By Melissa J. Anderson (New York City)
One of the turning points in Claire Ross’s career was realizing the benefits in taking big risks and moving out of her comfort zone.
Ross, Head of Customer Service Delivery, Outsourcing at Mercer, explained, “I realized that men go for bigger roles, even if they don’t think they can do half of the job. As a woman I would not have gone done that, our natural tendency is to be 100% sure you can do the whole role.”
She continued, ‘Knowing that, I have pushed myself outside of my comfort zone and it has proved to be much easier than I ever imagined. If I had known earlier, I would have pushed further, sooner.”
Pensions and Outsourcing
Ross was educated at a private convent, and joined Barclays Bank for about 6 years. “Then I fell into the pensions profession,” she said. She joined Hadrian Solway, which became part of the Capita Group. “I spent ten years developing the business, managing teams and running the operation” she said. “Then I moved to Towers Watson for ten years, where I had great experiences working with FTSE clients, selling and installing new business and then Mercer tracked me down.”
“I see my career as finding my path in life,” she explained. “I grabbed the opportunities presented, and worked my way up the ladder – and I worked very hard.”
Ross is currently on the executive team for Mercer’s outsourcing business, managing 1,200 people in offices in the UK and India. She also sits on the firm’s global operations council.
Ross said one of her proudest achievements has been developing the straight-through process (STP) for the pensions industry. “I was the founder of an industry-wide group standing for the electronic interfacing of trading data in 2004,” she explained. “We launched the process in 2007, and now it’s the industry-wide norm.”
“I’m very proud to have done this – it’s made a big difference,” Ross added.
Currently Ross is working on some product development of a whole new service line for a new client, and, she says, working on something so unique is exhilarating. “You learn a lot by working on projects that challenges you intellectually,” she explained.
She also encourages trustee groups to move faster when it comes to new pensions regulations. “I find the pensions industry moves at a slow pace. Something that should be high on the trustee agenda at the moment is auto enrollment, it’s now less than 12 months away and it’s not being given high priority. I’m working hard to raise awareness across the industry.”
Advice for Professional Women
“In my field, women are very successful,” Ross said. “Our executive team for outsourcing is 50% female, which is quite a large proportion. I think it’s helpful that women in operational roles tend to be very organized. We don’t have big barriers to success here.”
Ross had several pieces of advice for young professional women. “Focus, take opportunities when they come up, be brave and try something new.”
And, she continued, be confident enough to take career risks. “As I mentioned, if it were a man being offered an opportunity, he’d take it. Have confidence in yourself, you’re just as able to do the job as anyone else.”
For women who are more advanced in their careers she had two recommendations. “First, make sure you get work/life balance right. And second, make sure you focus on your people.”
“Especially in my field, my people are hugely important – they are the backbone to the organization, they make the engine room run.”
Ross praised Mercer’s flex policy and work options for part timers, and said she’s committed to improving diversity at the firm. “I sit on the diversity council – and it’s not just about men and women, it’s about many different things including equal opportunities for everyone and connecting with our clients.”
She added, “We take very seriously what we’re doing for women.”
In Her Personal Time
Ross, who lives on the Southern Coast of England, said she enjoys spending time with her family and taking walks on the beach with her dog.
“I love kayaking – so I’m often out on the water. It’s a good way to relax,” she said.