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“A Conversation on Racial Equity” Banker Panel Recap: Navigating the Waters

On Wednesday, Dec. 9, WBA hosted “A Conversation on Racial Equity” with Dr. Ibram X. Kendi to discuss DEI at banks and beyond. Following the event, WBA’s Rose Oswald Poels hosted a banker panel moderated by ABA Senior VP, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Naomi Mercer to continue the conversation with bankers.  

The panel’s contributors included Chase Executive Director and Market Director – Consumer Banking Al Araque, Bay Bank President and CEO Jeff Bowman, ABA Executive VP of Strategic Initiatives John Holdsclaw IV, U.S. Bank Consumer and Business Banking Leader Nina Johnson, and Park Bank VP – Branch Banking Suzanne Johnson. The group discussed tokenism, bridging the wage gap, first steps for DEI objectives, and ongoing steps to be taken, among several other topics. 

Throughout the conversation, the group offered a variety of tips and advice on how banks can begin using their resources to make an impact. To start, they suggested the best way to make sure DEI objectives are met and maintained is to elect someone who is willing to take on that responsibility but to also understand that it’s a team-based effort. It's important for your leadership team to allow you to move forward with these initiatives and embrace the autonomy to step outside your job description when these roles come up. 

Developing an awareness during the hiring process is another factor the group recommended. It’s up to the organization to work together to take a step back, see where they’re sourcing candidates from, and understand the process they’re involved in. Beyond the hiring process, be willing to support and sponsor the underrepresented individuals as they rise through the ranks. They further agreed to always be mindful and always be intentional with every relationship formed at your bank. Assuring some level of sustainability from a relationship standpoint allows banks to prosper in their current environment and beyond. As Holdsclaw stated, “Diversity is a reality, but inclusion is a choice." 

Make sure your products are available for everyone and find a way to grade yourself on whether you’re reaching objectives such as these. Are you making mortgage loans available to people of all income levels? Are you lending to small businesses? Create an equitable process for reviewing and considering applications and put the necessary attention into areas that have been underserved. 

Finally, each participant unanimously agreed that it’s important to realize where you’re at, where you’d like to be, and not to rush while getting there. Bowman offered a useful analogy – consider the speed of your approach in terms of viewing your bank as a boat. Community banks are the speedboats; their smaller size allows them to make quick turns when they need to shift gears. Larger banks are the battleships; they have a bigger crew and more equipment, but their operations and communication span the entirety of the vessel. Therefore, it takes more time for those turns to be made. Once you recognize the mobility of your craft, you can truly be prepared to navigate the waters. After that, just don’t stop improving. 

“It’s not always the bank product,” said Bowman. “It's your time.” 

If you’re interested in viewing the event, the recording will be available until Dec. 23. Please email wbaeducation@wisbank.com to learn more. 

By, Alex Paniagua