As March comes to a close, we honor women’s contributions in history and celebrate their accomplishments and progress. This includes the 30 women CEO’s in the S&P 500 companies, and our six JPMorgan Chase female leaders who sit on the firm’s operating committee.
I celebrate the progress that women are making in the workforce at entry and mid-career levels, but it’s important to acknowledge that in the financial sector, senior women are still underrepresented. A 2018 McKinsey research study indicates that women represent 19 percent of positions in the C-suite. The statistic on representation of color is even more sobering, at 4 percent of positions in the C-suite.
Personally, I’ve encountered many barriers during my 27 years in banking. As an entry and mid-level banker, working hard to rise the ranks, I witnessed my male counterparts receive stretch assignments from senior level sponsors who promoted their contributions and helped them navigate corporate politics. These male colleagues refused to say no, and took career risks because they were unencumbered by geographical and family constraints restricting their mobility.
I felt invisible and underappreciated despite my sacrifice and contributions to my company, until I was recruited by a senior executive at a competitor bank who recognized my potential and provided me with a leadership opportunity at his firm. He believed in my capabilities and became my sponsor. He was someone who advocated internally and externally on my behalf, he helped to increase my cross-organizational exposure and career opportunities that I wouldn’t have considered previously, because I didn’t check 100 percent of boxes on the job requirements. This executive sponsor encouraged me to take calculated risks and often said, “I would never know if [the decision] was a good thing or bad thing, until the next thing.”
Be a Mentor, Make a Difference
As a senior leader managing my own department, I know firsthand the importance of taking on a mentee and lifting our employees up. To change the landscape of leaders we need to step up and guide employees to achieve their best potential. This is something I encourage my staff to trickle down to theirs.
The senior executive who recruited me, became one of the reasons I stayed with that firm for as long as I did. More importantly and most impactful for me during this time, was the visible role models and diverse senior leadership in the C-Suite, which included a woman of color. She represented the “REAL DEAL.” She was: Relatable, Empathetic, Accessible and she Listened. She Developed, Encouraged, Advocated and she Lifted other women as she climbed the corporate ladder.
To change the spectrum of the financial services industry and others, we need to move beyond speaking about diversity in the workplace and work towards implementation, and it has to start at the top.
I felt invisible and underappreciated despite my sacrifice and contributions to my company, until I was recruited by a senior executive at a competitor bank who recognized my potential and provided me with a leadership opportunity at his firm.
Diversity strategies can include establishing formal and informal executive sponsorship programs, active outreach into diverse talent pools and assigning stretch responsibilities to employees who show promise. Other strategies include professional development training to mitigate biases and increase cultural competencies, or aligning diversity metrics to compensation which is a controversial approach, but one that I fully support.
I encourage all female leaders to not be afraid to be a voice at the table. More and more women are increasingly becoming the financial decision makers in their household, and women are making incremental progress in advancing their careers. But we will make continued progress if more companies across the globe implement official strategies and align performance to compensation.
I look forward to witnessing more female leaders rise to the top, and a day when we no longer refer to the banking industry as a male dominated field. Then we can celebrate Women’s History Month achieving parity for women in all positions of banking and finance.
Roxann Cooke is New England regional director for Chase Bank’s consumer banking and wealth management division.