Never underestimate the perspective of women

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Leaders in the banking industry are similar in many ways to a new homeowner.

With regard to diversity, and woman inclusion in particular, the banking sector is now benefiting from a tremendous asset, but may fail to appreciate the true investment needed to make that house a valuable home.

Put another way, women in the workplace — like other traditionally excluded or minimalized minority groups — often know they are needed but don’t actually feel wanted. That distinction can make the difference between their success or failure, and whether they contribute above the line or deliver simple compliance.

Likewise, the finance industry has become tremendously vocal about the lack of diversity and inclusion among its leadership. Yet, the banking sector unfortunately remains largely unwarm and unwelcoming to anyone who is not traditional white and traditional male.

Even with the massive internal reforms — and numerous conferences highlighting the glaring issue — progress continues to materialize at a slow pace. There is no panacea that will remedy the issue. But applying focused measures can help promote a new way forward today.

We should continue to work on our existing institutions, but we also must build new ones with the foundational mindset of creating space and opportunity to women in leadership, and to allow their expertise to flourish. Like the issue facing the inclusion of Black Americans in leadership at U.S. banks, one should not have to give up their seat, but banks can "build a bigger table," to quote Stephanie Ruhle at NBC News.

In addition to standing with women to ask for a seat at the table, we should support efforts to build inclusive institutions from the ground up to mitigate against any gender and social inequities.

When I founded Operation HOPE in 1992, I envisioned a broad coalition of individuals, working together to bring financial empowerment and inclusion to the masses. I understood the inherent value of involving diverse voices and perspectives to inform not just the work that we do, but to increase our vision. Inclusion fundamentally meant empowerment — both for the organization and the community we served.

Women have been an integral part of work from the beginning. And that should hold true for any organization.

For example, Rachael Doff, Operation HOPE’s senior executive vice president and chief administrative officer, was our first employee and continues to be the longest serving team member here.

Doff’s leadership at the highest levels have helped influence, guide and steer the organization in unimaginable ways in its nearly 30-year history. Her perspective as a woman also brings balance and clarity to many situations that, as a man, are impossible for me to see on my own.

As a banker earlier in my career, I recognized the inequities that existed in the industry. Choosing not to wait for a slow-moving train to pick up speed, I made the executive decision to do more than offer women a seat at the table. I invited them to help me build it.

At present, half of Operation HOPE’s executive leadership team is comprised of women, both Black and white. And a number of women have sit on our global and regional board of directors.

While diversity and inclusion have become industry buzzwords that are part of a national discourse, that is no reason to take our foot off the peddle. The more we speak about these issues, giving it voice and value in tangible ways, the more we move the needle towards equity in banking spaces.

One way to do this is by giving women and leadership a larger platform to speak.

For example, HOPE Global Forums, our thought leadership and advocacy arm, hosts one of the largest annual conferences on financial literacy and inclusion in the world. This is a time when leading voices — including women and minorities at the largest banks and government agencies —speak on relevant, challenging topics, not just pigeonholing them into speaking on diversity.

Their voices are the ones most needed to influence the future of banking and lending, and create an avenue for fairer, more equitable and inclusive practices. According to The World Bank, 56% of those without bank accounts globally are women.

Inviting women to build equitable institutions from the start and elevating their voices is just the beginning. Any conversation about long-term solutions must include broad access to opportunity for women in finance and banking.

For example, women represent 57% of recent college graduates, but there are fewer women than men who get hired, even at entry level positions, according to a 2020 McKinsey & Co. study. There is a clear issue with the preparation pipeline and connectivity to influencers in senior management.

Investments like internships and apprenticeships offered to women early in their life — from high school through graduate school — is imperative to improving the visibility and accessibility of qualified candidates to fill these roles in the future, as I previously outlined in a New Marshall Plan. Long-held stereotypes of finance being a “man’s job” can be overcome by a generation exposed to the endless possibilities within the world of financial services. Greater preparation and a stronger network will also create a more level playing field for the women.

And being honest, I recognize my own privilege as a man in a male-dominated profession. While I do my level best to provide broad exposure and opportunity, I am not without flaws and blind spots.

No matter how much good we do, we must always be willing to drink from the cup of humility and lean in to listen. We must allow ourselves the grace to be open and vulnerable to keep changing. Otherwise, progress in this area will become nothing more than a performative exercise, with little impact or meaning.

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Diversity and equality Women in Banking