It was the first time such a gathering had taken place. Conversations with Clara. A new discussion forum brought to Regions by Clara Green, the company’s recently appointed head of Diversity and Inclusion.
The initial Conversations with Clara featured Green speaking with three female leaders from within the bank in a casual setting.
Each leader is from a different department. Each is from a different generation. Each shared a message that empowered the audience.
Hundreds of people attended. Conversations with Clara is becoming a regular feature for Regions associates, with the goal of using conversations to foster a stronger culture of inclusion.
“I have found that the most impactful way to build a culture of inclusion is to explore what we have in common,” Green said. “I firmly believe that engaging in dialogue gets us to that common ground quicker than any training class I could mandate.”
Regions has championed diversity and inclusion for years. The work of Green, and the experience of the three leaders who shared openly at the inaugural Conversations with Clara event, serve as the company’s next step toward creating greater awareness of the benefits of diversity and inclusion across the organization.
Here are some of the top takeaways:
Barb Godin: The Trailblazer
Deputy Chief Risk Officer at Regions
Barb Godin started her career in the 1970s in Canada, where the banking environment was almost exclusively male.
“There would be 15 to 20 people in the room, and I was the only female,” Godin explained. “I had to find my voice.”
She did. She made sure her business strategies were known. And when some of her ideas were dismissed immediately – but then accepted when they were reshared by a male colleague – she reminded the team where the idea originated. With her.
And she learned to handle challenges with strategy and humor.
Looking back on the early stages of her career, Godin said she realized she needed to find mentors who had a common trait: They were fathers to daughters. Because fathers with daughters “really listened and were much more open.”
Those mentors supported Godin as she found her voice. Now, she actively mentors women inside and outside of Regions to help them find theirs.
Amala Duggirala: Going the Extra Mile
Chief Information Officer at Regions
Amala Duggirala grew up in India and moved to the U.S. to pursue her Masters in Computer Sciences. Even as the locale changed, the resistance to women in her chosen field of technology proved to be universal at the time.
While seeking her graduate degree, peers would ask if she intended to teach, and she’d surprise them by replying that she intended to work directly in the technology field. She saw where she had to knock down stereotypes on a daily basis.
“I felt I had to do extra to prove myself at the beginning,” Duggirala recalled. “It made me stronger, not weaker.”
Kate Danella: Finding the Authentic Self
Head of Strategic Planning and Corporate Development at Regions
Kate Danella originally sought a career far from banking. She taught youth about democracy in Lithuania, then moved to England and studied modern Lithuanian history.
Back home, her father’s dying request implored her to spend two years learning finance. Somewhat reluctantly, at first, she complied, returning to the States and testing the waters. She was surprised to discover finance was her calling.
“I went from enjoying work to finding purpose,” said Danella. “I found a path where I could make a difference, find meaning in my work and be myself.”
Balancing Work and Life
According to Godin, the solution is easy. Get over yourself: “You’ve got to get over being a perfectionist,” she said.
Duggirala understands. “A woman sets very high expectations for herself.” So how does she counter those expectations? “You have to use the support system around you.”
When Danella leaves work and walks through her front door, life as she knows it changes in an instant.
“When I cross that threshold, it’s a mind change, it’s a pace change,” said Danella, who will throw on a sweatshirt in a move symbolizing the end of the workday and move into the role of mom to a kindergartner and nine-month-old. “I find my balance by finding peace in life’s imbalance.”
Women and Confidence
For Godin, mindset – with a clear set of goals – is key. “I can take that hill. Nothing’s going to stop me,” she said.
Duggirala believes sheer will matters more than gender. “There is a bridge we all have to cross. What is stopping you?”
Danella believes one creates confidence through a fundamental process. She talked about some of the most challenging meetings and discussions of her career and relayed simple advice that positioned her to succeed. “Come prepared. When you are prepared, you may not know the exact answer, but you know enough to help further the conversation or goal. Most importantly, be authentic,” she said.
Don’t Apologize for Being You
All three leaders agree: You’ve paid your dues, so don’t back down.
“You can argue at the table because of what you bring to the table,” Duggirala said. “If you don’t know the answers, reach out for help.”
Added Danella: “You can’t be apologetic about your opinion. You’ve got to say it. You’ve got to own it.”
Godin said things are much better for career women than when she started in banking 44 years ago. While much has changed, women should never short-change who they are. It’s about being yourself, not trying to fit the perceptions of others.
“I believe women are more emotional than men. And I don’t apologize for that, Godin said. “Be authentic. Be yourself. Be transparent.”
The Final Word
When Godin’s daughter was in elementary school, she told her mother about her frustration with a demanding teacher. In the child’s mind, the teacher wasn’t fair and asked too much.
Godin’s response was not what she expected.
“I said, ‘Honey, suck it up. You’re going to run into people your entire life you think are mean to you. You’d better learn to deal with it now.’”
More to Come
Green said the conversation with female leaders was just the first of a series of open, frank discussions.
“I am excited about where this path will lead,” she concluded.