Voice of Experience: Terry Albarella, Vice President, Enterprise Architecture, Prudential Financial

Terry AlbarellaBy Cathie Ericson

Being out is something that Terry Albarella feels is essential to her success in the workplace.

That’s because being authentic allows you to build a level of trust with your team and peers; if you don’t share, people might wonder if you are hiding something or assume that you don’t care enough to share. The more you can share, the better relationships you create, and the better work everyone can do together, she says.

“Sharing our personal lives helps us be a more cohesive team. When pressure and deadlines come, you can get through those rough times better when you have established a high level of trust,” she says.

On that note, Albarella says she’s been able to meet a broad range of people who feel open to share their stories because they know hers, which has allowed her to get to know people with whom her path might not otherwise have crossed. She has also found that working with executives who might not know someone in the LGBTQ+ community has given them a comfortable opportunity to learn and imparted a broader knowledge they can take to their team and their customers.

Alexa, Please Check My Balance

Albarella began on a technical path right out of college as a developer providing PC support. She joined Prudential in 1995 where they were consolidating from a distributed support model, and over time as they centralized, she gravitated toward the server and application support side, focusing on developing efficiency in the system and responding to problems before they could impact customers. Over the last few years she has moved into the architectural space, helping with upgrades right from the start when they bring tech in the door.

While she has been involved in many large, impactful problems over her tenure, most recently she led a team that rolled out the Alexa voice assistant to Prudential’s customers. While Alexa is known for its skills on the consumer side, there are now more opportunities for business applications, and Prudential was proud to be the first to market with a retirement skill on the platform. “It was an interesting project that allowed us to collaborate on something that was brand new, and we had to put a structure in place to support it with all the rigor that our systems demand.”

The product was made public in the beginning of April, and now anyone who has a Prudential retirement account can use Alexa to look at their account balances. “It gave us a great opportunity to take some new talent we had hired and give them the opportunity to come straight out of school and play a critical role in a project that would interest them right away,” she notes. The test was so successful that they are looking into other voice assistants and emerging technologies to see how they can be creative on all platforms and offer innovative ways for customers to access information in the way they prefer.

Pride in Her Role in PRIDE

Equally important to Albarella as her tech role is her leadership position in the PRIDE Business Resource Group, of which she has been a member since 2010 and president for the past four years. “It has offered a great opportunity to serve customers in the LGBT community better while also allowing me to get more involved in the business components of supporting employees.”

And, she adds, this “side job” in PRIDE has helped her develop relationships she can use in her day job, as she now has a strong network across the organization with people she otherwise wouldn’t have been in contact with on a day-to-day basis.
Albarella has been instrumental in helping create and roll out the PruALLY program, which started in 2013 as the larger equality conversation was just kicking up and people didn’t have a broad understanding of why they should care. The program offered information on the issues surrounding marriage equality and addressed some of the misunderstandings people might have if they didn’t realize firsthand what people were facing.

“This awareness was very impactful even beyond Prudential’s doors into the greater community,” she says, while also assuring LGBQT employees that they had a supportive organization around them. In 2014, she received the Trailblazer Award from Re:Gender for thiswork.

The program has expanded over the years and now gives people a diversity and inclusion pledge they can keep top of mind to remind them that what they say can impact people. The program is being rolled out internationally; Albarella says it’s almost overwhelming when she goes to another location and sees PruAlly desk tents.

They just did a refresh of the campaign to keep the materials relevant, and when they asked executives to participate in a photo shoot and say why they are an Ally, they had hoped to get eight to 10 interested responses, but received more than 75. “We were overwhelmed by the welcoming support,” she says.

Albarella is particularly proud that PRIDE is the most tenured BRG at Prudential, celebrating its 25th anniversary. “The company has always been supportive in using the BRG almost as a focus group and made many changes over the years,” she says. And it has been a big asset in recruiting, which has helped Prudential benefit from a diverse workforce that allows the firm to bring broader experiences to apply to business problems and helps them better reach all their customers.

Helping Others Achieve a Bright Future

Albarella urges young women to be confident in their skills and not shy away from high-profile projects. “Even if you are not as successful as you want to be, it will be a tremendous learning opportunity and also showcase you to others on the team for future roles.”

And don’t be satisfied with a support role or be afraid to ask for something bigger, she says. “Sometimes people wait to be asked, but if someone steps up and offers, we find a way to bring those people onto the project.”

She encourages her peers to go beyond mentoring and use their voices to advocate for younger women coming up and ensure they have the training that will prepare them for more senior roles. “Create time to sponsor and champion those in the pipeline to make space for them to take the next step,” she says. It’s important for those in senior positions to help engage others and seek their opinions, asking to hear their voice if they are quiet in a meeting, for example, as a way for them to build their skills and everyone to benefit from diverse perspectives.

Experiencing The Positive Side of Video Games

An avid video gamer, she is proud this is a passion she shares with her wife and daughter and son, who have been gaming since they were young. She finds it brings them together on a common platform; for example, although her daughter is away at graduate school in Kansas, they can log on at night and catch up, which she says has been a wonderful opportunity to connect.

Other positives she sees in gaming are that it has taught her children to be very detail-oriented and has also given them the chance to lead. And most importantly, it has provided different experiences and enabled them to put themselves in other people’s shoes.

She knows firsthand how valuable that is: Albarella herself had been in a straight marriage for 19 years and never realized she was a lesbian until she played a video game that put her in the shoes of a same-sex relationship where she realized that’s what she’d been missing. “Video games hold a special place in my heart because they helped me come out,” she says.