Sylvia Reynolds' mother knew how to pick her battles.

Reynolds was raised by a widow who was a teller in the 1960s and rose to become a bank operations manager. Though her mother would let certain mores of the day slide, she also had a charming — and effective — way of pointing out inequities.

She once analyzed her bank's health insurance data and found that male staffers had better coverage than their female counterparts. Upon hearing this, her male boss replied, "They have families."

Her retort: "Do you think my three children are a hobby?"

That won him over.

"My mom knew when to speak up, and it was usually with a bit of humor," Reynolds says.

Having learned from example, Reynolds takes a similar approach. She knows when to stifle a reaction, such as when job interviewers early in her career would ask whether she was on birth control. But she also advocates for change on issues that matter to her, even if it means making others uncomfortable.

She recalls asking a boss at another firm to analyze the executive bonus history, because she learned that women would get lower bonuses if they weren't considered collaborative, while men would be excused, the attitude being "Oh, that's just George being George.'"

The inequitable treatment ended.

"But that didn't necessarily feel great," Reynolds says. "It was not like somebody gratefully sighed and said, 'Gee, thank you!'"

She has no regrets, though. Like her mother, she feels piping up is important. "That's how we make progress."

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