Improving Bank Culture By Being an Ally

Tuesday, March 8, is International Women’s Day, a global celebration of women’s historical, social, economic, cultural and political achievements.

This day is also a call to action for accelerating gender equality in all aspects of life. The theme for 2022’s day is #breakthebias, to create a world free of bias, stereotypes and discrimination, and that is diverse, equitable and inclusive.

I feel tremendous pride when I see my fellow women leaders succeed, whether they lead a country or a company. I also feel tremendous pride at the steps Securian Financial has taken to draw on the diverse talents and creativity of our team to maintain our workforce and our commitments to our policyholders. One of the ways we’ve done that is through the gender equity work of our associate resource group, which seeks to foster an environment that supports, educates and empowers all women at our company and in the broader community.

Creating gender equitable cultures can result in stronger corporate reputation, earnings and a greater ability to attract and retain talent. A diverse and equitable workforce can increase creativity, increase collaboration and provide better job satisfaction for employees. But the right policies alone cannot shift culture; it’s critical that employees become part of the cause. That’s where being an ally comes in.

What does it mean to be an ally?
I get this question a lot. For too long, gender equity issues were seen as a women’s problem to solve. Yet, these issues are actually leadership issues for all to address and conquer. This involves action, advocacy and the desire to create change. It is an understanding of how power operates, and who has it. It is learning and appreciating the history and issues that women face in the workplace.

Being an ally means creating an environment that nurtures, builds community and demonstrates paths to successful career advancement. Here are some ways executives and employees at any company can practice allyship:

  • In the Moment: Speaking up in the moment when sexist comments are made is a great way to reaffirm that sexism won’t be tolerated in your organization.
  • Listen: Be a sounding board. Avoid offering your perspective unless asked, and resist the urge to fix the situation.
  • Ask: Don’t hesitate to ask female colleagues how you can be an ally. Ask about specific issues or changes that the workplace or management can make, and be willing to take responsibility for change.
  • Feedback: Provide specific and quality feedback to women for developmental goals.
  • Mentor and Sponsor Women: Commit the time and energy to mentor women in the company, and connect them with opportunities to network and showcase their talents.
  • Engage: Engage in women’s initiatives and events. Be present and be willing to be part of the conversation.

In addition to becoming an ally, executives can initiate a review of the following through a gender equity lens:

  • Job descriptions.
  • Marketing materials, including gender-inclusive imagery.
  • The types of meetings you are having — even conferences.

In today’s challenging environment of hiring and retention, an organization’s commitment to gender equity can make a substantial difference. While we regularly celebrate women’s milestones in the workplace, we still look to give women equal opportunities to exist and succeed in the workplace.

Having equal opportunities strengthens communities and the industry. With diversity of thought and background, as well as gender, we can find a well of strength in times of change and transformation.

The views expressed here are Jennifer Ortale’s own and do not necessarily represent those of Securian Financial.