Y’all know I’m a fan of a guest blog post. (Spammers, buzz off.) I’m talking about real guest blog posts from real women in banking with real perspective that pertains to my platform. When Kim reached out about her article, I couldn’t wait to post it here for all of you to read. I love the points she makes and I know most, if not all, of us can relate! Enjoy!
Confessions of a Queen Bee | Kim Rampenthal, Vice President, Business Development, Solutions Bank, Illinois
At the recent virtual Illinois Bankers Association Women in Banking conference, the opening address was given by Natalie Bartholomew, of “Girl Banker” fame. I enjoyed her remarks and her five principles for being a successful Girl Banker—even though the only people who still call me a “girl” are my old friends I’ve known since high school, which was waaay back before Al Gore invented the internet.
Well, except for one thing… Under her topic of “Support the Girls,” Natalie mentioned a phenomenon known as the “Queen Bee Syndrome”– the attitudes and actions of older women in the workplace who seem to resent the younger up-n-comers, possibly out of fear they will be edged out. Natalie encouraged Queen Bees not to worry, as there is room at the table for all of us.
Convicted. Yes, I felt somewhat “convicted” as Natalie talked about this. Not in the courtroom sense… but in the church-y sense, like when the pastor talks about a sin category with which you are all too familiar. Gulp. I whispered to myself, “Yikes, Pastor Natalie is talking about me…”
So I thought that by confessing to and owning my Queen Bee-ism, I could shed some light on what we QBs are feeling, so that our mutual understanding can indeed lead to “room at the table for all of us.”
First, yes, we QBs do have some insecurity at times, re: the younger Girl Bankers who are so competent in their roles, so at ease with technology, so much more successful at younger ages than we were at that age. We worry that we are going to seem old-fashioned, with our handwritten thank-you notes and Kiwanis Club and our marveling at technology.
Another feeling QBs have is envy. We envy our younger colleagues, career-wise and age-wise. It’s an exciting time to be ramping up a career in banking, which in my estimation has become a much more interesting, dynamic field that it was many years ago. There’s a lot to it, many ways to engage and excel. Not that I don’t experience the same excitement, but who knows what changes they will see as they go forward in their careers? They have more working years ahead to see how it all plays out.
Our younger colleagues stir up our nostalgia. I miss those early years of entering the working world, buying a first home, having my kids, raising them, all while balancing my career. Those were stressful yet happy times, and it’s fun to relive those days vicariously through my younger colleagues.
OK, this sounds superficial, but there’s also the physical beauty thing, I will admit. I envy their young skin and lack of facial lines. So many lovely young faces when we had our bank headshots updated recently, wow! Though I must say, our photog Joey was somewhat of a miracle worker, and we QBs looked pretty darn good ourselves! 😉
And there’s the relatability issue. We QBs try not to pipe up too much with sentences that start with “Back when I was your age…” or “When my kids were little….” or “I remember when we didn’t have all this technology to help us do our work….” While that is our way of relating to the younger women, it can get tedious. Times are different. Do we always want to draw attention to our age differences?
HOWEVER…. We also feel the weight of some faulty assumptions, such as:
More mature workers balk at learning technology. While I’ll admit I’m late to the party on a lot of this stuff, I’m also educated, intelligent and a good lifelong learner. So don’t write me off.
Our bank’s outward facing “brand” needs to be represented by hip young avatars. Well, it does, but not only by those avatars. As I wrote in my “OK Boomer” article a few months ago, workers of various ages/life stages can contribute to the organization’s marketing planning and can be one of many faces of the bank in the community and on social media.
Queen Bees are such naysayers, eschewing new approaches and ideas, so stuck in he past. (See first assumption above.) I’ll admit I fall into this trap sometimes, feeling that “keep it simple” and low-tech can still be a good approach, thinking to myself, “Do we really need all this fancy high-tech stuff?” Luckily, at my bank, we do feel there’s value in customizing communication modes and banking solutions to fit with the customer/prospect. So my old-school ways are still OK in some situations. But not all.
Older colleagues might be boring or dowdy as presenters or trainers. Awhile back, a closer-aged colleague and I made a presentation about business banking to a group of local business owners/entrepreneurs. A younger colleague came to record our presentation, and she later expressed surprise at how good we were. Now she and I get along well, and she immediately realized how that sounded when she said that. I swallowed my slight offense, chuckled, and said “Umm, thanks.”
Back to Natalie’s thesis related to “Support the Girls… I do agree that all of us are important to our organizations. In fact, that’s what’s going to make our banks richer, stronger, and more responsive to our communities. I think what’s needed is for the younger up-n-comer bankers, the more seasoned women bankers, and the ones in between, to acknowledge the biases, insecurities, and misperceptions we may have about one another. Also, we all have gaps in our knowledge or experience, in one way or another. We make our organization better when we complement one another’s skillsets and personalities.
Some say that women “higher up the ladder” don’t always reach back and lend a hand to the younger ones coming up. I think that’s sometimes true, and it’s too bad. As Natalie has said, mentoring takes many forms and doesn’t have to be a big formal arrangement. But it seems that mentoring can go both ways – we Queen Bees can also learn something from our younger colleagues. We can keep growing and ascending, motivated by the younger women nipping at our heels on the ladder (or the jungle gym, as Sheryl Sandberg would call it).
Or… since we’re using a beehive analogy, are the younger women the worker bees? The drones? Not sure…. But they are buzzing behind us and we need to keep moving!
Yes, as Natalie said, there’s room for us all at the table… or in the beehive. 😊
When the Girl Banker blog launched, I was very diligent in posting a regular “Girl Banker of the Week” where a woman in banking was highlighted. Somehow, through the busyness of work, life, and building this blog, I strayed away from that weekly post. I’m thrilled to bring back that focus with “Girl Banker Spotlight” that highlights various women in banking from all over the country through their own girl banker stories.
Amada Alvidrez | Regional Retail Manager | Equity Bank | Guymon, OK
Growing Up I was born in a small town in Mexico that only had 2 paved roads. The town in which I lived only had school through junior high, so kids had to go to other towns to continue their education. Growing up, I had 4 older siblings who were mostly away from home continuing their education. I grew up with a younger brother. When I was a baby, my dad was away working in the US. I just remember him visiting in the summer and bringing a large sack of peanuts home for Christmas. I had an amazing childhood in that little town. When I finished 5th grade, my mom told my little brother and I that we were visiting my dad in the US for our summer vacation and she just never took us back!
I love this pic because it’s one of 2 I have as a baby. It was in the back yard of my first home in Mexico. I love those adobe wall that surrounded our yard.
My parents decided to enroll us in school in the United States. At that time, there was no program for non-English speakers. The school principal decided to hold back my brother and I a grade, so I went through fifth grade twice (and passed both times!) I really did not want to go to this new school. I was not expecting my family to move and I was looking forward to being with my friends in sixth grade. At my school in Mexico, we had an assembly every Monday morning and there was color guard from sixth grade that would parade in front of the school with the Mexican flag as we sang the national anthem. I had trained to be the captain and my biggest worry after I moved was that no one would be there to lead the squad. Oh the mind of a 6th grader!
My first year of school in the US was a huge adjustment. The school subjects were very similar, but the culture and school structure were much different. Because there was no program for non-English speaking students, I was placed in a classroom with a boy who spoke Spanish named Arturo. I will forever be grateful for my sink-or-swim program! Math was super easy! I had a little more trouble in the other subjects, but I had the kindest, most accommodating teachers. My English teacher had me work with a phonics program that showed me pictures of objects and would pronounce the name on headphones. I also had to learn how to write in cursive, and that, in my 5thgrade opinion, was harder than learning English!
I slowly started to pick up the English language as Arturo helped me with most of our subject areas. What a huge burden placed on such a young boy, and he was so patient with me! I remember that I could carry on conversations by Christmas and I finished the year with A’s and B’s. I continued progressing through 6th grade and finished the year with mostly A’s and a few B’s. I made all A’s in junior high and high school and I graduated as the class valedictorian. I had amazing, encouraging teachers all through my education at Guymon Public Schools and I had great opportunities. I participated in band and academic team and made great friends. In junior high, I got to return the favor from that kind boy in 5th grade who helped me when I didn’t speak the language. A couple kids who didn’t speak English were placed in some of my classes so I could help them. I am forever grateful that my mom kept us on “vacation!”
When it was time to decide on a college, the deciding factor was, of all things, communal bathrooms. (I was terrified of them!) I decided to stay home and attend Oklahoma Panhandle State University and it was one of the best decisions my young, shy, sheltered self ever made! I had extraordinary professors from day one. Our class sizes were small, and the professors really care that we learned the material. They weren’t just checking us off on a role sheet. In high school, I had fallen in love with the English language, so I decided to major in English with a secondary school teaching degree. I gained an outstanding education from OPSU. I graduated magna cum laude without taking any business or finance courses other than my gen ed. (Don’t tell any of my banker friends!)
Banking Life In high school, I got a job at City National Bank and Trust Company in Guymon, OK microfilming documents when I was only 16 years old. Now, I tell people that I was in archiving to fancy it up a little. At that time, we processed in-house, and I was soon trained on the night processing duties. I learned how to update our system, print statements, sort checks on a 16-pocket proof reader, fold statements on a tri-fold machine, and much more. Because I was alone in the building for most of the time, I had to learn to be resourceful and to try to solve problems on my own.
During my first summer at the bank I trained to be a teller. Some of my coworkers thought I’d be terrible which may have had something to do with the fact that I was so quiet that most of them assumed I didn’t know how to speak English. In fact, some of them didn’t even know I worked there because I came in when they had already left for the day. I loved being a teller and to this day, it’s still my favorite job that I had as a banker. It’s the job that has the most interaction with customers and there’s such a sense of satisfaction in keeping a balanced, tidy teller drawer.
When I returned to school, I continued performing the night processing and I kept learning other duties such as account opening and wire desk. I worked at the bank when I went to college, filling in the teller position according to my schedule, and then night processing in the evenings and still some microfilming on the weekends. Mid-way through college, a couple coworkers left and I inherited some of their duties. Later, the IT director left and I inherited those duties at the most exciting time in IT…Y2K! I inherited that job because I was the most knowledgeable in our core, which does not translate to IT, but I am so grateful for that opportunity. I added IT as a minor in college and I learned trial by fire.
The computers didn’t crash on January 1, 2000, so I kept the IT role going forward. During the last couple years of college, another coworker left, and I inherited duties relating to the investment portfolio, accrual accounting, and the holding company. I was also an assistant to the president, so I learned some about lending and deposits. Additionally, I was the only Spanish speaking employee at the time, so I spent a lot of time translating in the loan department. I feel I learned a lot about the lending process solely from doing that.
At some point in college, I started running payroll. I did all the things! After graduation and some employee retirements, I became the head of HR, operations, and IT. I loved it all! My days were challenging but never mundane! I had amazing opportunities to grow in banking by attending Oklahoma Banking Association schools in operations and banking along with several seminars in all my fields of interest. The turning point in my career was attending Graduate School of Banking Colorado in 2006. That is where I learned to push my limits, come out of my shell, and make lifelong connections. Not to mention it is where I found my voice!
I was lucky to have the same 3 roommates all 3 years at GSBC. We forged a strong bond and we are still in touch. GSBC changed the trajectory of my career for the better!
My career grew from there as I continued to grow in knowledge and gained credibility to try some ideas that were out of the box. In 2018, my bank merged with Equity Bank, and my role became market president. I am forever grateful to have worked in a little bank where I had to figure out how to fix things on my own because that has helped me understand procedures at a larger institution. In October 2019, I was named Regional Retail Manager for 9 locations in my market area. I feel like I’m back in my wheelhouse and I am very much looking forward to growing in this new role.
In the last few years, I had the opportunity to become more involved with the Oklahoma Bankers Association and I was honored to join the Government Relations Council in 2016 and the Board of Directors in 2017. In 2020, I was elected First Vice Chair. I am so thrilled to continue serving the OBA for another 3 years. Along the way of my banking career, I fell in love with what community banking is and how it fuels community growth. I feel it especially living in a rural town.
At Home I met my husband at OPSU when he was trying to set me up with a friend of his. He just decided to ask me out for himself. We married in 2006 and made some great memories before welcoming our daughter in 2018. We were married for 11 years and had come to the conclusion that we were not going to be able to have kids after several years of trying. In fact, I was 17 weeks along before I found out I was pregnant. Nothing like passing out in front of a bunch of bankers at a convention! Two of my amazing banking friends, Kelly and Chris Jordan, that stayed with me to make sure I was okay that day. I assured them I was fine because I had just had bloodwork done with an annual checkup. I knew I just needed a cookie because I tended to pass out if my blood sugar got low, but Chris made me promise him I’d get checked out. That’s how I found out I was pregnant. Our daughter was born in February 2018 and she has been our absolute joy.
Sofia is now the center of our universe! Best surprise ever!
Treated Differently I have been very lucky to have had supportive teachers and bosses and I have lived in the same town for decades. However, I have most definitely felt that I’m treated differently because of my ethnicity. When I started school, the population of Guymon had a very different makeup. I was the only foreign-born student in my grade and I only remember a couple other Hispanic kids at the school. There was one boy who would make comments like “go back to your country.” He was in my home room in 5th and 6th grade and he really tortured me. He got another boy to join in but he was always the instigator. Looking back, I think he got more aggressive as I mastered the English language and earned better grades than he. I remember one incident from 6th grade vividly. He blamed me for stealing his Eversharp. Of course, I didn’t know what he was talking about, but then I found it in my bag. The teacher believed me when I said I hadn’t stolen it and I remember the teacher giving my classmate a stern talk in my defense. From then on, the teacher became more protective of me and I don’t remember the boy being as aggressive.
I had a few other incidents like that through school, but it changed as the years passed. The ethnic makeup of the town changed when a meat packing plant opened when I was in 9th grade. The town became more accepting with the influx of Hispanic people to the town. Now, Guymon is the only town in Oklahoma with a Hispanic majority and there are multiple ethnicities and nationalities in town. In fact, there are over 30 languages spoken in my tiny town! Although I fully respect police and what they do, I have had a couple incidents that I wondered if I had been stopped just for the color of my skin. I remember one incident when the officer asked me for my license and registration and his demeanor completely changed toward me when I answered his questions in perfect English.
I know I am treated differently when I visit retail. There is a major retailer whose practices really bother me. When I go in on the weekend with no makeup and my workout clothes, I get stopped for them to check my receipt almost every single time while I see white people walking by without question. When I go in my business attire with my brand name purse, I NEVER get stopped! Mind you, I don’t ever look sloppy or dirty, but I am still judged by the way I look. There is also another small retailer in town that has treated me much differently depending on how I’m dressed. I can’t even get an employee to help me if I go in my gym clothes, yet they cater to me if I go in my business clothes. I have not shopped there in a while. I am naturally an introvert (Myers-Briggs score of 98% to prove it), and I am generally very quiet (although I’ve forced myself to come out of my shell in the last few years). I think that makes people believe I don’t speak English, or they can take advantage of me. I have lived in Guymon for many years, so I don’t notice different attitudes toward me much anymore, but I’m still reminded sometimes when I travel.
MOTIVATION I will forever be grateful to my mother for choosing to keep us in school here. Being in the US opened infinite opportunities I would not have had otherwise. I am lucky to have had so many amazing experiences throughout my life and I love my family’s culture as well as the American culture.
Below is a picture from a half I ran in 2017. It makes me smile every time I look at it. I had given up on the hopes of having a baby after 11 years. The previous week, I had fainted at a bank convention, and chalked it up to my blood sugar being low. I picked up a pregnancy test on my way home that Friday and got a positive result. I thought it was a false positive because I just couldn’t believe it, not to mention I had a half marathon that Sunday! I had a talk with baby and told him/her that I would only run if he/she felt okay with it. That was the most fun race and I smiled at the finish line because the baby crossed it with me. I later found out I was over 4 months pregnant.
In partnership with Talk Business & Politics and the Northwest Arkansas Business Journal, I’m thrilled to report that the Girl Banker Podcast is now LIVE on Apple iTunes and right here at thegirlbanker.com! Click the images below to access the podcasts on Apple iTunes or visit the Podcast page of the Girl Banker Blog to watch them!
Episode 2: Kirsten Blowers Morman Listen in as girl boss Kirsten Blowers Morman, owner and buyer of ShopRiffRaff.com, RiffRaff Fayetteville, City Supply store fronts, and Friday x Saturday and Charlie Southern brands talks all things small business and mom life. Her startup story will inspire you! Bank marketers take note: it all started with selling her items on Facebook and then adjusting to Instagram.
Subscribe to the Girl Banker Podcast on Apple iTunes to never miss an episode!
The Girl Banker Blog is fortunate to have guest blog writers that offer a different, yet much needed perspective to this space of advocacy. I’m honored to post this personal account submitted by a very respected girl banker that wishes to remain anonymous. I know my readers will benefit from reading her story.
Disclosure: The anonymity of the author is designed to provide protection from judgement for her and those closest to her, not provide power to those who still embrace common stereotypes. The truth is that stereotyping, unconscious biases and uninformed judgments occur whether we like them or not and accepting that fact to protect future opportunities is not weakness, simply self-preservation.
According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, a breadwinner is defined as: a means (such as a tool or craft) of livelihood or a member of a family whose wages supply its livelihood. With breadwinning comes a level of pressure that no one explains; especially to women. Or at least no one explained it to me. Complicating matters is the fact that the financial gender balance within marriage seems to be changing at a faster pace than society’s attitudes about successful women. “Breadwinning is still more often seen as a father’s role than a mother’s,” according to the Pew Research Center. About 40% Americans believe it’s extremely important for a father to provide income for his children, but just 25% said the same of mothers. Breadwinning, much like bread baking (maybe just my bread baking), doesn’t always turn out exactly how you envision.
In school, I was intrinsically motivated to do the best I could in school in order to get a good job as soon as possible. I didn’t need to get out of my house or necessarily start working very young, but I wanted to. My focus began to pay off in my early twenties as I begin to slowly climb the hourly wage scale at the local bank where I started working in High School at $5.75 an hour. After graduating college, I got my first job that wasn’t behind the teller line in a bank where I was making $15 an hour. My first review in my new role produced a small, but satisfying raise of $.75 an hour. I was 22, pursuing an MBA and in my first specialized role in my area of study. I had no illusions my entry level job would immediately provide me with big bucks, besides, it is supposed to be about getting the experience, right? When I conveyed my raise at home to my spouse, it was met with disdain over the low dollar amount. Not only his perception of small amount of the raise, but questioning of my desire to work at what he saw as too small of an annual amount as well. I now wish I would have had the foresight to understand how much of a problem my compensation and all the emotions that go along with it was going to be throughout the course of our marriage. Hindsight being 20/20 as they say – this is the moment when I made the decision to climb the corporate ladder softly and rise quietly as best I could. I am not saying money doesn’t matter when it comes to a job, but I was raised to understand that money is earned over time for value provided. Naturally, I had not provided a ton of value to my employer because I was fresh out of college. When I began to provide value, hopefully the money would follow. While that is also somewhat of a naïve thought as well, it’s the hope I clung to in the early years. The minute my job, career aspirations and contributions were minimized, was the moment money became clearly identifiable as a sign of power within our relationship. I have never intended to not be a contributor to my family, but I also didn’t expect to be completely dismissed as an equal partner if the numbers didn’t align evenly.
Fast forward 10 years and I had been presented with and taken some incredible career opportunities. Working with a team I admired, adored and respected, we accomplished some pretty amazing things. I was doing my best to play big at work, but I had admittedly been playing small at home for years. My marriage was as a good as a marriage 10 years in could be I thought, and one where we no longer talked about money. Our business had hit a rough patch (understatement of the decade) and I had taken over our personal finances years earlier and it became a topic we didn’t/couldn’t discuss. I had always paid our personal bills and kept my salary, title and/or other work details to myself. He was having a hard enough time coping with life in general, so I was careful not to make it worse by doing anything to somehow remind him I was now the sole breadwinner for our family.
Our first child arrived ten years into our marriage, fifteen years into our relationship. Babies change everything, including everyone’s expectations about roles within your marriage. I now understood why the stereotypes were so universally accepted and clear. More than ever before, I craved a safety net around the bubble that was our life. According to research by Merrill Edge, uncertain times may impact people’s priorities. Some 54% of men and 57% of women say they want a partner who provides financial security over love. The economic impact of our business failure paired with a new baby left a mark that changed my opinion forever about what was more important in my relationship. I found myself a member of the 57%.
The idea that men are to support their families while women take care of the children is still alive and well in many families, particularly in the south, but honestly that wasn’t our perspective. In fact, that stereotype paints a really simple picture of these roles and all their nuances. This was anything but simple. We never set out or planned for me to be the breadwinner, it just happened. Not having a plan or discussion about what to do if it every happened proved to be a problem. Because we were unprepared on the challenges that come with a role reversal, neither party knew how to handle the shift. I felt unappreciated and small because I couldn’t share happy job moments or milestones with the person I wanted to while he felt small because I loved my career and was successful while he was struggling to find a second chance at a career. My success made him feel like a failure, so in turn, we both felt small. No one enjoyed the situation and we were struggling to dig out of the hole. Any contribution he had the opportunity to make was never good enough in his opinion, because it didn’t match mine. His ego was unable to process the fact that there was strong likelihood his salary would never match mine again. I had devoted myself to my job for almost 15 years and he was starting over. Sweat equity over time was on my side and I wanted to feel great about earning my seat at the table, yet I found myself continuously apologizing for it.
As we got older, I wanted to feel safe and secure and know we could provide the life needed for a baby to grow and thrive. This is the exact point when no longer discussing money was not an option. Every time I would bring it up, guilt would somehow shut the discussion down. I felt guilty for providing because he would get so upset about me having to provide. Every conversation was turned from our financial future and well-being to an emotional firestorm designed to demolish any attempt at progress. The fact was from my perspective, I was handling everything – what was left of his career aspirations, my career, our family finances, the baby and the housework. I began to understand that not only did he resent my success, but I resented it too. I had poured my heart and soul into a company and people I believed in, and hadn’t felt comfortable talking about it. The narrative of our marriage had centered around him while my job had quietly risen into a successful career I minimized at every opportunity.
I realize I was/am ashamed of my success. Ashamed because it played a role in ending my marriage. It was not the sole cause of its demise, but it played a key role in the dominoes cascading downward. I knew to provide for my family the way I was determined to do meant I would always be the primary breadwinner. I didn’t mind being the primary breadwinner if my partner was okay with being the primary caregiver, but that wasn’t our story. The support he feigned for my career in public was superficial at best and my success was one of the biggest daggers he had in his arsenal behind closed doors. Before the situation was all said and done – he would make sure I understood in no uncertain terms that my success was the reason for everything bad in our life during our years together.
Out earning my spouse was not the primary cause of our divorce. However, it did play a significant role. I share this story because I understand now that it’s okay it didn’t turn out picture perfect. I see so many great women who have supportive husbands cheering them on, helping them succeed and being the rock of their relationships in a million other ways and that is amazing. I also know that success can come to those of us who don’t have that either. Success can be achieved professionally even if the situation personally is less than ideal. I tell my story so you can prepare yourself if you start to see those warning signs in your relationship. I had not disclosed any raise or promotion in my working career for almost eight years before our divorce. The difference between the last salary he laughed at me for making and what I was making when we signed divorce papers was substantial.
Don’t allow another person, whether you love them or not, force you to feel small. Women are wired to want security, safety and nurturing, but we can also be driven, ambitious and strong. It took me way too long to realize that I didn’t have to sacrifice one for the other. I can provide the safety net for myself now, which is a different type of satisfying. I am not advocating divorce or staying single forever. I am simply advocating for you to know that breadwinning comes with a host of emotional complications you need to be prepared to manage in your personal life. Have the conversations early on in a relationship. Find out if your significant other can handle if you ever make more than him or her. We never had the conversation because we never thought it would be a reality. That was a mistake on both of our parts.
Both of us had unconscious expectations of who would be the breadwinner. When I became the breadwinner, there was no victory lap from either party. The slow demise of our views of each other began to accelerate. He saw me as selfish, uncaring and insensitive to his emotional needs. I thought I was trying to help by not talking about it, when in reality, that began to breed resentment about his inability to truly see my contributions and the toll taking care of everything was having on me. The bottom line is no one felt like they were winning. I won’t apologize for my success, but I do see the price we both paid for it, despite my best efforts to neutralize it as a threat.
The best explanation and advice I have seen on this subject comes to us from David T. Pisarra, a father’s rights lawyer in Los Angeles who has a great deal of experience dealing with male clients in the past who experienced problems in their marriages. When asked whether a female breadwinner can ultimately lead to divorce, he responded, “In today’s world, yes, being the female breadwinner can lead to divorce, but not because she is earning money, but because the parties haven’t had a discussion about what their goals and roles are. A marriage is more than a romance — it is a business as well. And the obligations and duties of the partners need to be discussed and clarified so that everyone is on the same page. What causes problems is not one spouse making more money than the other, because as women have noted for centuries, the role of homemaker is not a cushy one. The contributions of the parties to the family may be unequal in terms of dollars, but be equalized by value of the emotional support or domestic duties that make a household run smoothly.”
Everyone’s story is different. Yet we still all naturally lean towards sharing only the most positive of stories about ourselves. This story didn’t end the way anyone wanted it to, but valuable lessons were learned by all and that still matters. No matter the path, women can be the breadwinner, the nurturer, the organizer, the caregiver and the revenue driver. Check on the women in your life. Regardless of their story, help every woman around you rise.
Welcome back to one of my favorite blog series, ‘Girl Banker in the Making’! The purpose of this series is to highlight young women just getting their start in the banking industry as a means to motivate other young women to consider banking as a career path. The best part about ‘Girl Banker in the Making’ is that the post is authored by the young woman being highlighted in an effort to journal her own girl banker story.
Alyssa Hermann | Commercial Lender | Presidential Bank
I was born and raised in St. Louis, Missouri. I graduated from Saint Louis University with a BSBA in finance in 2013 and an MBA with an entrepreneurship concentration in 2014. As a Billiken, I had the chance to study abroad in Rome and Hong Kong, work in the Office of Admission and for the Institute of Private Business and serve as a member of Delta Sigma Pi business fraternity.
Throughout high school and undergrad my plan was to get involved with the local construction company that my grandfather started in 1972 and my dad was running at the time. I grew up around this business and worked there for seven summers during 2005 – 2012. I saw it as a great opportunity and was confident I could be successful in the male dominated business.
In the middle of my MBA program, my family decided that my dad would sell his interest in the business and exit the company. I had a front row seat to the challenging dynamics of family businesses while I worked to put “Plan B: Financial Advisor” in place.
After a financial advising internship followed by a year in an internal accounting position at a wealth management firm, I was recruited to fill a commercial credit analyst role at Parkside Financial Bank & Trust. Parkside is a community bank that was founded in 2008 and caters to the privately-held middle market commercial and industrial lending space. It was a privilege to begin my banking career surrounded by top talent and incredible mentors in an engaging culture of collaboration and transparency. I spent three years at Parkside and ultimately advanced into a Commercial Banking Officer position before relocating from St. Louis to Washington, DC in May 2018.
The DC market is heavily focused on real estate, government contracting, and non-profits compared to St. Louis which is more manufacturer, distributor, and service provider centric. My current focus in DC is continuing to learn the nuances of the market in an evolving banking climate while building out my local network.
Commercial lending was never promoted as a career path to me. I was fortunate to stumble into it and very quickly realized that it was the perfect fit for me. It gives me just the right balance of numbers and people, and it allows me the opportunity to work with businesses like the family construction company I grew up in. I love having the chance to look at a wide variety of industries. Even more, I enjoy building relationships with business leaders and working with them to structure financing that will help them achieve their goals. Serving as a strategic banking partner is exceptionally fulfilling, especially when I see the results in my local community.
While the industry is still male dominated, progress is being made toward inclusivity thanks in part to platforms like The Girl Banker. I am highly committed to the professional growth and development of young talent and women in the industry and would like to encourage anyone interested to reach out and connect.
Recently, I had a male bank CEO reach out to me regarding his frustration in getting his high performing female employees to consider promotions or accepting additional responsibilities. He emphasized that he recognized the need to promote women within his organization and identified three specific women who, based on their skill sets, work ethic, and knowledge, were perfect for the positions he had available. I was shocked when he revealed to me that they weren’t interested in the positions and ultimately turned him down. I asked him to put his experience into a guest blog post but he requested to remain anonymous in an effort to protect his employees who turned down the opportunity.
From the Desk of A Male CEO | We’re Trying Harder Than You Think
I grew up in a Christian home with a family of 4 in the south. We didn’t have lavish vehicles or fancy homes, but we didn’t go without. We lived about 10 minutes outside of town on 5 acres. My parents kept me busy with chores, sports, and homework. Every summer beginning at age 12 I would work for my father’s construction business mostly cleaning jobsites and doing chores that didn’t require much technical skill. But I was extremely pleased to make the $3/hour I was paid. He always let a friend work with me, so we had fun while we worked and learned some technical skills along the way. I attended college at a university and continued to get my master’s degree with intentions of going into the construction business to follow my father’s footsteps.
But, like many of us in this industry, somehow, I ended up in the finance industry. I was asked to join a group that was starting a bank. This was an opportunity I could not turn down, and I jumped on it. Fifteen years later, I am a 42-year-old CEO of a $1.5 billion institution with 260 employees.
Every day I turn on the news and see reports on discrimination, disparate treatment, and much more against minorities, females, and those classified due to their selection of sexuality. For so long, I could not believe there were so many cases where powerful wealthy men took advantage of the less fortunate that belong to these categories. First, there are some truly evil people in this world and they absolutely disgust me despite their political views or life choices. But nowadays, the news is now so politically driven depending on which cable channel you’re tuned into that its difficult to know the actual truth. Having said that, these news reports have seemed to give some of us REALLY bad reputations. Do you feel like if you’re a non-racist, non-sexist, middle aged white male that you are under attack? Often, I do.
In banking, you hire for job qualifications and attitude. Not race or gender. You want people that smile, say “Good Morning” when customers walk in the door, offer help to others, and do things to help people that may not be on the job description. At our Bank, we have a lot of these people of all genders and all races that have these qualities. In our culture, we recognize these individuals quarterly with awards (monetary and non-monetary), recognition on the Bank intranet and on social media, and once a year our big winners make it in the paper. We run ads promoting our community bankers in local newspapers and publications to show the community how special we believe these people truly are.
So why do I feel attacked? At every conference I attend for any specific purpose, diversity is discussed in some way. I, as well as my management team, strive to promote females as well as minorities. Not to check a box on our affirmative action plan, or to simply appease the Department of Labor or the EEOC, but because having diversity allows for different points of view. We value those opinions because they help us in so many ways. It increases our Bank’s exposure to different kinds of people. People we manage, people we would like to obtain as customers, and people we wish to employ. It opens our minds to different cultures that we may or may not be familiar with and in turn fosters creativity, innovation, and overall better decision making. Sounds easy right? I thought so until I began the search to seek out and promote high performing individuals that I thought should be challenged with more responsibility.
When I became CEO, I identified positions I felt our Bank needed. Positions of leadership where I believed I’d identified the most qualified people in our Bank to take the reigns and lead the charge with me into the future prosperity of this Bank. These individuals happened to be 3 females that I knew were the perfect fit for the positions. They had been in their respective areas anywhere from 5 – 15 years, and I had heard several times that they were excited about growth opportunity. Confidently, I approached my first star. She was a loan officer with an abnormally large portfolio, was extremely active in the community, and volunteered to help with most anything that was needed by the Bank. As we chatted, I began discussing a void I had discovered in the lending function. After the explanation, I asked, “So… what I would like to do is offer you this position as well as management training including a graduate school of banking opportunity. This will build on an already strong foundation and give you insight into not only lending, but other areas of the Bank!”. She wanted to think about the opportunity, which I understood, and would let me know that week. After consideration, she wanted the job, but did not want to attend any training or travel. I simply did not understand. So I asked, “If this position requires management training, you would decline the opportunity?”. The answer was “Yes. I feel like being in this job for as long as I have, that I know just about everything there is to know”. I was shocked. I still am, shocked. I respectfully explained why I hoped she would embrace this challenge and explained I would continue my search. She understood.
Over the next few weeks I approached another female with a job opportunity in a different area of the Bank. Again, I was met with resist to change. This time because the individual did not want to be held to sales expectations. “What is going on?!” I thought. Was it my approach? Were we too tough on our expectations? Do these people not like me? Maybe it’s someone in their departments? Believe it or not, the questions continue to swirl.
Finally, a few months later, I approached an African American female to take the reigns of a market and grow the customer base in the town she grew up in and currently resided. After the previous meetings, I made the delivery of the opportunity as attractive as possible. Even relaxing the standards that I believed she could achieve. Again I was met with a firm, no thanks. This time, she simply enjoyed what she was doing and wanted to remain in her current role.
Now every year I attend a meeting where groups of 20 bank CEOs, classified by bank asset size, sit around a round table and discuss issues, opportunities, specific strengths, the future of the industry, and much more. These bank CEOs are from all over the country. While talking to the group during a break, I brought up my recent experiences. Most of the people in this group are 55+ in age, and I ended up getting many life lessons in what to do and what to avoid in management. But the summary of all the discussions were that they experienced the same too some extent. Many had succeeded in promotion of women and minorities but were adamant in explaining it had nothing to do with their gender or race, only their qualifications and attitude.
Then a thought hit me. We have two brilliant women on our executive management team. Let’s have them start a mentor program and begin a “Women of Banking” group. We’ll send different groups to conferences, have get-togethers, and grow this intelligence in our Bank. The woman I approached did not feel confident to lead this endeavor. Her response was “I prefer not to be thought of as female, but rather as a hard worker that is part of this team”. While disappointed, I understood her response. But I still wanted to form a group and train for future leadership roles and show appreciation. So often, men build relationships playing golf, hunting, or fishing and this is an opportunity to create something fun and possibly even attract customers at the same time. I approached three different females at the Bank and pitched the idea.
“What if we invite a few female business owners, or even wives of business owners and fly you all to an event, featured speaker, museum, or anything you can think of that would be entertaining and begin a women’s group that will hopefully grow. We could hold quarterly breakfasts/lunches/dinners and update them on community activities or Bank initiatives.”
While they seemingly liked the idea, I asked for suggestions of places or events to begin the group. To this day, even after a follow-up I have not had one suggestion.
These are problems CEOs run into much more than people think. There is no doubt there are sexist, racist, and overall disrespectful leaders out there that give the majority of us a very bad reputation. But for those of us that want to diversify our leadership, the majority of us, well… we’re trying harder than you think.
This article was written as a guest blog post for the Girl Banker. The opinions of the author are his own. He has requested to remain anonymous.