When Diane “Di” Morais (pictured right), President of Consumer and Commercial Banking Products at Ally, was in her 20s and just starting her career in financial services, she didn’t set out to serve as a mentor to numerous female employees. Nor was she thinking about the lofty goal of helping women find success in a male-dominated industry.
In Morais’ words, she didn’t think she had “a lot to bring to the party in terms of helping other people continue to develop and grow.”
But over the course of several years, employees repeatedly came to Morais for advice and mentorship. Those meaningful conversations unearthed a strong desire in her to help others grow and succeed that persists today.
“I’m a big believer in the power of paying it forward, and I was the lucky recipient of some great coaching, guidance, and mentoring early in my career by men and women who did that,” Morais says.
As Morais enters the latter part of her career, she wants to “leave it all on the field.” She says, “I want make sure I am doing everything in my power to identify talented women … to continue to shape and help guide them, to give women stretch assignments and watch them soar.”
Women Rising: Eliminating Barriers to Female Leadership
Gender parity has been achieved in financial services as a whole, but only 14 percent of executives at Gender-Equality Index member firms are female. At Ally, that number is almost double: Women hold 27 percent of executive leadership positions. And four women hold positions on Ally Financial’s board of directors.
“Financial services is still heavily dominated by men at the most senior levels. You may start with equal representation of men and women, but as you get to the C-suite, those percentages shift,” Morais says.
“We need to get more women into senior roles and in the board room and C-suite with the same level of representation. To do so, we need to help them earlier in their careers — earlier than what people probably think.”
This growth has a positive trickle-down effect to all female employees. A 2017 study published in the Review of Economics and Statistics reveals that more female leaders narrows the gender gap at all levels.
Watch Ally female executives discuss the importance of having leadership roles available for women.
To achieve equality at the leadership level, it’s vital for women to have a strong support system. Otherwise, it’s less likely they’ll be able to go from peerless to fearless on Wall Street.
For Morais, that support system can take many forms and include both formal, structured mentorship programs as well as more informal mentoring, like when someone reaches out and says, “Hey, I’d love to come chat with you.”
“I make the time for these instances because they are what give me great energy during my over-hectic days, weeks, and months,” she says.
“Sometimes it’s just a one-time, ‘let’s talk about your career,’ but other times, they naturally morph into long-standing relationships. It turns from a boss-employee relationship to an, ‘I’m in your corner, and let’s figure out how to keep you growing’ scenario.’”
Courtney Lowman (pictured below), executive director for the Chief Financial Officer group at Ally, seconds Morais’ thoughts. “Relationships of all types are essential for individuals to find [those] stretch opportunities, increase their visibility and connect professionally and often personally. I believe this is especially important for women in the workforce.”
In addition to a mentoring program at Ally, all employees have the opportunity to join the Women ALLYs Employee Resource Group (ERG). The ERG works to discover opportunities within the company for women while also connecting and engaging them in the larger conversation in communities outside of Ally. A common misconception is that to be a part of the ERG you must be a woman. This is not the case. All allies are invited to join and support the group.
Women Helping Women to #NeverStopGrowing
“Women supporting women” is something Susan Green, a 10-year Ally veteran and former executive director, who recently retired, is extremely passionate about. In fact, she’s so enthusiastic about mentoring and leveraging experiences to help create and drive cultural shifts that she delayed her retirement for several years to build upon the work that other women were doing at Ally.
She testifies to the importance of women supporting women not just in a professional setting, but in their personal lives as well.
“My mother grew up in a small farming community in the south, at a time when women were mainly stay-at-home moms. She told all three of her daughters that we could be anything we wanted to be in life if we set goals and worked hard to achieve those goals. And she said never, ever, let anyone tell us we couldn’t do the same job as a man,” says Green.
Morais sums it up this way. “Don’t focus on the label of what to call these relationships or how to structure them. I just call it having your posse. Have people in your posse whom you trust, who know you, who see you in action, and will be honest with you. Because that’s what we all need, right?”
Learn more about the values that guide us.