I recently attended a women’s networking event where I joined some of New York’s top female leaders in business and politics to discuss professional challenges that women still face in male-dominated industries, and how we, as women, are working to overcome the gender inequality that remains in benefits, wages, and leadership. Unfortunately, finance is an industry in which women struggle to attain the same levels of recognition and promotion as our male counterparts, in spite of our achievements.
As the panel of which I was a part delved into a discussion of women in the workplace, I began to reflect on my own professional journey, my responsibility as a role model for other working women, and what we’re doing at Amalgamated to champion gender equality in the workplace and foster the next generation of female leaders.
Prior to joining Amalgamated Bank, I spent 25 years in the legal sector where I became very familiar with the challenges women face working in another male-dominated profession. My first job was at a law firm, in the summer of 1983, where only one of the firm’s 50 lawyers was a woman (and of course she was not a partner). Despite the lack of female representation that surrounded me then, I had my sights set on advancing in my career and I was motivated by other ambitious women such as my aunt, who broke barriers as a top executive at major department stores and a name-brand office supplies store.
When I began working in banking, I was fortunate that it was with Amalgamated Bank. From the day I started, I felt empowered by the bank’s progressive mission, my female colleagues, and the female members of the bank’s Board of Directors. During my ten years with the bank, I have worked diligently to ascend to General Counsel, and I owe thanks to the support I received from female colleagues and directors. In fact, I value highly my relationship with Lynne Fox, the Chair of the bank’s Board.
Although Amalgamated Bank was a verifiably progressive institution when I started, there was still a noticeable lack of female leaders. This was reflective of an industry-wide pattern that permeates the banking sector to this day. (Just this year I went to a financial services forum in Washington, D.C. and estimated that the entire room was only ten percent women.)
Through our mentorship programs and employee resource groups, we are making significant strides. Women at Amalgamated have a dedicated space to share with one another their professional challenges and accomplishments, discuss current affairs, create resources and collaborate on events designed to empower more women at the bank. To ensure a level playing field for all of our employees, we recently signed on to the White House Equal Pay Pledge, raised our minimum wage to $15 an hour, and implemented a paid family leave policy. I’m proud that more than 50% of our employees are female.
Thanks to the leadership of our President and CEO Keith Mestrich, a true champion of gender equality, we have added more women to senior posts, including the recent addition of Denise Chardavoyne, as our new Chief Information Officer and head of technology, a field traditionally dominated by men.
So why are networking events for women important, especially for those hoping to shatter glass ceilings in male-dominated industries? If nothing else, it is extremely beneficial for aspiring professional women to have the opportunity to connect with role models, and learn about their pathways to success. It’s through these events that more junior professional women are able to network and develop relationships with mentors in positions of leadership. Besides that, it is highly motivating for women to surround themselves with examples of successful women leaders and change-makers.
I could not be more thrilled to have a front row seat as inspirational women begin to break through in a big way to change the make-up of traditionally male-dominated industries. It is a great honor to be a part of this movement at Amalgamated Bank.