Hannah Grove issued a call to action at the outset.
The chief marketing officer at State Street Corp. kicked off American Banker’s LEAD conference in New York with a message about the need to achieve gender parity that set the tone for the rest of the day.
“If we’re going to move the needle on gender parity, I’m going to argue that we need to get rid of the fairy tales,” Grove told an energized room filled with about 350 women (and some men).
“When we’re young, we’re told if we can wedge our foot into a glass slipper, everything’s going to be OK. Then, when we get older, we’re told we’ve got to break through a glass ceiling. The only glass I’m interested in is one full of champagne, toasting my fabulous women colleagues. The glass ceiling is only there if we allow it to be.”
“Look up, there’s no glass ceiling,” she said. “Let’s remove that as an obstacle.”
Two themes seemingly at odds with each other reverberated at the conference Wednesday.
One theme was about fomenting faster change. Grove and other speakers expressed frustration with the slow rate at which women are moving into C-suites and boardrooms.
“It will take 50 years to reach parity in the C-Suite, if we continue at the pace we’re going,” said Grove, who ranks among our Most Powerful Women in Banking. “That’s just not good enough.”
At the same time, so much else is changing quickly, and another theme that emerged was about how to deal with relentless change.
Cathy Bessant, the chief operations and technology officer at Bank of America, said one challenge today’s leaders have that past generations did not is the rapid pace at which technology and other forces are reshaping the financial services industry.
“And it means different things to women than to men. I think that men generally move headlong into change, ‘Bring it on; the faster, the better.’ Women absorb change, hoping they can be perfect,” said Bessant, who tops the Most Powerful Women rankings.
She advised letting go of the need to be perfect.
One of the many statistics shared at the event also spoke to the need for women to get more comfortable with risk-taking.
While 69% of women feel comfortable taking small risks in the workplace, less than half — or 43% — are willing to take larger ones, according to the 2019 KPMG Women’s Leadership Study. The survey was of 2,000 U.S. women working in white-collar jobs.
The crowd at the New York Hilton Midtown turned out in part to celebrate 15 women familiar with embracing risk: American Banker’s inaugural Next list.
The luncheon featured an awards ceremony for the Next honorees, all high-achieving women ages 40 and under. Each one had a key role on a major project at her company within the past 18 months, ranging from a rebranding effort for Jennifer Upshaw of Synovus to a new approach to pricing transactions with government guarantees for Erika Marquez of Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corp.
A panel of three women from the Next list also took the stage at the conference and talked unguardedly about a wide range of topics, some of them personal.
Jacqueline Howard, Ally Financial’s senior director of corporate citizenship, shared a story about how being a breast cancer survivor has emboldened her. She recalled a day at the office when she decided to take off the wig she had been wearing because it was so itchy, even though her head was bald from the chemotherapy.
After that, she became much freer to be fully herself and to appreciate what makes her unique. “In the black and gray world of banking, I’m hot pink,” Howard said.
Many of the speakers — which included a panel of male executives from PNC Financial Services Group offering tips on how men can be better allies for women — shared ideas for improving opportunities for women in the workplace.
Grove said driving accountability, building the pipeline and offering mentoring and sponsorship are musts.
“We set very aggressive diversity goals and we hold our leaders accountable as we would any other metric,” Grove said of State Street.
To build a strong pipeline of women, companies should nurture relationships with them throughout all levels of their careers, and require a diverse slate of candidates for every opening, Grove added. Having a diverse group of employees interview job candidates is also important, to help counter the possibility of unconscious bias.
The Men as Allies program — which PNC operates in partnership with the Forte Foundation — is all about raising self-awareness about unconscious bias.
“Think about when you’re in a meeting and a woman brings up a good point, and then a man brings up the same point, maybe with a little more conviction, then everyone says, ‘Oh, what a good point that was,’ ” said Jeff Maynard, managing senior counsel for PNC and a Men as Allies participant.
“It’s the daily interactions — that’s where the unconscious bias happens.”
Changes the men said they have made since completing the program include challenging the use of gendered words like “guys” and ensuring female colleagues get credit when they are the first to bring up a good idea in a meeting.
The lack of women in senior leadership is a hurdle in the effort to make progress, because visibility is so important in showing women that getting to the top roles is possible.
This principle applies to the money in our pockets too — portraits of men dominate there.
“Think about how currency is used around the world,” said Rosie Rios, a former U.S. treasurer and the chief executive of Red River Associates. “If we use this to define the history of our country, why are we missing half the people?”
Rios is responsible for setting in motion the effort to put Harriet Tubman on the $20 bill, which was slated for production next year, but now could be delayed until after President Trump leaves office, according to comments made by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin at Wednesday’s House Financial Services Committee Hearing.
Rios also pointed out the dearth of statues of women across the nation. The National Park Service recognizes 152 monuments in the United States and only three are dedicated to women.
“This is not a chick issue,” Rios said. “This is the history of our country.”
At the end of the day it was Next honorees who managed to unite the dual themes about change (so slow in respect to women and so fast otherwise) in a distinctive way.
They had just met that morning, but bonded immediately, said Howard, who, like her fellow honorees, ended the day eager to heed the call for action on gender parity.
During the cocktail hour, their conversation with each other often turned to their interest in getting together again and channeling their collective energy to turn that slow pace of advancement for women into yet one more aspect of the industry that is changing at lightning speed.