Making Tangible Differences: Expanding Opportunities for Women in Leadership

by Brianna Wilson Nov/Dec 2022
Seven women in leadership positions in the equipment finance industry sat down with women of Monitor and STRIPES Leadership Program to have a conversation about navigating our male-dominated industry and to provide perspectives on tangible support for equipment finance women, by equipment finance women.

Brianna Wilson,
Program Manager,
STRIPES Leadership Program

Our industry can and will benefit from having more women in leadership positions. Spaces that are inclusive of people from various backgrounds — gender, ethnicity, etc. — naturally culminate in a broader set of ideas, which gives companies more options when it comes to change, progress and growth. Multiple studies have found that women tend to be more receptive to new ideas, more open to change and run more profitable companies that, in addition, perform better than those with less diversity. McKinsey found, for example, that companies with gender diversity were 25% more likely to have above-average profitability1 and Frank Recruitment Group found that 87% of companies with women CEOs on 2021’s Fortune 500 list reported above-average profits.2

Yet, there is still a large gap between the number of men and women in leadership positions, especially in the equipment finance sector. While we have seen this gap begin to close over the past couple of decades, there is still plenty of work to be done to create more diverse spaces — and we can begin this work with simple, insightful conversations.

Women from Monitor and STRIPES Leadership Program sat down with seven leaders to discuss tangible support for women in the equipment finance industry.

Making Leadership More Accessible to Women

The short answer to the important question, ‘how do we get more women into leadership positions?’ is support, which can and should come in many forms: men supporting women through allyship, sponsorship and understanding; women supporting women through mentorship, business relationships, and sharing advice; and women supporting and trusting themselves and their own capabilities. The question, then, becomes: how can we do this in tangible ways?

Perhaps most importantly, and one of the first steps women can take, is to look inside themselves for support.

Kathy Havlik, vice president & district manager, Key Equipment Finance, for example, has no problem being the “token woman” in male-dominated spaces. She has taken steps to eliminate her own fear of speaking up. She raises her hand first in anticipation that there will be other women following, and this has been useful to her throughout her career.

“Women have this innate fear of being ‘the only one,’ or feeling that they’re not going to properly represent the other women, that they internalize and recalculate things they’re going to say,” Havlik says. “Raise your hand. Volunteer for things. Figure it out along the way.”

“There’s a reason we [women] question ourselves,” Jillian Munson, vice president, Process and Automation of QuickFi, says. “A man will speak to an audience with unsubstantiated confidence and everyone assumes his validity. But for a woman to gain that same ubiquitous credibility, society says she needs facts, figures and references to substantiate her claims. Why? Is it a matter of confidence of the speaker? Or does the issue actually lie within the audience? Perhaps society has instilled unconscious biases in today’s observers.”

Clearly, women supporting themselves and supporting each other is not all it will take to eliminate gender biases and put more women in leadership positions.

Being Your True Self

Aside from being bold and getting rid of innate fears, which can be difficult for many, it is also important for women to be authentic in their work environments.

“One of the most effective things we as women can do is be authentic — take it from someone who was not always authentic in her early career,” Linda Redding, managing director and head, Equipment Finance at JP Morgan Chase & Co., says, sharing that she worked hard to emulate senior women in her company, who, she later realized, were just emulating the senior men. She acted in ways she thought she needed to. “As a woman, it’s easy to get caught up in all the well-meaning advice that mentors have about how you should show up, even if it may not reflect your own approach. What I learned was that it takes so much more effort and energy to not be yourself.”

Redding also wishes she had known earlier in her career how important it is to bet on yourself. “We all have innate strengths, and if we understand what we bring to the table, it makes speaking up, having a view and paying it back to others so much easier. The day I started being myself was the day I became a more effective leader,” Redding says.

Women Supporting Women

“Women did not help other women,” Deborah Monosson, president and CEO at Boston Financial & Equity Corporation, says of the beginning of her career, as most women had adopted an “I did it myself, you do it yourself” mentality. At first, Monosson did not join women’s groups because that was not her reality; she worked primarily with men. When she did put herself into women’s spaces, she realized how much women understand each other, and the vast differences in the way men and women run companies, communicate and more — which brings up another question: how can women support each other?

“Formal mentoring programs,” Aylin Cankardes, president and founder of Rockwell Financial Group and RC Energy Group, says. Cankardes was involved in a mentoring event that added tremendous, mutual value between her and her mentor. “Women make very insightful and generous leaders; our role should be to put confidence into following women. Confidence is a really critical piece of leadership,” Cankardes says, noting that she would have loved to have a mentor earlier on in her career.

Havlik agrees, “Many leaders — both men and women — have had someone in their past who made an effort to tap them on the shoulder to encourage them to take on a leadership role. Oftentimes, I have heard that leadership was not in their mind until that happened and that small note of encouragement changed their career path. I think we should all make a more concerted effort as we progress in our careers to provide that encouragement to younger women; to give them a vote of confidence to pursue leadership.”

Women can also build relationships with each other to share ideas and resources — especially now, with the ease of technology. Despite the different manifestations of business processes across companies, the themes are the same, and it would be helpful for women to be able to pick up the phone and call the head of another company for advice. “Even if we’re competitors, we can be friends first,” Amrita Patel, head, Equipment Finance at Wells Fargo Commercial Capital, says.

The Power of Storytelling

All of the tangible support that came up in this discussion — allyship, mentorship, relationships and connections, advice, self-confidence — culminated into something that all equipment finance women can do, formally or informally: tell your story. “Women need to help women!” Patel says. “Share stories of how you got where you are. Linearity has to go away for women to join leadership roles.”

“Your career is a lattice; it’s not linear,” Redding says. “For a long time, women only saw one way to be successful, and that was generally following the career paths that others had forged. The more women tell their stories, the more women may see that there can be alternate paths to success.”

Take the path that Valerie Jester, president, Brandywine Capital Associates, took to success, for example. Because she, like Monosson, ran her own enterprise and was her own boss from the start of her career, “I actually never thought much about the gender differences — and genuinely had close relationships with my competitors and banks. I believe my path to success came from being willing to give back to the industry. Through that participation and ‘putting myself out there,’ I was able to connect with the talent of ELFA and learn more than I ever imagined,” Jester says. “I think my story — being the first woman to chair the ELFA — has been a wonderful honor for me and a story that was a long time coming.”

We all have something unique to share, whether it is a positive story about a self-built career, or a less exciting set of obstacles that stood in the way of career progress or work-life balance. As women navigating the equipment finance industry, we are all going to find inspiration and ideas in each other, even if our paths look nothing alike.

1Dixon-Fyle, Dolan, et. al., “Diversity Wins: How inclusion matters,” McKinsey & Co., May 19, 2020.
2Waiting on citation

Brianna Wilson is the program manager for STRIPES Leadership Program, in partnership with Monitor.

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