I recently had the great pleasure of speaking to students at the UC Berkeley Haas School of Business on the occasion of Women’s Empowerment Day on April 13. An edited version of the remarks I shared with them is below.
It’s a pleasure to be here today to support Women’s Empowerment Day and our next generation of leadership.
I’m also joined by a number of Cal alumni who are my colleagues at Bank of the West. At last count, I heard we have more than 175 Cal alumni working at our organization. I know I speak for everyone when I say we’re proud to be the Official Bank of UC Berkeley, and to participate in programs that support the students and the mission, vision and values of the University.
When I was invited as a speaker, faculty member and program manager Krystal Thomas suggested that I share my personal journey and philosophy as a woman executive.
Make your own choices and embrace them fully
My personal journey began in Melrose, Mass. Just outside of Boston. I came from (what was then) a traditional family structure. My mother was a stay-at-home mom. My father was in finance and went to the office every day. When he wasn’t at the office, he was also the coach of our local little league teams. I was the middle child with an older and younger brother.
Back then, if you asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I would have said a doctor or a teacher.
My parents may have held traditional family roles, but they taught us kids to make our own choices and pursue our interests – regardless of convention.
A colleague who happened to be travelling with his daughter once told me: “I’m taking my daughter to Beverly Hills so she sees that if she marries well, she can shop anywhere she likes!” We laugh, but I suspect that there are many young people who grow up with this mindset.
I compare that to the kind of guidance my father gave me: “Made your own choices and work hard for the things you want.”
As I look back, I realize that my parents were my first mentors. My father’s confidence in me helped me to trust my own decisions. I still believe in the power of my own choice, and I encourage you to believe in yours.
I encourage you to fully embrace whatever choice you make. Live it fully. Be in the moment. Learn everything you can while you inhabit that role.
Be passionate about the path you take
I ended up studying economics as a business major at the University of Massachusetts. Rather than medicine or education, I took the business route. It seemed practical at the time. And I liked the fast pace of the business world. I had no idea where it would take me.
All I knew was I had to take that first step.
As it turns out, I took a lot of steps. From Boston to Washington DC. Then Phoenix, Charlotte, Seattle, Buffalo, and finally San Francisco. Some of those choices were intentional and others were opportunistic. I learned to make the most of every role I inhabited and every place I lived.
Here’s where I talk about the reality of corporate life. There will be people who get ahead of you (men or women). They might be better connected, smarter, or a one-time wonder. You can check all the boxes and it doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll get ahead.
Stay your course. Don’t compare yourself to others. Own your path just as you own your choice.
With some of the early positions I held, I wasn’t even sure what to do, but I forged ahead with a determination to get things done.
I can say this for certain: Jobs that don’t exist now will exist in your future. So be passionate and persistent about what you do and the opportunities will present themselves.
Know your brand
I’d like to detour from my personal story to touch briefly on the broader journey all women face in the workplace.
We are still seeing a gap in women leadership. Although women hold 52% of all professional jobs, American women lag substantially behind men when it comes to leadership positions.
- As of 2016, women hold just 18% of S&P 1500 board seats.
- Women are just 25% of executive and senior officials and managers, 9.5% of top earners, and 6% of CEOs in S&P 500 companies, according to Catalyst research.
Conversations like today’s support greater awareness of women in leadership roles. It also helps us to be transparent about gender bias at all levels of the workplace.
I’ve been with the Bank for five years. I appreciate that my organization encourages my personal best. When you work at a company that values talent and diversity, you see high performing teams and an engaged workforce.
Gender equality is central to our parent company BNP Paribas.
- 53% of all staff members are female.
- And among the top 2,500 senior managers, 27% are women– compared to less than 10% over a decade ago.
This last data point speaks to the importance reinforcing a policy and culture of professional equality.
You might know that Bank of the West’s CEO is a woman – Nandita Bakhshi. She is leading a major transformation at our bank to accelerate our growth, create a more innovative culture, and leverage socially responsible business practices.
She also has an incredible story. She immigrated to the United States from India and worked her way up the corporate ladder from part-time bank teller to CEO.
Across our organization, I hear similarly inspiring stories of women and men who excel in their careers because they’ve found their sweet spot and the right organization.
Meanwhile, I’m still on my own journey. I am still learning. Along the way, I found it was important to build your networks and find mentors.
Mentors come in all shapes and sizes. Mine happens to be a man. Years ago, he said to me: “Think about what you want to do, but also how you achieve it.”
What he meant was … pay attention to your personal brand. Think about your character and integrity. How do people perceive you? What do you stand for?
I say to all of you: Choose who you want to be. Stay focused on your results. And mind the way you do it.
In just a few short months you will be off on your own career journey. I have no doubt you will find yourself in a leadership role. I believe it is incumbent on each of us to be the change we want to see in the world and not wait for others to make it happen.
- Make your own choices and embrace them fully.
- Be passionate about the path you take.
- Be your own person. Know your brand.
Thank you for letting me share my personal journey with you.
Read More ›
As interest rates rise, opening an FDIC-insured account at your local financial institution may be a great option for you.Read More ›
There is nothing more worrisome than trying to figure out how to pay off college debt.Read More ›
Have you really taken into account the large amount of money you may be spending on festive occasions? It is easy to overlook.Read More ›
I know the concept of investing can be a little intimidating due to many options and risks, but here are three tips I often share on the basics of investing.Read More ›