Michelle shares her insights on what it takes to build an agile, forward-looking career. 

30 October 2020

“We are a stronger, more resilient organization than when I joined,” says DeCarlo. “Our agile mindset has been a key aspect of our success in transitioning our employees to remote work and adopting new digital tools and capabilities.”

Growing up, Michelle DeCarlo, senior vice president and head of technology engineering practices at Lincoln Financial Group, enjoyed problem-solving, collaborating with others and being part of a team. The youngest of four girls, she became the first member of her “very large, very vocal” Italian family to attend college.

When entering the workforce, DeCarlo hadn’t envisioned a career in technology. After college, she secured a job with AT&T, where she worked for more than seven years. During that time, she participated in the company’s Continuous Leadership Program. However, it was one of her customers that recognized her potential, took her under his wing, and helped put her on the path that would change her career.

Technology proved the perfect fit for DeCarlo’s analytical, problem-solving mind. She quickly discovered an affinity for the complex yet tangible nature of the work and the ability to implement a solution and have the gratification of watching people use and benefit from it. She quickly rose through the ranks, holding various tech leadership positions at JP Morgan Chase and Capital One.

Disrupting the Status Quo

Since arriving at Lincoln Financial in 2016, DeCarlo has made a lasting impact on the way technology is delivered. This includes playing a significant leadership role in elevating Lincoln’s IT operating model and embracing a culture focused on a customer-centric, iterative approach. She contributed to a multi-year transformation journey that influenced changes in strategy, structure, execution practices, quality engineering and talent management for Lincoln’s IT organization. Her leadership in executing Agile and DevOps has driven Lincoln to deliver value with improved speed to market.

“We are a stronger, more resilient organization than when I joined,” says DeCarlo. “Our agile mindset has been a key aspect of our success in transitioning our employees to remote work and adopting new digital tools and capabilities.”

That’s not to suggest there weren’t challenges along the way. Twenty-five years ago, when she entered the world of tech, women were somewhat of an anomaly in the field due to low representation in the workplace. As a result, she encountered gender bias at times. But she didn’t let it get in her way. Back then, rather than allowing herself to get offended, she viewed such exchanges as a learning experience for both parties.

Fitting In and Reaching Back

Although she was a successful working mother with a strong brand and a following, DeCarlo sometimes found it necessary to “fit in.” At one point in her career, she didn’t even have pictures of her three children in her cubicle because she wanted others to see her as a professional first.  

“I found early in my career, my differences were magnified, so I was very intentional about what uniqueness I wanted exposed,” DeCarlo explains.

DeCarlo credits the many male allies as one of the reasons Lincoln is such a great place for women to succeed and grow. In particular, she cites her boss, Executive Vice President, Chief Information Officer and Head of Digital, Ken Solon, and President and CEO Dennis Glass for investing in her and supporting her, so she could become the leader she is today. She adopted Glass’ mantra to “reach back and bring someone along” – and that’s exactly what she strives to do, helping others earn their seat at the table and advance in their careers.

DeCarlo serves as executive sponsor of Lincoln’s Women in Technology Community, aimed at supporting the growth of women technologists by creating a sense of community, promoting learning opportunities and supporting colleagues in their success, both professionally and personally.

Outside of Lincoln, she seeks to share the insights and wisdom she’s gained throughout her career with her daughters and with young women technologists through partnerships with her alma mater, Temple University. Among her keys to success: push beyond your comfort zone; understand your brand; identify role models; ask for help; volunteer; take risks; and never stop learning.

Too often, DeCarlo says, teens and young adults are pressured to commit to a certain career path, often before they’ve even graduated high school. Had she refused to change course, she wouldn’t be where she is today, so she encourages students to “lean into opportunities” and to avoid putting “boundaries around their abilities.”