It seems hard to believe now, but there was a time early in Beth Mooney's tenure as KeyCorp's chairman and chief executive when colleagues questioned her commitment to hiring and promoting women and minorities.
The setting was a luncheon of senior leaders at which Mooney was fielding questions about the Cleveland company's strategic priorities. Eventually the discussion shifted to workplace diversity and, to Mooney's surprise, the sentiment in the room was that Key — which had made history by hiring a female CEO less than a year before — seemed indifferent about continuing to improve the statistics.
"These leaders in the company came to me and said that I really hadn't done anything [to encourage diversity] and that they expected more from me," Mooney recalls. "It took my breath away."
Key soon had a chief diversity officer and a diversity council — chaired by Mooney herself — to oversee efforts to attract, retain and develop diverse talent. The company started producing recruitment videos featuring Mooney that celebrated the stories of its female, minority, gay and disabled employees. And Mooney made clear to corporate recruiters hired to help fill senior posts that she would not consider any lists of candidates devoid of women and minorities. (The company's chief technology officer, Amy Brady, only wound up on Key's radar because Mooney, upset that the first list of candidates had no women on it, told the recruiters to start the search again.)
"It's like anything else that's important," says Mooney of the diversity push. "It needed more structure, more commitment, more tone from the top."
Mooney is American Banker's Most Powerful Woman in Banking for the third straight year for reasons beyond her commitment to diversity. She is one of just two female CEOs at a large U.S. banking company and, on her watch, Key has emerged as one of the industry's best-performing regionals. Mooney also has significant influence inside the banking industry and in the broader business community. She is on the boards of the Financial Services Roundtable and the Clearing House and chairs the Greater Cleveland Partnership, one of the nation's largest chambers of commerce.
But her desire to make sure Key better reflects the communities it serves stands out.
This year, 25% of recent college graduates Key hired were minorities and 36% were women, up from 17% and 24%, respectively, just two years ago. Of the managers two levels below Mooney, 35% are women and 40% are minorities, and Key's board is now one of the most diverse in the industry, with five women among its 14 directors. The company has been named as one of DiversityInc's "Top 50 Companies for Diversity" for three years running, after having fallen off the list for several years.
Female bankers across the industry praise Mooney's persistence, her confidence and her commitment to advancing the careers of other women.
"She's been purposeful and intentional about providing opportunities for women," says Patti Husic, the CEO at Centric Bank in Harrisburg, Pa., and the founder of the Pennsylvania Bankers Association's Women in Banking initiative. "It's very significant what she's doing." (Husic is No. 19 in this year's ranking of the Most Powerful Women in Banking.)
Mooney, for her part, says she has always believed in giving women opportunities; one of her first acts as CEO was creating a C-suite role for Katrina Evans, a woman she had worked with for several years prior. Today, Evans runs the company's corporate center, overseeing communications, philanthropy, corporate responsibility and other functions.
Still, Mooney says she erred early on by not implementing a formal diversity program. "I assumed diversity was a priority because I was diverse," she says, "but that wasn't good enough."
Three years later, that's no longer an issue.