The Office is one of my favorite TV shows, and apparently, I’m not alone in loving it. In 2020, while we were seeking comfort from the anxiety of dealing with a global pandemic (and going out of our m...
March 8 is International Women’s Day, and at SWBC, I am fortunate to work alongside many smart, talented, and tenured women. Diversity and inclusion are important to the success and long-term growth of any organization. Men and women both have equally valuable—but different—experiences, and when we partner together, we bring a wider range of work and personal experiences to the table.
According to Pew Research, 29.5 million women in the U.S. workforce had an undergraduate degree as of Q1 2019, making up 50.2% of the college-educated labor market. However, across most industries and business sectors, they still lag behind their male counterparts when it comes to holding leadership positions. While gender equality has been a hot topic for many years, putting statistics and buzz words aside, cultivating female talent at all levels of an organization, and especially at the executive level, benefit businesses in many ways. In fact, according to Deloitte, when organizations support diversity and inclusion, employees are 83% more innovative, 31% more customer-service focused, and 42% more collaborative.
For business leaders, it’s important to pay attention to demographic trends both at a national and local level. When your employee base reflects the demographic make-up of the general population, your customers—with their vast number of buying opportunities—can choose to partner with and/or buy from a company that can connect with them on a deeper level and relate to their unique needs.
SWBC: Building a Culture to Provide Opportunity
Although women encompass a significant segment of the population, workforce, and buying power, women and minorities continue to be underrepresented in the workforce—particularly leadership positions. Women account for a mere 7% of top executives with Fortune 100 companies, so it’s evident that many companies seem to be struggling with providing women with opportunities for growth and career development. However, at SWBC, those opportunities have impacted the leadership team in a big way, where 42% of the executive leadership team is comprised of women.
Opportunities make all the difference, according to Mandy Smith, VP of Training & Employee Development at SWBC. “I started off as a temporary employee in 2001 and have been provided so many opportunities to grow, develop, and learn. I know that I wouldn’t be where I am today if it weren’t for a culture that respects and rewards women and women in leadership.”
Mandy’s story is not an outlier. When asked what it was like to work alongside other tenured, talented women at the executive level, Joan Cleveland, President and CEO of SWBC Life Insurance responded, “Absolutely fabulous. We respect each other, we drive each other, we like each other, and we’re proud of each other.”
Building a culture that respects the talent and leadership of women has a resounding, lasting impact. “Strong women don’t stay where they are stifled, nor do they invite other strong women to join them there. The number of strong women that are at SWBC is a testament to the fulfillment strong women find at SWBC,” said Debbie Dunn, COO of SWBC Mortgage Corporation.
How Gender Diversity Positively Impacts Companies
Elevating women to leadership and executive positions should not only be done to “check a box” or avoid scrutiny. The fact is, businesses financially benefit from the leadership of women. An MIT study found offices that shifted from gender homogenous to an evenly split male/female ratio saw a 41% revenue increase. When men and women have the opportunity to lead organizations together, they have the ability to leverage each other’s strengths and weaknesses in order to build a stronger, more successful business and company culture. Leveraging a variety of viewpoints leads to creative solutions and development of untapped opportunities.
The fact is, no gender is better than the other, but when diversity exists throughout all levels of an organization—from the top down—it can have an incredibly positive impact on the culture and the financials. Gender diversity also allows companies to attract and retain talented employees, both male and female.
For Susan Stewart, CEO of SWBC Mortgage Corporation, working in a male-dominated industry for more than 30 years was not abnormal, but the gender-make-up of the SWBC leadership team has always been a differentiator. “For me, working in mortgage—an industry comprised of predominantly male C-suite executives—it is nice to come home from my travels and interact and exchange ideas with the strong female executives of SWBC,” said Stewart. She continued, “I’ve been fortunate to have a leadership team at SWBC that has supported my growth and development by giving me a platform to share my expertise.” As the 2021 Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA) Chairman, Stewart is a shining example of how talent, opportunity, and trust can propel an employee’s growth and positively impact an organization’s bottom line.
Greg Hermanson, Senior Vice President of Human Resources at SWBC, has been in HR over 30 years and stated, “I have never been at a company whose owners’ value female leadership more than Gary Dudley and Charlie Amato. In fact, while there is clearly still some work to do, 42% of SWBC’s Executive Leadership Team is comprised of extremely gifted women, far surpassing the percentage of any other organization I have worked for. I love the fact that we have such a stellar group of female leaders that help us collaborate, problem solve, motivate our teams, and make sound decisions.”
Victoria Penn is the AVP of Marketing for SWBC. She manages a team that develops traditional and digital marketing strategies for SWBC's lines of business.