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Meet the Women Leading Specialty Benefits

Rarely do women appear in historical photos of dental and vision treatments, but they were there! For National Women’s History Month, we’re shining the light on pioneering women in clinical and non-clinical roles who have helped make dental and eye care the modern marvels they are today.



“Be willing to challenge yourself and don’t be afraid of failing because it is just an opportunity to learn things you might not have otherwise.”

Shari Stepanovich, Director of Third-Party Administration-Services, SKYGEN



The First Woman To…..

In 1855, Emeline Roberts Jones became the first woman in dentistry in the U.S. when she joined her husband’s practice. Eleven years later, right after the end of the Civil War, Lucy Hobbs Taylor was the first woman to earn a DDS, graduating from the Ohio College of Dental Surgery. Soon after that, in 1890, Ida Gray Nelson Rollins become the first African American woman dentist, graduating from the University of Michigan College of Dentistry. By 1900, nearly 1,000 women had followed in the footsteps of Drs. Rollins and Taylor. In 1907, Irene Newman became the world’s first dental hygienist. 

Women in eye care were not far behind. 1899 saw Getrude Stanton and Millie Armstrong become the first and second licensed female optometrists, and by 1912, there were 500. Dr. Bess Anderson Francis Coleman was the first African American woman optometrist, graduating from the Northern Illinois College of Optometry in 1934.

Today, about 40% of optometrists and 35% of dentists are women. The percentages continue to grow as more women enter dental and optometry schools. In fact, female students now outnumber male students at dental and optometry schools nationwide, a trend that is changing the clinical side of specialty benefits.

female dentist smiling

Women are making a positive impact on dental and vision care in non-clinical roles as well. At SKYGEN, digital transformation of the relationships between health insurance companies and dental and optometry practices is helping to improve the specialty benefits experience for patients.  

“Women are very well represented in SKYGEN at all levels, including leadership,” says Peggy Rennicke, SKYGEN’s Director of Human Resources. “They’re leading diverse areas of the company, including Strategic Initiatives, Operations, Software Automation, and Clinical. In addition, former SKYGEN CFO Lisa Sweeney is Executive Director of SKYGEN International Foundation.”


Q&A with Shari Stepanovich, SKYGEN’s Director of Third-Party Administration-Services 

Shari Stepanovich joined SKYGEN in 2018 to lead the Contact Center, the business team that ensures patients have a good experience with their dental and vision benefit plans. Shari provided some great insight into her leadership goals and motivation for service excellence.   

Q: What impact do you strive to make in the specialty benefits industry?
Shari: Improving the experience for the members we serve related to their dental care. We uniquely understand the dental members and providers based on years of experience in this market. Taking this knowledge and experience has been our mission over the past couple of years as we’ve focused on revisions to our Contact Center quality program.  The program is designed and evolving to deliver a world-class service experience. 

I’m driving a “One Team” philosophy across my organization. Having a shared-goal mentality is important to achieve a high level of success in providing the best possible service to the customer. When I first joined SKYGEN, the teams under my responsibility were focused on day-to-day goals but not the bigger picture. I’m proud of how these teams have broken down barriers to learn from each other and seek to understand each other’s goals and interdependencies. These actions have played a significant role in creating a more flexible and efficient workforce.  

Q: If you could name one woman who has inspired you, who would it be? 
Shari: I have been asked this before and I invariably come back to my mom. My mom was physically handicapped. Over the years, I learned by watching and listening to her.  She taught me to maintain a positive outlook and attitude. To appreciate what you have and be generous in helping others. To value and enjoy life at every opportunity.  Respect differences and see the beauty in simple things.  However by far her tremendous strength taught me to stay strong and to seek to do the right thing despite adversity.

Q: What advice would you give to young women at the start of their careers?
Shari: All too often we limit ourselves because of doubts and fears of what we are capable of.  Believe you are capable of far more than you can imagine.  Be willing to challenge yourself and don’t be afraid of failing because it is just an opportunity to learn things you might not have otherwise.  Appreciate all those you cross paths with and pay close attention as everyone has something to give and for you to learn from. 

You can join us in celebrating the achievements and contributions of Shari, other women leaders at SKYGEN, and women in history who have elevated dental and vision care for us all by sharing this story with your network. 

Learn how you can transform the delivery of health benefits with SKYGEN.