05/05/2015 04:40 am ET Updated May 04, 2016

Women in Business: Emily Viner, Vice President, Agency Management & Leadership Development, Conference & Event Marketing, The Guardian Life Insurance Company of America, New York

Emily Viner is responsible for the growth, development and retention of Guardian's Sales Managers and Leadership Bench, in addition to heading Guardian's strategy to create gender balance and diversity in its advisor ranks and the conference and event marketing area for the company. Joining Guardian in 1998 Emily has been responsible for most aspects surrounding the growth and development of agency distribution nationally. She has led the areas of FR Recruiting, Agent Training, Team Selling, and Advanced Planning. During the merger of Berkshire Life Insurance Company with The Guardian, Emily successfully managed the transition of Berkshire career agents into Guardian's distribution system.

During Viner's 16+ years at Guardian, its agent ranks have grown from 2100 to 3200 agents while maintaining its strong 4-year retention rate. In 2008 Emily received what she feels is the highest honor, Guardian's Field Service Award presented by the Field Advisory Board, comprised of Guardian General Agents. In 2009 she was honored by the national organization, Women in Insurance & Financial Services as Woman of the Year.

She has a strong belief in empowering young women, through her creation of and work with the Girls Going Places Program at Guardian, 165 girls were awarded $330,000 between 2001 and 2011 to reinvest in their businesses or to assist with college tuition. Through local GGP Conferences in partnership with Guardian agencies, over 8000 teen girls had the opportunity to connect with more than 2000 women business owner mentors.

How has your previous employment experience aided your tenure at The Guardian Life Insurance Company of America (Guardian)?
I grew up in this industry. I was a Financial Representative, and then a Sales Manager. Because I built a practice and ran a business, I can bring those experiences and knowledge to what I do today.

I have a pretty diverse role that has evolved over my 17 years with Guardian which makes it very exciting and fulfilling. At a high level, I am a financial services distribution and marketing executive with a purpose and a passion for securing the future of distribution and leaving a legacy of strong gender balanced leadership. There are 3 distinct areas I currently focus on: Field Management & Leadership Development, Building & Execution of our Gender Balance Strategies and Association Marketing.

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
We are who we are, our life experiences shape us each and every day. Being a wife, mother, daughter, sister and friend is what gives us texture. You can't help but bring those parts of yourself into who you are as a leader. I believe those are the parts that make women such amazing leaders... of course those can also be the things that derail us! For me, my life experiences give me wisdom and perspective that I apply to situations and decisions... how did this type of situation play out in another aspect of my life? What did I do then? Were there any unintended consequences that I didn't see?

What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at Guardian?
I would say #1 is seeing the people, particularly the women, I have coached and mentored succeed. #2 would be receiving Guardian's Field Service Award in 2008, this is an award voted on by all our General Agents (individuals who run our agencies nationwide) given to one person a year who they feel goes above and beyond in providing value to them and their businesses. #3 would be introducing the idea of Gender Intelligence to our field offices and how if we apply gender intelligence we build better, stronger offices, people and client relationships.

While I have thrived in a very male dominated business, it can also be challenging at times. Until I understood brain science and the brain based differences/hard wiring between men and women, I felt invisible at times. Understanding this hardwiring and the linear thinking most men employ, I have learned how to better engage so we capitalize on our differences rather than merely tolerate.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
Years ago a mentor told me, "Emily, you've got to say yes more often. You have to be confident, as I am, that you can do whatever you set your mind to." I took that advice to heart and now, I say "yes!" to every opportunity. I remember the first moment I decided to test out the theory of jumping in with both feet so to speak...I was in a team meeting (the only woman on the leadership team at the time) and our leader/boss asked me first if I wanted a main platform or a workshop for an upcoming, very large, conference we were running. In the past, I would have said "I don't care, I'm open to either" afraid of the risk to go for main platform over-thinking if I was ready or not. On this day, I said, "Main platform." Long story short, it went great and enhanced my career exponentially. Women spend too much time being competent and not enough time being confident.

How do you maintain a work/life balance?
I prefer to say work/life integration... there really is no balance and no having it all. That said, each individual must be the architect of that integration. I was vigilant when my girls were younger on what I would do, when I would do it, where I would do it but at the end of the day, the company always got what they needed and so did I.

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
I've been working with an amazing partner, Barbara Annis, a world-renowned leader on Gender Intelligence. She's done extensive research on the seven pitfalls of women leaders. Becky Shambaugh calls these behaviors "sticky floors." Two of the biggest issues I see from that list are thinking that if we work hard enough we'll be noticed/promoted and taking on the "grunt" work vs the high profile work. I call this behavior "give me the mop." We have to say "yes" more often, take the risk of the high profile work and let someone else have the mop and then promote what we've done. Not in an aggressive way, in a strategic, productive way. If I had any advice for a young person today, it's "take the leap. Say yes to the challenge and have the confidence that you'll figure it out."

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
There are many female leaders I admire, but my favorite is Madeline Albright, our first female US Secretary of State. Not only was she an amazing leader, she expressed herself in such a variety of ways.

For example as US Ambassador to the UN after the Gulf war she was instructed to say perfectly terrible things about Saddam Hussein - which caused him to call her an unparalleled serpent. After that, at every meeting she had with him, she wore a snake pin.

Another quote from Madeline that I love... "It's hard to be the only woman in the room. Having a support system is very important. When I was in office, I had a group of women foreign ministers that were my friends throughout the world, and my little saying is that there's a special place in hell for women who don't help each other... we are only strengthened if there are more women"

What advice can you offer to women who are seeking a career in the finance industry?
Number one. Have a plan and know what you want. Does the prospect of owning your own business appeal to you? If it does, recognize that when you become a financial advisor you will have the same challenges as with starting any business. When you begin a business, you work long hours, you often work in the red for a year or so until you develop a clientele. That would happen if you were starting a new store, hanging your shingle as an attorney or accountant. Second, there is no glass ceiling in the advisor role, and women don't make 77% of a man's commission either. A commission dollar is a commission dollar and you can control your destiny and raise a family if you choose to unlike in any other career. Finally, but this is the most important, this career is so powerful in that you can have a tremendous impact on your community. That's meaningful work and that is attractive not only to women, but younger workers who are seeking the opportunity to make an amazing income, but also to affect the world around them in a positive way.

What do you want Guardian to accomplish in the next year?
I want Guardian to be known as a destination organization. The place you want to go to start your business, to secure your future and find meaningful work. It's all about delivering the best customer experience and reflecting the diversity of the markets we serve - and it's about staying relevant today and in the years ahead.