July 15, 2024
Advancing women in banking leadership is everyone’s business

By Scott Anderson

Community banking is at heart a local business. To be successful, we must have strong ties with the communities in which we live and work. We need to reflect our communities. But while each one of our communities differs in terms of racial and ethnic makeup, immigrant populations, LGBTQ status, religious views and other dimensions of diversity, one factor doesn’t change as you travel to different communities: women make up roughly half of our communities!

My own bank, Zions Bank in Utah, has a strong history of serving women. When we opened our doors nearly 150 years ago, five of our first 15 depositors were women. This was unusual—many banks in that period wouldn’t accept an account from a woman unless she had a man to cosign for it.

But our communities didn’t always see in us the forward-thinking identity we saw in ourselves. Not long after I joined Zions Bank in 1991, we commissioned market research that asked consumers “How would you describe Zions Bank as an individual?” The response? “A middle-aged, white, balding man who drove a Cadillac and lived in a gated community.” As a Zions customer since age eight, that wasn’t my perspective on my bank, but it’s important to hear, receive and respond to hard feedback.

So, we took it to heart. We’ve put a lot of effort into changing the image to reflect our community, including establishing a women’s business center and offering a special-purpose credit program to make loans to women-owned small businesses that might otherwise have been rejected. And in the community, we’ve sponsored initiatives like the Utah Women’s Leadership Institute, where we’re participating in the ElevateHER program to cultivate female leadership in all areas of Utah life: business, society and politics.

And we as an industry must turn our focus to our employees, too—making sure we help women use their skills and talents at every level. I’m proud of the progress we’ve made at Zions, where we’ve been recognized as having a “top team” through American Banker’s Most Powerful Women in Banking awards for several years. Today, half of the Zions Bank board is made up of women. But while women make up 52 percent of our employees, we have more work to do in our executive ranks, where our share of women leaders more closely reflects the overall industry.

It’s a reminder that supporting women’s advancement is a mission for all of us. In April, ABA and the Illinois Bankers Association hosted our second virtual Women and Allies Leadership Symposium—but note the rebranding from 2021 to include “and Allies.” That’s key. The event brought together men and women to join around this shared goal.

Advancing women’s leadership in financial services is not just a job for women. It’s a job for all of us, including male CEOs like me. It’s a job I’ve taken to heart. If we’re going to open opportunities for our female customers and team members—we all need to be fully invested.

ABA Chair Scott Anderson is president and CEO of Zions Bank in Salt Lake City.

Advancing women in banking leadership is everyone’s business