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Women In Banking: Helping women help themselves

More from ABA's Women's Leadership Forum


Women In Banking: Helping women help themselves


Discussing women's leadership issues in banking earlier this year at ABA's Women's Leadership Forum, left to right, were Linda Koch, Illinois Bankers Association; Joan Cleveland, SWBC Life Insurance; LeeAnne Linderman, Zions Bank; and Jane Haskin, First Bethany Bank.

"LeeAnne, even though my stomach tells me that I'm not ready for this job, I'm telling you, I'm ready for this job."

LeeAnne Linderman, executive vice-president in the Retail Financial Center Banking Division at Zions Bank, was pleased with that statement, on the whole. It came from someone she had urged to try for a higher position at the bank, and—as Linderman related to attendees of ABA's Women's Leadership Forum earlier this year—the attitude revealed in the first half of the quote typified the attitude of many women in business. But she was relieved the person added the second part of the statement.

Linderman was a member of a panel addressing efforts to help women move up in banking. She and other panelists noted that women typically need to feel almost over-qualified for a position before they'll try for it, while they said that men will more typically stretch to fulfill a new job's requirements. Men will take the job and then worry about hacking it, while women tend to overanalyze and hold back from opportunities, said Jane Haskin, president and CEO of First Bethany Bank & Trust, Bethany, Okla.

The speakers discussed more about the barriers facing women, ways banks and industry groups work to help them, and how women could help other women in banking. Linderman and Haskin were joined by Joan Cleveland, CEO at SWBC Life Insurance Co., San Antonio, and Linda Koch, president and CEO of the Illinois Bankers Association. (For links to related coverage, see the end of this article.)

Helping fellow women bankers

One challenge that women face in moving up in business, paradoxically, can be other women--those who have already made it.

There are some women achievers, said Cleveland, who, having arrived at a level, "want to be the only female at the table," she explained.

To learn more about this syndrome, she suggested that women in banking read Tripping the Prom Queen: The Truth About Women And Rivalry, by Susan Shapiro Barash. Cleveland said that the 2007 book "is a great read and absolutely not what you should do."

The book is founded on the concept that competition between women is "covert," and therefore tends to be "vicious"--the words from the publisher's materials.

Beyond not undermining other women, Cleveland spoke of the need for women to stand up and not undermine themselves. She said women commonly work very hard, hunkered down, and expect that their efforts and accomplishments will get them noticed and get them promoted.

Self-promotion is something that makes many bankers--men and women alike--uncomfortable. Cleveland said that hard work and ability isn't enough to get a woman ahead in banking. Banking leaders must also have communication ability. While women tend to have strong interpersonal skills, she said, that needs to be joined to a command of management-level data. To move up, women bankers need to be able to talk the talk of management--having comfort with percentages and other important corporate statistics, she said.

"You have to be a real student of the industry," said Cleveland.

Cross-cultural exposure also helps. Cleveland held a senior position at Prudential Financial before taking her current post, and she said Prudential supported a group called Women Unlimited. This organization crosses multiple industries and Cleveland said Prudential found the exposure to executives from nonfinancial companies helpful.

Knowing how to help

Mentoring and advocating for other women in one's bank is important, but speakers noted that there's more to it than just picking someone and deciding to help them.

Sometimes the challenge is convincing the banker you wish to help that they are deserving of that aid, Cleveland said.

"You don't want to drag them by their feet into advancement," said Cleveland. So helping them to understand their strengths is an important first step. This can help them appreciate their potential, and help them understand what they need to do to move up.

Speakers noted that many women now seeking to move up in banking came into the industry looking for a job, rather than a career. They may have started due to the need to bring in extra income, or income, period.

Such factors resulted in an emphasis on skills building and confidence building at Zions, according to Linderman. She said top management there has been dedicated to promoting women to leadership roles—and preparing them for such roles—for many years. While diversity in general has been an important goal, Linderman said top management's aim is that women will become 50% of the company's leadership ranks.

Linderman helped launch a Utah Bankers Association women's careers conference when she was the elected head of the organization. She said the meeting has helped the state's banks to indentify and build up banking women with strong potential.

"We've got women ‘rock stars' who are CEOs in Utah," Linderman said, "and we have many senior managers in the state's banks who are women."

Women's program expands to everyone

Linderman said that a concrete demonstration of Zions' commitment to developing women is the bank's Women's Business Forum, which helps recruit women bankers into the ranks of the bank's mentor program.

The mentor program itself has been broadened two ways. First, it's now open to men and has approximately 100 "mentees" at present. However, management has committed to a goal that every cohort of mentees be 50% women.

The program has moved beyond management positions, to assist bankers to move from lower levels to middle-rank positions. In all cases, entering the mentor program requires that the executive in charge of a mentee's part of the bank sponsor them.

More recently, the bank initiated its Zions Young Leaders program, which provides younger bankers with opportunities to hear from experts from inside and outside the bank, plus networking events. Program members help select speakers, and senior executives are encouraged to attend networking events.

"Anyone who is interested in learning more about leadership just signs up," said Linderman.

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