Ways to Comprehensively Integrate DEI Organization-Wide

Almonord-Integrate DEI November 22, 2021 By: Chantal Almonord, CAE

Meaningful change in diversity, equity, and inclusion can only happen if there is a broad, organizational focus on incorporating DEI at all levels—nationally and in the field. Here’s how the American Bankers Association successfully created systemic change.

Plenty of organizations have diversity, equity, and inclusion in their scopes pointing inward on their staff, but not focusing on their volunteer boards and speakers, trainers, and others who interact with the association’s constituents. Without a specialized focus on these areas, it will be difficult to implement DEI change effectively and meaningfully.

The American Bankers Association is proud that McKinsey & Company’s annual Women in the Workplace report ranked the financial industry fourth for women in executive and board positions. But, as the report states, despite the gains that women have made in 2020, “The state of women hangs in the balance.”

Bridge the Gap to Success

When Naomi Mercer came onboard as senior vice president of diversity, equity, and inclusion for ABA two years ago, she breathed new life into the existing Women’ Leadership Forum, which resulted in the current Women’s Leadership Initiative. The program is now run by three ABA staff members, including Lauren Dwyer, vice president of executive education and CEO programs, and there are plans to add another full-time person to build year-round programming to help bridge the gap for women in banking.

The Women’s Leadership Initiative recently held a successful Women’s Leadership Symposium in conjunction with the Illinois Bankers Association. The three-hour virtual event boasted more than 1,000 unique logins. The themes for the event were intergenerational leadership and relationship capital, and there were lots of opportunities for women to network and interact with speakers.

“We’ve got a lot of dynamic women in banking, and they are finding ways to not only develop themselves but also to develop others. And we want to support that,” Mercer said.

A Safe Space to Connect

As part of the Women’s Leadership Initiative revival, Mercer began the Women in Model Risk Management & Development Forum. Model Risk Management is a predominantly STEM career field in banking that is seriously underrepresented by women. The specialized group came about when an ABA member expressed the need for a safe space to talk about trends that women are experiencing. 

We’ve got a lot of dynamic women in banking, and they are finding ways to not only develop themselves but also to develop others. And we want to support that.

One-hundred-sixty invitations were sent for the first gathering, which garnered 130 participants for the call on networking and professional development. The Women in Model Risk Management & Development Forum will build on that momentum with bimonthly meetings, which have become a valuable mini–Employee Resource Group (ERG) for women in risk management. The current list of participants is over 300.

An Organically Changed Mindset

ABA’s DEI professionals also provide consulting services for small banks, including training for CEOs and boards and discussions focused on diversifying leadership and helping women CEOs bridge confidence gaps they might have about serving on boards. It falls under a larger umbrella of CEO education, which also includes interviewing bankers about their experiences trying to bring diversity to their boards.

Another DEI consulting offering for small banks is examining what kind of diversity is available in their communities. They talk about equity in recruiting, hiring, and retention, and promoting women. For example, Mercer notes that women don’t always receive feedback they can act on in their performance evaluations. If managers’ comments on the evaluations refer to character, appearance, or personality, they should not be accepted by HR and sent back to with instructions to focus on performance. 

Another helpful strategy is to make it mandatory that employees receive comments on their potential. Men tend to get that kind of feedback advice, whereas women do not, often because of a “do it again bias,” that asks women to prove themselves and then they have to “do it again” to be considered. Making comments on potential mandatory for everyone encourages managers to comment on the trajectory of women’s careers.

Dwyer adds that since these programs started at ABA, the effects have spread to other programming areas and event planning. Program directors are now more aware and consult with internal DEI resources to ensure that program agendas have representation and to ask for direction on diverse speaker ideas. 

The mindset has organically changed, and people are thinking more inclusively for the industry.  This means including women’s leadership as session topics for flagship, CEO-facing ABA events.

Looking forward, Mercer would like to see more one-on-one mentorship components similar to the organic pairing that happens in the Women in Model Risk Management and Development group. In addition, ABA continues to support state association-hosted leadership forums and initiatives for women in banking. In fact, the Women’s Leadership Symposium held in 2019 was based on the format created by the Illinois Bankers Association.

This article is part of a series that features associations with active programs focused on supporting, enabling, and empowering women in their professional field, presented by ASAE’s Diversity + Inclusion Committee.

Chantal Almonord, CAE

Chantal Almonord, CAE, is director of IT systems and data management at the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecologists in Washington, DC.