the details of the things I like. It's always open for challenges and there is always something to do better with the product and my skills. The most important thing I like in the role is the communication which is a sharp contrast from my previous role as a business analyst where I was caught up in the databases, codes and API, and now I mostly go around listening to ideas and taking key insights from people.
There are a lot of personal skills that helped me in my career, but I must acknowledge the guidance from all the ladies and everyone I met along my career journey. I can start with the HR personnel from my first career interview, which had a four-stage evaluation process. The first was general skills, in which I was one of the top candidates and the highest in English skills. It was at the third stage when I was meeting with the head of another department who was a male with a very dominant figure and I felt very uneasy because it felt less like an interview and more like an interrogation. The Head of HR quickly stepped in and asked if I would consider a role in digital insurance as a business analyst as she believed I would be a great fit considering my test results, personality and skills. I said OK and that was it. It was indeed a perfect fit.
My immediate supervisor was also helpful and knew that the role would match my skills. She knew I liked talking to people and was a good researcher (google is my best friend). Even in my daily life, I like to ask what is that, how is that done, and she helped me develop on that through a lot of training and personal development. She introduced me to key stakeholders and encouraged me to work on a programme for the United Nations Global Compact, where I was involved in a project for Sustainable Development Goals.
My project would later include climate action and then women empowerment in companies. This would push our company to sign WEPs which is the Women Empowerment Principles agreement to empower its women employees and improve the balance between women and men in the company. Now they promote more women to higher positions, and I consider that a starting point to improve the lives of all employees.
To sum up, mostly asking questions, being open to trying new things and chasing my passion are very important traits which have helped me in my career as well as the many strong women who have opened the door for myself and other countless women to succeed.
I have worked in the insurance industry in Turkey and I can say the overall diversity is very poor, especially in tech departments. People always assumed that the women are there because of their beauty, and connections and have people from the company backing them and when you're smart, start asking questions and are self-confident, they're a bit bothered by you and sometimes this leads to some unpleasant interactions. Whilst some encouraged me to do more, others did not like this, as it was visible in things like promotions and salary.
While I'm not a fan of handing out promotions, I strongly believe this should be natural and based on skills, traits and regardless of gender. Especially after maternity, it's harder for women to come back to work in Turkey. When I compare this to ELEMENT and by extension German law, women can have their kids, use their parental leave and come back to work. I believe the treatment at ELEMENT is a better condition than what I saw. Regarding working hours, I believe that most women work longer hours than men because they have a lot of external pressure to succeed and this sometimes leads to sacrificing personal time for work, but this is quite different at ELEMENT.
In the Product and Numbers team, we are very open-minded and value everyone for who they are. I haven’t experienced anything negative from the perspective of diversity, but I would like more female engineers in the tech team. I know we have a few already, but I would love to work with more female engineers and hear their perspectives on the codes and products we make.
The one thing I would advise all the women entering the insurance or tech industry is not to doubt themselves. As women, we are always taught to question our skills, doubt ourselves and try to adopt stronger ideals of people who have an intimidating and powerful stance. I would say stand up for yourself and not be afraid of voicing your opinions. Please speak up on anything that bothers you and has an impact on your mental health and work performance. Do not shy away from uncomfortable conversations, and voice their opinions openly. They shouldn’t be afraid of making mistakes, I wouldn’t call it failing because failing has a negative connotation, but it's normal that we are making mistakes. Men make mistakes, but I believe some are better at hiding their disappointments afterwards.
They shouldn’t resent anything that is done in the working environment, make their jobs their life, or identify their self-worth with their titles. I can be a product owner by day, but outside I'm Beril, and I'm a different person than the product owner Beril. Yes, we share some similar traits and have some common points but outside of work, there is a stronger Beril who is not afraid to go into the male-dominated industry. We have to be tough but also learn our positive traits which can make the industry better. I believe we are the ones who solve problems, inject empathy into the sector, and this is something that customers of the sector need right now. To sum up stand for yourself, do not be silenced at work or in your personal life, trust yourself, your skills and training, and you will be powerful.