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Deanna Mulligan discusses leaving Guardian Life Insurance and her book about the huge pending skills gap

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It’s been a challenging past six months. How did Guardian manage the transition to remote work?

Our former offices at 7 Hanover Square had a 5-foot wall of water wash through the lobby during Hurricane Sandy. We were out of that building for nine months. We did not have a backup plan then but made it through. I said we could never have this happen to us again. So we brought on a chief information officer, and one of his first jobs was to make us location independent. It took five years and a lot of training, but we were ready to flip the switch this time, which we did March 10.

Pivoting to your book, what is the skills gap, and how big is this challenge?

The world is changing rapidly, and the skills companies require from employees are changing rapidly. The estimates of how many people will need to be reskilled are anywhere from 30 million to 80 million people.

How does Guardian help employees learn new skills?

It’s important to develop a learning culture inside an organization. We have invested a lot in education and training. We have a pilot project right now to help front-line employees—who would normally be answering telephones or processing claims—become coders and work in our IT department. It opens up a whole new world of career possibilities for them.

When Crain’s profiled you most recently for the Most Powerful Women list, you were the only female CEO among New York’s Fortune 500s. Why do you think it’s so rare to see female leadership at top companies?

I think this is changing. There are many more female Fortune 500 CEOs now than when I became CEO 10 years ago, for example. And in New York City, we have the example of Jane Fraser, who has just been elected CEO at Citi. You’ll see even more from financial services companies in the future. Many studies have been done that show having a diverse board, diverse leadership and a diverse workforce lead to better results. 

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