BY JON CRONIN
As a young woman starting her career, Lori Vavrinec never took her eye off the prize.
Vavrinec—who is the director of marketing at Fidelis Care New York—noted that she was the first person in her family to pursue higher education.
“I put myself through college,” she said. “One of the movies that influenced me was Working Girl with Melanie Griffith. I really wanted to be that person.”
She noted that when she graduated from Adelphi University, “it was the earlier stages of the women’s movement.” As a marketing major, she was encouraged to pursue advertising.
“The finance side [was] for men,” she said.
After graduation, a recruiter suggested that she work in insurance, but she knew nothing about that field.
“In those days, there was life insurance and health insurance,” she said.
She got her first job with U.S. Healthcare at a time when the healthcare industry was changing, and her first territory was in Brooklyn.
“Remember, that was in the days before cell phones,” she said. “I had to be in my territory, on my feet and using public phones.”
She rose from key account group sales into group sales management, and was later placed in charge of turning around the company’s New York Medicare Sales Division. Vavrinec was promoted to assistant vice president of sales in New York, the first female to fill that position. Her team led the company, now known as Aetna, to success as the top sales division in the company for two years in a row.
“That was an interesting time. I was the first woman to break into running a division at U.S. Healthcare,” she said, noting that male colleagues were not as accepting after she took over that role.
Vavrinec said that many of her male colleagues took their clients on business lunches, during which they had cocktails or played golf.
“Being a woman, we didn’t do those things,” she said. “I had to work twice as hard to get the deal done. I had to be very strategic. I had to develop a plan and a backup plan. Everything you would do would be scrutinized by everyone. They felt that I was taking the job away from a man with a family who deserved to be in that role.”
A few years into her career, Vavrinec became pregnant, and feared her colleagues believed that she would not be as devoted to her career. After she gave birth, she was only given six weeks of maternity leave.
“I could not show any weakness,” she said of her return to the company following her pregnancy leave. “You had to perform better than before to show you could do it all. For a man, if he has a family, even when he comes home, his wife often takes the role as caretaker. I missed many things for my kids over the years because of travel or business conflict. I was doing well, but you feel conflicted for doing what you love. I think that is what a lot of working women feel.”
Today, Vavrinec is the director of marketing at Fidelis Care New York in Rego Park and commutes 90 minutes each day from Long Island.
She is responsible for sales and marketing initiatives and leads a team of 140 people who help to grow Fidelis Care’s membership across all product lines, from birth to Medicare.
She has worked for Aetna and Cigna, and seen numerous mergers and layoffs. When Fidelis approached her, she thought that she wanted out of health insurance. But she is glad she took a chance with the company.
“It has been very exciting,” she said. “Healthcare is a controversial topic. I saw what it was like before the Affordable Care Act [ACA]. Cancer, pregnancy and diabetes are now getting the care they need. People never hear that side.”
She believes that younger generations don’t understand what it was like for women even 30 years ago.
“My son has a female dentist and pediatrician,” she said. “He doesn’t understand what it’s like. I have great hope. They didn’t see the struggles beforehand. He’s very proud to have a mom who’s a working mother. He’s seen me on TV and commercials to talk about the ACA and do interviews.”