ELFA Equity Forum: Creating Inclusion in Equipment Finance

by Markiesha Thompson Nov/Dec 2022
The Equipment Leasing and Finance Association’s Equity Committee is leading an evolutionary change within the industry to create an environment of diversity, equity and inclusion in everything it does. Its inaugural Equity Forum encouraged interaction, sparked new ideas and provided tools and inspiration for everyone in equipment finance to embrace DE&I.

Markiesha Thompson,
Associate Editor,

The Equipment Leasing and Finance Association has been making major moves to address the subject of diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) within the equipment finance industry. Recently, the ELFA hosted its first annual Equity Forum, a two-day conference in Washington, D.C. held Nov. 6-7 with a vision of raising awareness, advocacy and action in the industry around DE&I.

Led by Scott Thacker, CPA, CLFP, founding chair of the ELFA Equity Committee and CEO of Ivory Consulting Corporation; Ralph Petta, president and CEO of the ELFA; and other Equity Committee members, the forum provided an opportunity for panelists and members to gather together to delve into topics such as the discerning the difference between equality and equity, addressing discriminatory practices, holding leaders accountable for a lack of cultural awareness and spreading the word about the Equity Forum to their respective companies.

Creating a More Diverse Industry

Holistic leadership strategist Ginny Clarke delivered the keynote address, “You Don’t Have a Diversity Problem, You Have a Leadership Problem,” and led a panel discussion, “Ask a Diversity Leader,” which included Julia Gavrilov, partner at Moritt Hock & Hamroff; Joseph Hernandez, senior director, HR, inclusion and diversity at TIAA Bank; and Wayne Super, vice presidetn of capital markets at Cisco Systems Capital.

Clarke began the keynote by defining current DE&I terms such as equity, inclusion, organizational malpractice and culture to ensure everyone understood them. Clarke covered how leadership can help move DE&I efforts forward. According to Clarke, leaders are the remedy for exclusion and they are responsible for advocating to change the algorithms that leave out marginalized groups. Most corporate American structures were not made for people of color to be included, but when companies focus on competencies during the hiring process, it levels the playing field. Clarke believes the responsibility to transform how business is done does not only belong to leaders; everyone has a responsibility at a micro level to help create transformation.

Leaders can bring more diverse talent into the industry in various ways, according to Clarke. One method is avoiding hiring via friends or family or from pedigreed colleges on the assumption that those candidates are more qualified. Raising awareness about equipment finance in marginalized communities can lead to better talent discovery and the widening of the reach of the equipment finance sector can lead to a focus on competency when hiring.

Citing her research and knowledge, Clarke addressed how executive recruiters have been trained to think like management consultants to focus on what the business needs when they instead could focus on aligning talent to meet the needs of the business. “Many leaders don’t have a talent mindset,” Clarke said about the current hiring practices used in corporate industries. She also suggested companies hire a talent planner and focus on retaining people of color who are entering the industry while noting it is important for leaders to create an environment and culture that supports talent in the workplace.

Clarke also noted that the Great Resignation has highlighted the top five reasons for a lack of retention, including a lack of career development, inadequate compensation, lack of proper leadership, lack of meaningful work and unsustainable work expectations. According to Gallup, 18% of managers demonstrate a high level of talent for leading people, which leaves 82% unqualified to manage. When employees have poor managers, they become disengaged, which can cost companies up to $550 billion in lost productivity annually.

But there is hope! Super said retention of diverse employees begins with leadership that firmly believes and practices inclusive behaviors to create equity. Starting with the interview process, leadership can begin to change the culture within their organizations, connect with the interviewee and reimagine and transform organizations through talent. Leaders can ask questions that engage people and lead to connection in interviews, invest more time with the people that they are leading and hiring, develop good listening skills in interviews and look for candidates who share who they are and hold themselves accountable as leaders.

Clarke and Gavrilov recommended that leaders share their stories to create a safe space and help their teams feel comfortable. Clarke said people respect leaders for taking them along on a journey and communicating why decisions are being made rather than making major decisions with no explanation. Clarke believes leaders must focus on connecting with people where they are, such as making notes about staff members to help remember personal details to bring up in conversation to strengthen the connection and trust between staff and leadership. Utilizing remote and hybrid work can allow for a window into staff’s personal lives, which opens the door for connection.

Most importantly, Clarke suggested that leadership check in about the mental health of their team members to make sure they are alright on every level, remembering that people come into workplaces as their whole selves and need leadership to operate from a place of empathy as well. Spending twice as much time on “people issues” can make a huge difference for leaders and for an organization.
But the responsibility for making DE&I strides does not belong to leadership alone. “Regardless of your role, you are in DE&I work,” Super said.

Some companies, like Cisco, have a program that pairs executives with people from different backgrounds to have personal conversations to create better understandinf of the different representation within the organization. It is a time investment to encourage connection. Another cultural competency effort that leadership can implement can be to use connections to pay closer attention to their staff to help prevent burnout in working caregivers, people of color and those with disabilities in the workplace. Another way to retain diverse talent and adjust to focusing on people is encouraging employees to utilize flex time policies and ensuring that doing so does not offset an employee’s career path.

Clarke noted that the culture of a company is an amalgam of the attitudes of its senior leaders. Since employees often emulate leadership, leaders must hold themselves accountable. This begins with eliminating fear and the mindset of scarcity from the company. Everyone in the company must know that there’s enough for everyone. From there, leaders must learn to optimize talent and take responsibility for internal mobility.

Crucial Conversations

The second panel, “Crucial Conversations: Creating a DEI Focus and Launching DEI Initiatives in Your Business,” featured moderator Melissa Donaldson, senior vice president and chief diversity officer at Wintrust Capital, and panelists Lisa Haynes, senior vice president, CFO and diversity and inclusion officer at the Mortgage Bankers Association; Darlene Slaughter, chief diversity and engagement officer at March of Dimes; and Nancy Robles, president of Eastern Funding. To kick the panel off, Donaldson noted that nobody has DE&I figured out, which makes it an ongoing process of discovery.

Having crucial conversations with the dominant cultural group is a must, according to Donaldson. Senior leadership must buy into DE&I to effectively address microaggressions and align DE&I initiatives with company goals and missions. Before a company can begin to implement DE&I initiatives, its leaders must envision what success would look like and then outline the steps required to promote equity. The panel noted the importance of making the industry accessible to more communities and creating a workplace where people feel comfortable being themselves.


In the final panel of the day, “This is Me — The Transformational Power of Telling Your Own Story,” moderated by Slaughter, Christopher Johnson, senior vice president and president of Global Financial Services at Pitney Bowes; and Delroy Stauffer, CLFP, senior manager of business development at Odessa, shared incredibly powerful stories, boiling them down to six words. Attendees were encouraged to create and share their own six-word stories with the group.

The Future of DE&I in the Industry

The ELFA Equity Committee plans to continue to spread awareness within the industry and encourages everyone in the industry to attend the 2023 ELFA Equity Forum. “The excitement and engagement during the forum were palpable — very high indeed, and it gives me encouragement to help create an even more remarkable forum next year,” Thacker said. “Attendees expressed appreciation for the awareness and activities which the Equity Committee has collectively created and spoke about how they were motivated to return to their businesses as DE&I advocates.”

At the forum, Robles announced a new effort to encourage community for people of color in the industry: the Black Equipment Finance Network.

Companies — and industries — that will thrive in the future must begin to build DE&I into their organization’s missions, goals and cultures. They will know how to hire and optimize the best talent, build and retain inclusive teams and focus on making finance accessible for all communities. They will not only build great companies, but work diligently to solve the world’s problems at the same time. Ask yourself, what can you and your organization do to push equity forward? Start somewhere.

Markiesha Thompson is associate editor of Monitor.

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