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Senior vice president, commercial lines
Risk Strategies Co. Inc.
Now a mentor herself after having benefited from mentorships, Diane Mittenzwei credits her mother first for helping her in her 30-year career in insurance.
Her mother, who lost her husband while pregnant with her, had to leave her young children with family in the Philippines to immigrate to the United States to support her family.
“She had to establish herself and then bring her kids here,” said Ms. Mittenzwei, who eventually arrived in New York when she was eight. “She had to lay a lot of groundwork. … We had to learn how to be independent.”
The message, she added, is generational: Her mother’s father was killed in World War II, leaving behind a family. Somehow, the women who came before learned to survive.
“My mother’s mentality was always, as a woman you always need to be support yourself,” she said.
Ms. Mittenzwei grew up in Staten Island, New York, and studied business at New York University. In 1989, she took her first position as a checker/biller at the DeWitt Stern Group, which Risk Strategies acquired in 2014.
The first years of her career weren’t easy, but mentors helped make a difference, she said.
“They told me, ‘You are really smart, you have a good head on your shoulders, but you need to learn the politics of being in the business world,’” she said. “‘You are a short Filipino woman and people are going to judge you within the first five minutes.’”
The lesson she passes on in her mentoring of other minority women is to take control, said Tajuana Snelling, a New York-based company account executive who began meeting with Ms. Mittenzwei six years ago.
“She said, ‘Imagine you are in a car,’ and she would ask me where my seat is,” Ms. Snelling, who is Black, recalled of one of their lunch meetings. “I said, ‘I feel like I am in the backseat looking at everybody else.’ And she said, ‘The goal is to get in the driver’s seat and out of your comfort zone.’”
“It is because of that I decided to send an email to our regional manager and HR to discuss a diversity and inclusion program,” Ms. Snelling said.
The Business Insurance Women to Watch awards program highlights the achievements of female leaders in the insurance sector to celebrate their success and promote gender diversity in the industry.