The Keys to Success: Advice from Prominent Women of Equipment Finance

by Ava Pastore Nov/Dec 2023
What does it take to become a leader in a male-dominated industry? Nine top women of equipment finance share their ideas about how to make our industry more inviting to women, outline the keys to achieving success and provide advice to other women who seek to break through the glass ceiling.

Ava Pastore,
Fordham University

In 2022, Monitor launched W, a podcast featuring prominent women in equipment finance. The episodes cover how to make the industry more inviting for women, how to make leadership roles more accessible for women, how to navigate work and life integration, advice for young women embarking on their careers, how women can support one another, how men can support women and keys to a successful career.

It is essential to analyze many aspects of equipment finance to understand how women fit into the fabric of the industry. As noted by Rita Garwood, host of the W Podcast, this industry has been notably dominated by men for years and it is crucial to identify how the industry can become more inviting to women.

Julia Gavrilov, partner at Moritt Hock & Hamroff LLP, pointed out that this issue is not industry-specific, but rather organization- specific, as “the member companies we have that are more inviting to women, the more women we will attract to the equipment finance industry as a whole.” In other words, Gavrilov believes this is a problem that needs to be solved within the industry, and to solve it, individual organizations need to take the first steps to be more inclusive and welcoming platforms where women can grow.

Inviting Women to Lead

An idea expressed by both Deborah Reuben, CEO and founder of TomorrowZone, and Tawnya Stone, vice president of strategic technology at GreatAmerica Financial, is that for women to be included, they must be invited. It is not enough for companies to merely allow women into the industry; these corporations need to deliberately welcome these women into environments where they can have the opportunity to obtain stronger roles.

In addition to having leadership roles available to women, Reuben noted that if we care about having new voices, “we just need to share the air.” The workplace should not be a place that breeds competition, but rather one that promotes productivity and growth, which occurs when companies consciously promote inclusivity and diversity that adds undeniable value to the workplace.

In addition to ensuring that the industry is inviting to women, it also must promote the concept of leadership to women. Gavrilov explained that it is not an issue of leadership not being attractive to women, but rather that “it hasn’t been easily accessible to women.” She noted that this can be because of a lack of access to sponsors or opportunities to advance, and the presence of negative biases or stereotypes. Once again, this problem must be solved by starting at the issue’s root. Companies must effectively eliminate these obstacles placed in the way of women for them to gain leadership opportunities. Reuben said that rather than making women feel incompetent as leaders, higher-ups in a company need to “open doors for women,” advocate for them and believe in them.

Women Supporting Women

Donna Yanuzzi, senior vice president and director at 1st Equipment Finance said we simply need to “recognize women in our industry and we need to nurture them.” Women supporting women is a very important part of making the industry a more welcoming and comfortable environment for women. Jennifer Martin, SVP of Strategy at Key Equipment Finance, emphasized the importance of having a “tribe” you can count on. She illustrated how being a good listener can be extremely helpful in building meaningful relationships with other women in the industry. By being part of a team and acting as allies, women create strength in numbers and an unbelievably dedicated support system.

Many interviewees also emphasized the importance of mentoring fellow women to assist them in the industry, as noted by Katie Crawford, bank sales manager at Arvest Equipment Finance. Crawford also discussed the benefit of simply letting someone know they are doing great, or reaching out to the person they report to and speaking to their value. By actively supporting the accomplishments of fellow women in the industry, they can successfully be lifted rather than dragged down.

Not only do fellow women need to empower one another, but men must also be a part of this conversation. Martin explained that conversations about equity are not enough. Additionally, men must actively create a “level playing field for women to show up, grow and be authentic.” Hollis Bufferd, CEO of Star Hill Financial, underscored this message, adding that besides providing opportunities for women, men must try to desegregate the office. Bufferd said it is vital to remember that talent is not possessed by a specific gender; people in positions of power in the industry must look at a person for their value and work to deconstruct negative stereotypes.

Work-Life Integration

Regarding work-life balance, it can be concluded that there is no true balance, but rather an integration of the two. Gavrilov noted that “it’s more like an imbalance.” Gavrilov also noted it is essential to be fully present with whatever you are giving your time to at any given moment, whether it be a professional or personal endeavor. Gavrilov also spoke to the wide variety of tasks women are expected to complete daily, saying, “we as women wear a lot of different hats in the span of a day … really only we can appreciate all those different roles that we play.”

To make it easier for women to succeed at work-life integration, companies must implement policies that assist women in balancing their needs and while making sure that people are utilizing these policies. Gavrilov noted some women may refuse to utilize policies designed to promote work-life balance out of fear that they will be “stigmatized for taking off of work for caregiving … and as a result, be denied an opportunity to advance.” The industry must work to eliminate this stigma and make the workplace a more understanding and flexible place for women to thrive.

From Crawford’s point of view, although everyone needs to meet objectives, each person can do so at their own pace and in their own style. There is no right way to balance — or integrate — personal life with professional obligations. Finding what works best for you as an individual will unlock more opportunity for success.

Knowledge, Networking & Getting Uncomfortable

Not only is it important to elevate fellow women in the industry, but also to empower younger women who are beginning their journey in equipment finance. Stone emphasized the importance of raising your hand and speaking up. To achieve success in the industry, women cannot be complacent.

Bonnie Michael, shareholder at Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell & Berkowitz, discussed the importance of having a supportive network of people who have your best interest at heart, saying that “you can’t do it without others.” This network of people is not only found in the workplace, but also at home, as it is also necessary to have a partner who supports you and makes you better rather than someone who makes it more difficult to advance and succeed.

Debra Devassy, attorney at Babu, Darcy & Devassy, highlighted the importance of obtaining knowledge, advising others to “be a sponge” and absorb everything they are taught. Devassy noted that you never truly stop learning in the equipment finance industry, so it is important to be open to knowledge and continue to gain further understanding.

While it is necessary to go after your goals, Martin pointed out that you need to “get comfortable being uncomfortable,” which is a powerful insight. To achieve success, it is vital to constantly step out of your comfort zone, as this is how you grow. These leading women also share their secrets to success in the industry, speaking to the importance of the people you surround yourself with, continuously networking, having a strong support system, and most importantly, taking risks.

The W Podcast, created exclusively for Monitor Suite members, is a resource that not only provides helpful information for women in the equipment finance industry but also to those considering taking a risk and starting their professional journey in this industry.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Ava Pastore is a sophomore at Fordham University and a writer for the campus newspaper: The Ram. With experience writing for periodicals, Pastore mainly focuses on opinion and culture pieces and is also on the executive board of the campus-run club The Leading Women of Tomorrow. By utilizing her passion for writing, women’s rights and equality, Pastore has begun to immerse herself into the culture at Fordham. Pastore has also used her drive to strive academically, making the Dean’s List for the Spring semester of her freshman year. Pastore plans to continue writing for The Ram and find ways to get involved, not only on her college campus but also in the surrounding community to promote equality in all sectors of society.

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