Women in the Financial Industry: A Q&A With Connexus’ Female Board Members

Today is International Women’s Day, so we sat down with the women of the Connexus Board of Directors to discuss their thoughts on this day and gender issues in the financial industry.

Kim Smith is the Secretary of the Board. She retired as the Senior Director of HR Administration & Compensation at Cincinnati Bell Telephone Co after 39 years. Smith was also the Chairman of the Board at Cintel Federal Credit Union earlier in her career.
Kelsi Seubert, a Board member and young professional, is currently the Marketing and Public Relations Coordinator at Northcentral Technical College. She is also a Co-Owner of Big Fish Investments, LLC.

Connexus Credit Union: Today is International Women’s Day. What does this day mean to you?
Kelsi Seubert: As a working mom and someone who values her professional career, it’s really just a time to step back and reflect on all of the strong women mentors and teachers I’ve had in my life. I would not be where I am at without great teachers and people modeling the way.
CCU: Were there any specific lessons from those mentors that helped you get to where you are today?
Seubert: Yes. That it is okay to be a working mom and sometimes feel guilty about how you split your time. Balance is important and it’s up to each person to define what that balance looks like. It helps to have supportive people letting you know on days when things seem a little out of balance, that it’s okay.
CCU: Speaking of balance, there’s a Mercer study that shows nearly 70% of support staff in the financial industry is female. But Managers, Senior Managers, and Executives are heavily male dominated. 63% male Managers. 74% male Senior Managers. 85% male Executives. Why do you think there’s such a difference between those levels?
Kim Smith: I grew up in the finance and accounting world. What I saw almost mimics those percentages. However, there were quite a few strong, independent women, which you don’t find a lot of. I think that’s what it takes for women to be in a leadership role at a financial organization. Women have not been, in the past, developed into that type of a mindset.
CCU: Do you think there’s more companies can be doing to help develop women’s skillsets or mindsets for those roles?
Smith: A woman has to want to do that herself before a company can do it. But the company needs to do more to recognize the women who do want to take on more of a leadership role.
Seubert: You know, I think historically, you have seen more women in supporting roles across all industries. As you look at Connexus and what a progressive, forward-thinking organization it is, you see more hiring across the board done on talents and skillsets, rather than who fits what mold or what demographic. While that study paints a common picture, I don’t think it’s the same at Connexus.
Editor’s Note: This is true. 73% of Connexus’ total employees are female, and at the Manager and Senior Manager levels, it’s nearly a 50-50 split.
CCU: There’s clearly a push for gender equality in the workplace happening around the world. We’ve seen Iceland make it illegal to pay women less than men, and there’s been light shed on salary discrepancies in the entertainment industry. Do either of you feel like we’re getting closer to equality in the workplace?
Smith: I think it depends whether you have strong female leaders who the men in the workplace will listen to. At the company I was at for 39 years, we were very clear when we made offers that everything had to be equal. If we were going to offer the same job to two people who were equal, they were going to get the same offer whether they were men or women. I think it’s getting closer.
Seubert: Within the organizations that I align myself with, I see great things happening and I do think we’re moving forward in the right direction.
Smith: We’re still too far away for [equality] to happen across the U.S., but we are making strides. But again, it’s because there are women who are strong and voicing their opinions in the right way that are getting us there. It’s not because men want the equality, and I truly believe that.
CCU: Let’s shift gears just a bit. You’re both clearly successful in your professional lives, but you’re at different stages. Kim, you’re a retired Senior Director and Kelsi, you have a lot of career left. What kind of gender-related struggles have the two of you experienced throughout your careers?
Smith: In the late 70s, early 80s, I became a Manager. In order for me to be accepted as a leader, I had to become a leader. I took control over my life and my career. What’s funny is that this was also when I became pregnant and had my daughter, so I took control of everything at the same time. It was a struggle, I won’t say that it wasn’t. But I became the strong leader I had to be in order to get where I wanted to go. There are so many women who prefer to take a backseat and let the men talk. Kelsi will tell you I’m not that kind of a person.
Seubert: [laughs] That’s why I appreciate you so much, Kim. In my professional life, it’s really hard to separate two different issues. One of them is gender, and the other is age. For the majority of my career, I have had positions where I had a seat at the table, so to speak. But it was certainly up to me to find my voice and use it well. In my younger career, if I wasn’t being listened to, I didn’t know if that was because I was so young. Now that I am more confident and have a stronger sense of self, I understand how to use my voice more effectively.
CCU: What do you believe women can do to keep pushing for progress in a professional setting? We’ve talked about taking control, having a voice, and being confident. Any other tips?
Seubert: Whoever you are — man or woman — you have to figure out what type of organization you want to work for. Figure out what your values are, and learn more about yourself and where you want to be. There’s a lot that can be done, but it’s really up to each person to understand where to apply their skills, and to take responsibility for developing them.
Smith: I agree with Kelsi. But I think women have not been given the opportunity across the board to step up into a leadership role. Because the opportunities haven’t been there, women don’t know that they want to step up into a leadership role.
Seubert: And I think that we’re going to see some interesting changes with all the retirements that are happening across the board in all industries. I think we’re going to see a big shift.
Smith: Yes, with all of us baby boomers retiring, there are a whole lot of roles opening up.
CCU: Would you say there’s anything men can do to support the furthering of that progress?
Seubert: I think it’s a people issue. What can we do collectively to support one another and make sure that opportunities are available for everyone? There’s a ton of work that can be done. But I don’t think it’s what can men do to support women. It’s what can people do to support people.