The Importance Of Mentorship For Women In Financial Services

By Laurie Winger

The lack of female leadership across the financial services industry underscores room for growth. For reference, a September 2021 study by McKinsey found that just 24% of C-suite-level executives are women, while women make up almost half of the U.S. workforce according to Zippia.

At CUNA Mutual Group, the team is bucking that trend, with four women leaders who sit on the eight-person executive team. Throughout my career in a traditionally male-dominated industry, I have learned some valuable lessons that apply not only to women in corporate America but to anyone within the workforce. Committing to being a life-long learner, saying yes to things that scare you, and working to improve representation can help foster mentorship and leadership, making the workforce a more inclusive and welcoming place.

Being a Lifelong Learner

Adult learning is said to be comprised of 70% on-the-job training, 20% from listening to others, and 10% in the classroom. During childhood and young adulthood, learning is naturally integrated into your growth as you progress through the school system. Following college graduation, however, continuing to learn may feel like a daunting task as you progress down your career path.

Several times throughout my career, I have discovered that one of the best ways to continue lifelong learning was by shaking up my “plan” and saying “yes” to new experiences. Stepping off the traditional path into a career switch can be a reenergizing experience. If switching career paths seems daunting, start with less drastic changes that can enrich your perspective. Learn from others by volunteering to take on a special project; share your expertise through a mentorship program; teach a class to colleagues; volunteer on a relevant board or committee, or participate on a thought-leadership panel. Working collaboratively with others who have different backgrounds gives you unique insights that you can apply to your own career, broadening your horizons as you go.

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Saying Yes To Things That Scare You

Taking on leadership roles and new positions can be intimidating. But when you take those opportunities, it can be a way to increase diversity in thought, perspective, and experience. Many times, those unexpected twists and turns are the things that further your career in the long run.

Moving outside of your specific skill set will mean you won’t always be equipped to make the perfect choices. Be willing to pivot and consistently examine your decisions retroactively to know where you could have done better. Embrace the learning that comes from this approach.

Continue To Improve Representation Of Women

While allies are important and the responsibility does not fall on women alone, for those of us who feel underrepresented in our profession, a win for one is a win for all. While we have come a long way in terms of representation in financial services, we still have a long way to go.

Joining formal organizations and informal forums to network and strengthen relationships with others in your field can provide avenues to meet people you relate to and build a support network of mentors and proteges. Mentorship is an opportunity to not only grow your own career but to help others flourish as well, which in turn fosters a culture of representation.

Offering flexibility for employees, through policies such as disability leave, improved maternity and paternity leave, and the choice of a work mode that suits their lifestyle can help to improve diversity within your organization. It has helped my organization and was a foundation for the executive response to Covid-19 that included relief days and further understanding for people, especially women, struggling with child care.

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Ultimately, the greatest advice I have for women in financial services is to pursue your own path while continuing to support those around you. While pushing yourself to take risks along the way, stay true to what makes you unique, which will, in turn, make your career—and your life—that much more rewarding.


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