Helping individuals and communities thrive is more than a job to Jen Pittman ’00, it’s a passion. Throughout her career journey, from government to nonprofit to corporate sectors, she has engaged in dialogue and action to help create frameworks for change for the greater good. She specializes in helping people connect across aisles and collaborate around ideas to make a positive, lasting impact.
Today, she lends her experience and expertise to Indianapolis-based OneAmerica®, where she is vice president for community affairs. She joined the company nearly seven years ago, and has since held four leadership positions. A proven change leader, she continually looks for ways to help produce positive, people-focused outcomes. In the following Q&A, she shares insights about her career preparation, purpose and values, as well as a glimpse of family life.
Your bachelor’s degree is in journalism. How has that foundation influenced your career trajectory?
“While my career path didn’t lead to a newsroom, I have used my journalism degree every day of my professional life. The education I received in Shirk Hall (Pulliam School of Journalism) taught me how to be a lifelong learner, how to nurture natural curiosity for all kinds of topics, how to engage people in conversation in a way that makes them want to share their stories, how to always think critically — and on a very practical level — my journalism professors taught me how to produce pristine copy. The ability to translate complex subject matter into digestible information is essential for just about every job, regardless of the industry.
“As the mass media landscape transforms around us, I also have come to rely on my journalism education to help me sort through the barrage of content. It’s easy to read clips or watch news broadcasts and feel spun around by the world. Doing some of my own digging and knowing how to quickly separate fact from commentary helps me stay grounded in reality and focused on outcomes that matter.”
Your early career was a progression in government and nonprofit communications roles. How did the skill set you developed in those areas help prepare you for the transition to corporate work?
“Government and nonprofit roles are often underrated in terms of transferrable skills and knowledge. And at the time I worked in those roles, I didn’t fully appreciate the real-world education I was receiving. In most government agencies and nonprofits, the impact of the work directly affects the quality of life for people in the local community. It’s a heavy thing to consider, but it gives meaning to every project — even the work that might otherwise seem mundane or boring. And then there’s the reality of thin budgets and scarce resources. The work is vital, and the funding is insufficient. I’ve been fortunate to work for leaders — especially (former Indianapolis) Mayor (Greg) Ballard— who taught me how to drive results with available resources.”
Give us a big picture view of your current role and responsibilities at OneAmerica®. How do they connect to internal and external constituents?
“I lead community affairs and workforce innovation at OneAmerica®. It’s a role that encompasses corporate charitable giving, sponsorships, grantmaking from the OneAmerica® Foundation, leadership of our award-winning Pathways Program and employee volunteer engagement.
“Most companies in our industry participate in corporate social responsibility or corporate philanthropy, and that’s a great thing. I’m very proud that at OneAmerica®, our approach is unique. We anchor all our community investment work in people, relationships and making a positive impact on individuals. We begin conversations with community organizations by asking ‘how can we elevate this beyond something transactional?’ And we build from there. Friendships form along the way, as well as mentorships and community leadership roles. It’s a great moment when we’re able to onboard a new associate at OneAmerica® who was introduced to us by a community partner.
“Of course, we’re driven to serve as many people as possible, and we celebrate our big wins. Annually, we invest more than $4 million in community causes, and our associates volunteer more than 5,000 total hours each year. I’m proud of that broad impact, and I’m also proud that we get to know the individuals we serve.”
You were recognized recently as a OneAmerica® ASPIRE Outstanding Team Impact honoree. What is the significance of that award to company culture, and why is it meaningful to you?
“At OneAmerica®, an ASPIRE award is a top honor. It means the work produced was outstanding, and more importantly, HOW the work was produced aligns with our values.
“I felt so honored to receive the ASPIRE award in 2021. At that time, I was also leading our communications team, and the award signified the value of our entire team’s impact during the worst months of the pandemic. Most communications teams during that timeframe experienced significant strain, as companies shifted to virtual environments. Ours did as well, but the way the team pulled together to deliver top-notch work and keep our associate satisfaction in the 90th percentile was extraordinary. I’m also proud of the way our community affairs team stretched to support their communications colleagues. Everyone elevated their communications game!”
What traits have helped you stand out and advance in the workplace?
“I think my superpower is recognizing talent and skill in others and bringing people together for maximum impact. I’m a convener. It’s not uncommon for me to be the least qualified person at the table when there’s a big problem to solve. But I believe I have an eye for talent and a knack for engaging people in ways that bring their talent to the surface.”
What’s your most proud professional achievement so far?
“Seeing the OneAmerica® Pathways Program come to life has been so rewarding. What started as a (workforce talent development) idea in 2018 is now producing positive, life-changing outcomes for high school students, college students and career professionals. It’s phenomenal to watch participants grow from their first day at OneAmerica® — when most of them know very little about financial services — to their capstone presentations, when they describe the roles they want to hold and map out their paths to get there. They build skills, confidence and social capital, and I love being able to play a small role in that transformation.”
Technology’s impact on the workforce is a hot news topic. How has technology impacted your own career?
“When I worked for the City of Indianapolis, we were focused on transforming Central Indiana into a tech hub. Through that effort, I began to see technology and the entire tech industry through a different lens. It no longer seemed like something far away and theoretical that only existed in Silicon Valley. I saw real people starting successful companies, and they were using tech to solve everyday challenges.
“I embrace technology when it can help deliver positive, people-centered outcomes. In my career, I’ve been a part of project teams that have delivered tech solutions to create a single, statewide voter registration system, report and fill potholes faster, connect Super Bowl XLVI fans with local guides to answer their questions, match volunteers with nonprofits and deliver personalized financial wellness education. Tech has enabled some big career wins, and I’m hopeful there will be more on the horizon.”
Who were your Franklin College mentors? How did they impact you?
“Journalism professors Susie Fleck, Bill Bridges ’56, Jerry Miller, Dennis Cripe, Joel Cramer and Ann Barton all played important roles in shaping me and influencing my path after graduation.* They had vastly different teaching and coaching styles, but they all shared the ability to push me out of my comfort zone and help me succeed at the next level. They built my confidence by challenging me, and that collective experience instilled in me the desire to run toward challenges with enthusiasm.”
Which Franklin College courses or student organizations were most transformative for you?
“Working on The Franklin (student newspaper) was one of my most impactful experiences. Friendships formed in the newsroom at 2 a.m. may be among the strongest bonds on earth. We worked like crazy, produced something outstanding every week and had a ridiculous amount of fun.”
What would you like to share about your family?
“My husband, Al Ensley ’03, and I have a daughter, Maddie, 17, and a son, John, 11. We enjoy camping, hiking and paddle boarding together.”
What else would you like readers to know?
“Beyond journalism, I would like to acknowledge the incredible liberal arts education I received from every academic department at FC. I’m grateful that my education instilled critical thinking and an overall leadership acumen.
“Throughout the 2022 summer, my team at OneAmerica® has included a Franklin College intern, Tony Sánchez ’23, and I have observed firsthand that the liberal arts tradition continues. From social impact program development to lean six sigma yellow belt classes, Tony has demonstrated mental agility and foundational knowledge in a wide array of subject matter. Our team is stronger because he has been part of it, and our Pathways students have gained an inspirational mentor in Tony.”
Editor’s note: *Fleck, Bridges, Cripe and Barton are retired. Miller is deceased. Cramer continues to teach.
Republished from the Franklin College Magazine, Fall 2022
POSTED Sep 28, 2022