Boss Lady Q&A with Shantell Isaac

An on-going series celebrating women in business, who, frankly, are bad ass and boss ladies!

Shantell Isaac is the Senior International Policy Analyst with the American Council of Life Insurers (ACLI), a U.S.-based insurance trade association representing over 300 life, pensions and reinsurance companies operating in the U.S. and abroad. Specifically, Shantell assists in the development and implementation of advocacy strategies for the development of foreign financial regulatory and trade regimes on behalf of U.S. industry.

Prior, she was with the SelectUSA agency in the International Trade Administration (ITA), U.S. Department of Commerce, focusing on foreign direct investment attraction. A native to Arizona, she earned her B.S. in Economics and Political Science at Northern Arizona University and earned her M.A. in U.S. Foreign Policy and International Economic Relations at the American University in Washington, D.C.

1. How has your life experience made you the person you are today?

For starters, I'm a first generation Arab-American, Roman Catholic woman with a French name...so, I think my penchant towards diversity has been there since day 1. 

Growing up, my family would spend every summer in Jordan, and travel to other countries throughout the Middle East and Europe. I'm extremely lucky to have had these experiences at such a young age, being exposed to different lands, foods, languages and people. Today, part of how I would define myself: an open-minded person and an explorer of culture and people. I certainly have a colorful childhood to thank for most of it!

2. How has your previous employment experience aided your current position at ACLI?

Previously, I worked in research in academia, which broadened my mind and analytic capabilities. I've worked in broader investment attraction and bilateral coordination for the U.S. government, which provided me an inside look into how the U.S. works with other countries to bolster economic ties, while maintaining the best interests of the American people and institutions. These skills have helped me asses a policy or situation from multiple angles for any holes or advantages.

3. Can you share some of the highlights and challenges you've had to date?

This past year, I've been responsible for working directly with and solely representing my company to delegates from the European Commission (EC), the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and the World Trade Organization (WTO). I've been given the opportunity to lead meetings and events with key stakeholders from around the world! These interactions took tons of prep, including psyching myself up (because those are some serious people in the audience!). 

Being able to represent myself and my organization to these accomplished groups of people, with decades more experience than me (albeit scary), reminded me that there is a reason I was chosen to take on these tasks. If anyone is to believe in me--it has to start with myself.

In general, these events might not have gone exactly as planned, but in the end, I could feel myself getting one step closer to being the "boss lady" that I envision. It fuels my drive even more.

4. What advice can you offer women who want to work in politics?

Get educated, get motivated, maintain a strong and consistent work ethic and most of all, be pleasant. 

Politics isn't always an episode of "House of Cards." Other women in the field aren't your enemy--they're your support system! One stereotype that I have found to be generally true: the more you do for others, the more they will do for you. Being a pleasant person makes it easier for that to happen.

5. How do you maintain a work/life balance?

"Me time"--I NEED it. Being constantly on-the-go with work, I know that I need to have downtime "scheduled" for me to relax and unwind. I am constantly checking my calendar, making sure I am ready for the coming week, two weeks, a month out, etc. It might sound nuanced, but I plan ahead for free time (literally putting it on my calendar) to just watch TV or get my nails done. If it's on my calendar, it's gotta get done! Yes, even "free time" :)

6. What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?

Self doubt is the lady killer! The issue lies in thinking you are at a disadvantage for just being a woman, and then making that a self-fulfilled prophecy. Be confident, know your portfolio, and put your work first; not your gender. Make people see what is important.

7. How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?

I would not be where I am today without the people that have supported me. I've had professors that pushed my mind and analytic capabilities beyond a point I even thought possible. And I see those results in the work I complete today. The people I've been able to look up to in my career, for a glimpse into my future, give me goals. Most importantly, my mentors continue to believe in me and give me the opportunities and self-confidence to keep doing more!

8. Which other female leaders do you admire and why?

I LOVE strong, educated women that are leaders in their field. I have zero bias towards political, religious, or other affiliations that, at times, might be polarizing. What draws my attention is a woman's conviction of her abilities and her beliefs, and the strength to forge forward against the status quo to make her dreams a reality.

  • Queen Rania of Jordan - She's a wonderful example of what a modern queen should be.
  • Hilary Clinton - Just the prospect at having the first female President of the United States gives me butterflies in these elections; and she's a great contender!
  • Meryl Streep - Throughout her career, she's not only exhibited amazing acting chops and talent, but she's done it with grace and poise.
  • Condoleezza Rice - Even when under fire and dealing with one of the most traumatic times in recent U.S. history, she remained calm, cool and collected.
  • Malala Yousafzai - She's pioneering change in a time and place of hostility-and that takes major courage! She's endured and continues to fight the good fight for a better future for our girls.

9. What do you want to accomplish in the next year? 

This next year will be a continuation of what I have already put into motion over the past few years- building my reputation, developing my professional skill set and broadening my network of friends. I hope to continue my personal growth and look forward to the new doors that will open for me!