It wasn’t so long ago that a typical business meeting at a banking or financial institution was dominated by the good ol’ boys network. Well, not anymore. Today, you are likely to see more women among the dark suits at the table.
“I have watched women evolve,” says Deborah Bateman, executive vice president of specialty banking and marketing at National Bank of Arizona, and a founder of the Women’s Financial Group. Bateman boasts a professional background spanning more than 40 years in the banking industry.
“Early in my career, I think we tried to mirror men,” she says. “Over time, women have recognized the skill sets they can bring to business, such as collaboration, connecting, coaching (and) creating value inside Corporate America.”
Women’s roles in the banking and finance sectors are widening, and the proof is in the numbers. In 2009, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, 54 percent of American women were employed in fields related to financial activities. This includes finance and insurance, banking and related activities, securities, commodities, funds, trusts and other financial investments. In Arizona, the percentage of women working in the finance and insurance industry also is significant. U.S. Census data shows there are actually more women than men working in these industries.
Although women have come a long way from their beginnings in these formerly male-dominated sectors, it is an ongoing struggle. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the disparity in salaries for men and women is significant.
In the Phoenix Metro area, during the third quarter of 2009, women made up 14.4 percent of the 35-44 age work force in finance and insurance (private sector) versus 10.4 percent for men. However, women in these fields average a monthly salary of $4,350, compared to men’s $6,643. For women aged 45 to 54, the salary gap grows even wider. In this age group, men on average earn 64 percent more.
“Women need to be more assertive about asking for money and tooting their own horn,” says Donna Davis, CEO of the Arizona Small Business Association (ASBA) and a member of the Women’s Financial Group. “It’s OK to promote your organization, it’s OK to ask for money and to ask for more.”
However, Emily Amparan, vice president of development at Factors Southwest, says she thinks the numbers don’t reflect the real gains women are making.
“I always hold those figures suspect, as I rarely encounter hindrances to make money and achieve success in the financial field,” she says. “I think if you believe it to be so, it probably is … however, the most successful women in the finance industry don’t pay any mind to talk of obstacles, as they forge ahead to make their own path.”
Helping women make their own paths in the financial sector is the mission of a number of organizations emerging all over the Valley. For example, Bateman founded an internal mentorship program at National Bank of Arizona in 2009, that quickly expanded to outside industries and individuals. Later renamed the Women’s Financial Group, the organization’s focus is to bring together women of all professional backgrounds to promote financial planning, mentoring, business services and networking.
Bateman says she hopes the Women’s Financial Group can serve as a catalyst for women to succeed and attain higher positions in banking and finance without compromising their identities.
“For years and years, we would dress in tailored blue suits and wear ties,” Bateman recalls. “Women can be women in the business world. It brings enormous value to business, to their organizations and to the community.”
In addition, Davis says the group can help “women become more savvy financial business people.”
At a recent Women’s Financial Group event, women of diverse backgrounds, both personal and professional, filled the room. Some women were just beginning their careers and some were veterans with decades of experience. But all were there with a mission: to pave the way for future success in their respective financial careers.
Another group aimed at women in the financial sector is Women in Banking, the local chapter of the national Risk Management Association. Founded in 2006, its first meeting took place at a Chevy’s restaurant with 14 business women in attendance. Today, the group includes 50 to 80 bankers, consultants, marketers and business owners from around the Valley. And despite its name, the committee encourages men to join and attend its events.
“There is definitely a need for a professional organization that brings business and banking together for positive networking,” says Amparan, who is a member of the organization’s leadership team.
Along with helping women plot their careers in financing, Women in Banking is a strong supporter of Fresh Start Women’s Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping women in areas such as career change, personal growth, family relationships and more. The group collects clothes for donation and works to raise money to sponsor Fresh Start’s annual golf tournament and fashion show.
That type of commitment to all women in the community is just one example of the impact women professionals in finance are making.
“Women in business are tremendous bridge builders and relationship makers,” Amparan says. “Banking and finance has become more of a warm, open environment to the credit of professional women across the state and country. People are starting to take notice of the successful way women are starting to do business and build relationships.”