By Kellee Rivers, Head of Commercial Business Programs and Support and Executive Lead for Women in Leadership (WIL) at TD Bank, America's Most Convenient Bank®
"You may be the first to do many things, but make sure you are not the last." This statement by Kamala Harris, which has become a mantra of female empowerment, really hit home for me when I started to reflect on what Women's History Month means in 2021. While I am fortunate to have made great progress in my development as a leader over the past year, the pandemic has forced many of us to face things we never had to before.
This remote, more disconnected work environment has impacted each of us differently and has demonstrated the resiliency of women. This past year, we saw the election of the first ever female Vice President, Bumble had the youngest female CEO take a company public and Walgreens named Rosalind Brewer its new CEO, making her the only Black female CEO of a Fortune 500 company. There is clearly momentum for women in leadership that we need to capitalize on.
There are many perspectives of how this pandemic has affected women at different stages in their lives – entering their careers or having been in their chosen profession for quite some time, transitioning into motherhood or managing small children at home, while others are sending their children off to college. So, for Women's History Month, we need to celebrate women worldwide who have confronted obstacles head-on. For me, this means finding ways to recognize women at every level of TD who have stepped up and shown leadership despite overwhelming adversity.
So, how can we advocate for women in the workplace who want to grow during a pandemic that has made it harder to demonstrate their voice and visibility?
As we all know, women need visibility in the workplace to form relationships that get them noticed and promoted. To help with this, TD's Women in Leadership team worked to identify relevant educational resources for our colleagues while simultaneously creating opportunities for virtual career development, including webinars and more informal networking and mentoring sessions. We’ve also encouraged leaders to focus on holding development-focused conversations with women throughout the organization to get a better sense of their goals and help them identify helpful tools and resources.
Here are some things all leaders can do this month and every month after:
- Take the time to have personal conversations with women within your organization to get a sense of their career goals. We also need leaders, regardless of gender, to serve as allies for the advancement of women in the workplace. While speaking with women about their development is a great step, leaders looking to be allies need to come to women proactively with opportunities for advancement and be willing to speak to their accomplishments and skills when there are key decisionmakers in the room.
- Be intentional about reaching out to women to help them build their networks. Many women who are early in their careers may be intimidated by reaching out to senior leaders, so we must extend a hand to encourage them and show genuine interest. As leaders we have the unique opportunity to lift others as we rise. Senior leaders who are willing to teach, bring people up and give them better insight into the organization, can make all the difference.
As for women looking to progress in their careers, I can offer some advice based on lessons I've learned:
- Have a great attitude and continue to say "yes" to new assignments that challenge your abilities and grow your skillsets. One such challenge for me came with the bank's implementation of the U.S. Small Business Administration's Paycheck Protection Program. My team remained inspired by helping businesses stay open and get access to the funds they needed, though that meant working around the clock. While this program was certainly challenging, never have I seen so many executive women at the helm of a program this size. Women working tireless hours, while managing small children, taking care of elderly parents, going through all sorts of challenges, yet remaining committed to serving our customers. For me, this was a huge accomplishment and a huge blessing. I grew and learned a lot from this experience.
- Don't be afraid to reach out for help. While it may feel overwhelming to reach out to a senior leader, most leaders are more than happy to share their stories and career advice. These conversations will help open avenues for future career advancement and personal growth.
While we have truly seen the resiliency and strength of women over the past year, which is certainly something to celebrate, there is still work to do. We need leaders to take a genuine investment in the growth of women in their organizations and we need women to continue to advocate for themselves in the workplace. Women who are the "first" are charting a path and serving as role models to ensure they are not the last. This is a responsibility that should not be taken lightly.