The late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg once said, “Women belong wherever decisions are made. Women should not be the exception. Yet in financial services, women in leadership positions have unfortunately been the exception. And while progress has been made, statistics show that women in leadership positions in banking and finance remain below par. Last year, Deloitte published a study showing a modest increase in female leadership roles from 22% in 2019 to 24% in 2021. However, the same report revealed that the percentage is only expected to rise to 28% by 2030. .
Despite slow-growing seeds of change, female financial entrepreneurs are doing their part to disrupt the stagnation. In the Grand Canyon State, women in banking, credit unions and other financial institutions are evaluating next steps and taking action to make way for new generations of women leaders.
While women in leadership positions in financial services lag behind the average, the entry-level gains held by women are found to be more gradual. According to a 2021 McKinsey publication, women in entry-level financial services jobs made up 52% of the sector’s workforce. But, as the report mentions, “their representation drops at every stage of the companies’ pipeline.”
Lack of leadership in the upper ranks
“Whenever a woman stands up for herself, she stands up for all women.” —Maya Angelou
The realization that women lose their place as they move up the food chain raises an important question: why? A recent Forbes article suggests that factors such as a lack of flexibility, commission pressures and significant time commitments may partly explain why women are underrepresented in leadership roles within the financial services industry. .
“There could be so many variables,” says Kelli Tonkin, senior vice president at Corporate banking and trust and one of Az Business Magazine’s Most Influential Women of 2022. “I don’t know if the pandemic has slowed down [the rate of progress in female leadership] with working mothers who needed to take a step back from their careers to be with their children who were homeschooled.
Numerous studies and surveys confirm the Tonkin hypothesis. According to an article published by Institutional Investor in 2021, almost a third of women in the financial services sector left their jobs temporarily or permanently during the pandemic. And, due to the need to care for children at home or other pandemic-related demands requiring changes to work-life balance, 59% of women surveyed in leadership and senior positions management said the pandemic had hurt their careers.
But balancing family and private life is something that many female leaders in finance and banking have had to grapple with.
“When you’re interviewed by a male leader who knows you have a family, does that play into the decision-making process?” Tonkin speculates. “One of the questions I always get asked when I show interest in a leadership role: Are you comfortable with travel?”
Along with work-life balance, there are other hurdles that stand in the way of women leaders advancing in the financial space.
“Honestly, I think companies have spent a lot of resources and time trying to bring diversity into the workforce, but it’s not enough to hire women at the same rate you hire men. “, says Adaliz Gimenez, vice president and commercial banker. at Bell Bank. “Companies need to understand that change has to come from the top. It is a question of fairness and equality, and no longer a question of numbers. If a company is always focused on the numbers, it is falling behind. »
Adds Kim Dees, senior vice president and director of the Southern Arizona division for WaFd, “[Companies] need – I don’t mean a level playing field, but if you have a group of colleagues who are definitely qualified for this position – look beyond that and look at their own structure at the top of their company and see who would be the most suitable candidate. And I think companies should see this as an opportunity for women to advance. »
Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) Assessment
“Justice is making sure that being polite isn’t the same as being quiet. In fact, often times the fairest thing you can do is shake the table.” — Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez
In an effort to rectify the imbalance in women’s representation in leadership, many banks and credit unions are evaluating and implementing various strategies and programs designed to encourage more women to lead.
“One of the ways OneAZ has successfully developed leaders is through our Leadership Engagement Acceleration Program (LEAP) for associates,” says Tanasha Lawcock, OneAZ Credit Unionis DEI&B’s business partner.
Lawcock goes on to explain that the two-year training program focuses on aspects of leadership such as project management and understanding different types of biases to help prepare associates seeking leadership roles. “I am proud to say that women are participating in this program at a very high rate. In fact, in our current LEAP class, just over two-thirds of the participants are women,” she says.
Along with companies establishing leadership training strategies and programs, DEI-focused groups, departments, and initiatives are increasingly imperative to building the presence of not only women leaders, but also women of color in leadership.
The previously mentioned McKinsey study shows that the representation of women of color declines sharply as one moves up the corporate ladder, dropping 80% from entry level to C-suite.
“I was blown away by that number,” says Gimenez, one of Az Business magazine’s Most Influential Women of 2020. “I knew there was a disparity. It’s very obvious, but 80% – it’s awful. Unfortunately, it starts with equal access to education. Why? It’s because, from an early age, we need to make sure that we provide exactly the same opportunities for our women to color, that we tell them how amazing they are, that we stop telling them, ‘You have to tone it down.’”
Gimenez reveals that she’s been told in the past that she’s too loud, needs to “lower her voice” and even “blend in.” “I’m a proud, loud Latina. And you know what? No, I’m not going to lower my voice, because that’s what makes me. That’s what makes me special, different,” she shares.
Gimenez observes that these calls “usually come from a place of fear, fear of the unknown, fear of what’s different.” But she points out that “those differences are what make us who we are and how great we can be.”
“As a woman of color,” says Lawcock, “I always hope to see more people of color, especially women in leadership roles, so that our voices can help make rich and meaningful contributions within our respective organizations and communities.”
In her role as DEI&B Business Partner, Lawcock says she works daily to reflect OneAZ’s commitment to being a leader in the banking industry by promoting fairness and equal representation at all levels of the organization. “I come to work every day with the desire to help create an environment where our associates feel a sense of belonging, which means they feel safe to focus fully on their work every day,” she says. .
Train future women leaders
“There is no limit to what we as women can achieve.” – michelle obama
Beyond recognizing what DEI measures are needed and how to incorporate them, mentoring – formal or informal – has been integral to encouraging women in finance to pursue their careers.
“I think we have to have both [formal and informal mentoring] because they each bring a different component,” says Dees, one of Az Business magazine’s 2020 Most Influential Women. I also think it could be on the shoulders of us women in leadership positions to bring another element of that to mentoring women.
Giminez agrees with Dees, adding that while formal mentorship programs demonstrate the company’s interest and commitment to nurturing new generations of female finance experts, they can also be limiting. “They’re great,” she said. “But sometimes they are a little energetic. The company tells you who your mentor is, and that doesn’t necessarily equate to how you feel as a mentee or mentor for what you should be doing, or exactly what you need.
“And I think another really important thing is that mentoring is not – and can’t be – handing out something like, ‘Oh, I’m going to help this person. I’m going to give them opportunities. No, the mentoring is really recognizing that this person already has what it takes,” continues Giminez.
Lawcock adds, “To be effective, mentoring should not be intimidating. A more informal process removes barriers, allowing mentor and mentee to build trust with each other. Through trust, we can develop deeper connections with each other, which opens us up to growth and betterment.
One thing all of the women interviewed for this story agree on is that while progress has been made in terms of getting women into leadership positions, it hasn’t been quick, easy, or as gradual as they hoped so. Yet they are cautiously optimistic and welcome continued change.
“25 years ago I started with Lafayette Bank as a teller,” says Dees, “and today I’m a district manager managing 11 branches in southern Arizona. I was fortunate to work in a culture that allowed me to be recognized for my ideas and my contributions.
Tonkin adds: “I started in banking, so I don’t know anything else. I saw some improvement over two decades, but not impactful improvement. We are certainly the minority in leadership.
Giminez ends with this notion of affirmation: “I think as women, we become more assertive when we look for opportunities. We don’t wait for these opportunities to knock on our doors. We are more aware that we have what it takes. What we bring to the table, our skills, our experiences, they’re huge, they’re great, and they make businesses better. »