Industry Investment: A Conversation with the Founders of Bank on Women, Pt 2

In part two of their conversation, Sean and Gina welcome back Terrie Spiro, co-founder, founding director and chair, and Jennifer Docherty, co-founder, founding director and chief executive officer of Bank on Women. They build on the ideas shared in part one – that qualified women in leadership positions in banking make both individual institutions and the industry as a whole better. In this episode, Terrie and Jenn explore some of the skills that women bring that improve their organizations, including leadership styles and emotional intelligence that make them more effective leaders in turbulent times. They share some of their real-world experiences and practical tools for supporting women, like mentorship, sponsorship and allyship, that will help elevate women to leadership positions and ultimately foster greater female recruitment and retention in banking.

Text Transcript

Intro: This is Believe in Banking, a podcast series for decision-makers, influencers, and leaders, featuring experts taking on the financial industry’s most pressing issues with insight and empathy. The podcast features information and conversations designed to enlighten and empower. Here are your Believe in Banking hosts, Sean Keathley and Gina Bleedorn.

Sean Keathley: Welcome to our Believe in Banking podcast. I am Sean Keathley, president and CEO of Adrenaline.

Gina Bleedorn: And I’m Gina Bleedorn, chief experience officer at Adrenaline. In part one of our special guest podcast, Sean and I had the pleasure of welcoming Terrie Spiro and Jennifer Docherty, co-founders of Bank on Women, which is a nonprofit dedicated to educating the community banking industry on the importance, the critical importance, of adding qualified women to leadership positions in banking.

Terrie and Jen shared illuminating stats and powerful research studies on how banks with more female representation and leadership have been proven to perform better than those with less diversity. They also shared their thoughts on ways to begin solving for what they called the leaky pipeline to leadership, so why are women not making it up to the C-suite?

Now in part two, we’re going to dig a little deeper into the strategies of how to solve for these problems in a sustainable way. What are the meaningful attributes women leaders have that improve organizations overall and what are practical tools for how to support women in your individual institution, things like mentorship, sponsorship, allyship, and how that can be deployed and sustained across the banking industry with strategies that really foster both female recruitment and retention?

We are happy, thankful, and really thrilled to have experts like Terrie and Jen here to share their expertise with us and inspire us with their passion for making banking better. Here is part two of our conversation. Why do you think women and diversity actually make an organization better? What attributes do female leaders bring that is different? What skills and opportunities make them competitive to earn those C-suite opportunities? What is happening when women come in and you do achieve that critical mass?

Terrie Spiro: They bring a different set of soft skills, I think, in addition to hard skills, a different type of leadership and emotional intelligence, all of which, when blended with the existing talent that is already at your organization, makes for a more powerful force. The whole concept of cognitive diversity, more diverse outlooks, perspectives, backgrounds, experiences contribute to better decision making, but in particular women in the workforce bring a lot of things that are quite valuable.

According to a variety of studies, when you have more women in leadership, there’s lower employee turnover. When you have senior level women at greater numbers, you see that they practice allyship within the organization. They also will, when they have greater numbers in an organization, be mentors or sponsors, especially of other women of color, compared to men. And women managers are consistently doing more than their male peers to promote employee wellbeing, including checking on team members, helping them manage their workloads, and providing support.

And then when manager support employee wellbeing, employees are happier. They feel less burned out and they’re less likely to consider leaving. They will stick around. There’s a very interesting study based on data collected and analyzed on, I think it was about 5,000 earnings call transcripts of companies that have women CEOs. And what it shared was that women have a higher score for positive sentiment and higher scores for emotions in the categories of trust and anticipation.

They also found out that women have, in terms of their interpersonal skills, their transformational skillset, and communication style, they’re able to be more effective leaders in turbulent times. So you get, by harnessing the talent of qualified women, a really key set of strategic advantages to successfully addressing talent pool challenges and also things that, in the aggregate, lead to better bottom line performance.

Gina Bleedorn: Terrie, after we first talked to you, we realized, really, your mission, which said in a different way, is that empowered women empower women and that sentiment of what you’re doing is beautiful. You mentioned this in what you just said, but how can women advocate for other women and champion them in leadership, especially in banking?

Terrie Spiro: I certainly will tell you that when I started out in my career, because there were so few of us, there really weren’t other women who could practice either mentorship or sponsorship or allyship and so I had the benefit of having a lot of very successful men help me in my career. But now that there are greater numbers of women, they can basically lend a hand and pull up the next person up the ladder.


What today’s employee look for when they are considering going to an organization, and this is why diversity is so critical in terms of recruitment and retention, not just gender diversity, which is where we’re focused, but they’ll go and analyze a company’s senior management composition, C-suite composition. They’ll look at the board of directors and the composition and see if any of those people look like them. And if they don’t, they’re going to move on.

They’re not going to even respond to the notion of interviewing at that company. So we need women helping other women for sure, but let’s just be real. The world is still, certainly in the banking industry, is still predominantly managed by men. The key decision makers, whether it be in the C-suite or in the boardroom are still predominantly white males.

So we need as many of those forward thinking white males in those C-suites and in the boardrooms who care about the banking industry, and community banks in particular, to want to recruit more women because it’s the smart thing to do. It’ll make their bank better. It’ll make their bank more profitable. It’ll help with talent, recruitment, and retention and it’ll mean that their bank can remain independent because they’ve earned that right because they’re more profitable and they’re providing a return to their shareholders.

Sean Keathley: Well, the points resonate with me. I’ll tell a story. Haven’t told this story to many people, but it certainly comes to mind. I became president of Adrenaline 2013, but almost 12 years before that, there was an experience there really shaped how I thought about leadership.

We had a project with a well-funded nonprofit that wanted to design spaces to teach literacy to children in underserved communities. And we were awarded the business, but had one more hurdle to cross. They wanted to see our board. And when they saw how the board was established, in terms of the lack of diversity, they went to the second place provider and we lost the business. They did not want us creating experiences for communities if we didn’t have any representation of the audience. And I was nowhere near being a president or leader, but it really made me think differently very early.

My background’s different. I just lost my 103-year-old grandmother, who had a 60-year career and my mother was a physician who owned her own business and hired a lot of physicians. So my personal experiences, I was surrounded by successful, smart women, but as a young executive, I saw that. And as I fast forward to 2022, I’m proud to say we have balance in our executive leadership team and I know it makes us stronger.

But when I think about what you say as to why, when Gina asked the question, I truly believe it. We are a services business. Adrenaline does not make a stack of goods and put them in an inventory and go sell them to people. We’re consulting and advising and we say all the time, our currency is people. Every day, they make a choice. Do they come to work for us?

And I truly believe that we are ahead of many other companies by the way we have promoted diversity. And we’re seeing that in the culture we’re building and the intense focus on that. We have promoted new women who have made culture a priority and so it is absolutely happening. And we are seeing it in a talent war, the environment right now, and many banks feel this way. Their success is largely dependent on their ability to attract and retain talent, and so I think this is a beautiful illustration.

And as we’re thinking about that, how can people like me in banking, other men, how can they help? And maybe a follow up question, you two are four years into this. Are you making progress? Are there wins? Where are you on your journey to help women and the industry prosper?

Jennifer Docherty: Thanks, Sean. I’ll address that and first say it’s wonderful what you have done and it’s clearly reflected. I mean, every person we’ve come across at Adrenaline has been incredibly smart, incredibly passionate about what you do. And I think you’ve really hit on something important, and Terrie mentioned this.

Young employees look at a website and they make a decision about whether they’re going to interview or not. The culture that you said at the organization allows men and women to be successful or not. It’s really important to understand that the environment that you create allows people to bring their full selves to work and you get the best out of them or not, so I think that’s a really important point and it’s wonderful what you guys have built with Adrenaline.

I would say we have been really overwhelmed, I’m not going to say by our success, but by the receptivity of the industry. When Terrie and I first started talking about what we could do to help banks take advantage of the talent that they were losing, we just came up with a list. We wrote down the names of every woman that we knew who would make for a great director of a bank. That list has now grown to be a database and that’s a tool that we utilize to help banks because bank board recruiting, historically, has been friends and family. Quite frankly, even executive recruiting is often friends and family. It’s who you happen to know.

And there was a great study that was done also by a federal reserve economist that looked at the overlap between who board directors would know socially and the other board members of the same bank. And what they found is that men, by and large, had about a 60% overlap with their social connectivity with other men on the board. If there was more than one woman, there was generally about a 20% overlap, but that there was no overlap in the social networks between the men and women on the same bank board.

We set about to intersect that and say, “Hey, we know a lot of women that are in the industry or around the industry. You probably just don’t know them, so let us help make that available.” And that has been incredibly successful because it allows banks to be within a degree or two of separation of somebody that they might know. And historically, that’s been a really important part of the recruiting process for banks.

We’ve also been overwhelmed that a lot of the messaging and feedback we get is less about the business case. I think a lot of bankers understand that. I think a lot of them, Sean, have had a similar experience that you have, although they haven’t been as successful at building the culture. Most bankers want to know, how do they do this? How can they keep really talented women?

Terrie Spiro: If I might, I’ll add to that also. Sean, when I was starting out as a young banker, I really didn’t see myself as selling a product or service or trying to collect fee income from the folks I was calling on as a corporate lender. I really saw myself as someone who was solving a problem. And I used to say to my customers as a corporate lender, “Look, you need to have the best banker in your corner, you need to have the best attorney in your corner, and you need to have the best CPA in your corner. And if you’ve got a group of three like that, you can really do things with your business plan and your plans for your business in general.” And I truly believe that, so I saw myself as a problem solver. And really, what we’re talking about today is solving problems for community banks.

What are those problems that gender diversity can solve for the community banking world today? Well, how do you access customers? Well, you do it through gender diversity. There are so many ways to tap into new markets, whether it be wealth management because of the wealth that is aggregated by women in this country, and having women call on women. If most banks would basically look at their customer base, whether it be small business or wealth management potential, they would see the significant numbers are women based, but do they have women to call on these customers? For the most part, no, so there’s an opportunity to access customers, to retain customers, to make those customers feel that they’re being listened to. Then it’s a talent pool war. We’ve spent some time talking today about how to attract talent and then how to retain that talent. Gender diversity helps enlarge, measure, solve that problem.

And then we have all these neobanks and we have these other social service entities out there selling one off products and they do it around the notion of, “Use a debit card, we’ll plant a tree,” or some other type of approach. But all of these things are eroding into a community banks’ profit margin, customer base. They’re the newest, the latest, the greatest.

Well, so how can banks continue to be creative and innovate and have the right technology? You’ve got to have people who are innovative, who are creative, and we’ve already demonstrated for you today that if you’ve got diversity broadly, if you’ve got gender diversity specifically, you’ve got the right culture that mix and melds with, then you’re going to have greater innovation and that’ll make you more competitive. So if you look at all of these things, access to customers, talent pool retention, if you look at the ability to innovate more that gender diversity brings to your bank, all of these things drive performance. Those will make you more competitive and make you be around much longer and make you be an independent bank for as long as you choose.

Sean Keathley: Well, Jen and Terrie, this has been, honestly, an inspiring discussion and I absolutely know for a hundred percent certainty it is inspiring our listeners. So when we have executives and board members listening to this podcast, light bulbs are going off. How do they connect with you? What is the connection point with inspiring even one banker today to take a step forward? What should they do?

Terrie Spiro: They can reach us in a variety of ways. They reach us on LinkedIn. They can reach us on our website. We’re easy to reach and we would love to hear from the banking industry. We would love to be able to go out and help more institutions find and place in their boardroom and in their C-suite more qualified women and we have the tools to do it. We haven’t talked about it today, but we do want to just make a quick comment about the fact that we’re a new partner of NASDAQ, helping them with their NASDAQ listed community banks and helping them comply with a diversity rule. So if you’re a NASDAQ listed bank and you’re not complying with your diversity rule but you want to, reach out to us today. We’d love to help you.

Jennifer Docherty: Yeah, I would just add, Sean, we love having these conversations and we appreciate you hosting this podcast today and we’d love to hear from other banks. Terrie and I are talking to, for me are my bank clients, Terrie, her colleagues on a daily basis. Pick up the phone. If you are on board and you’d love our help or if you’ve heard something that you’re not quite sure you understand or you’re not quite sure you believe, we’d love to hear that as well. We really are, from our inception, are intended to be a resource and an asset to an industry that we really believe in, so I would encourage anyone to reach out.

Sean Keathley: We’ll make us a deal. If an Adrenaline listener, client or otherwise, engages you and has success, we’ll have that executive and the two of you come back on and let’s have a real life example of a true success story. Is that a deal?

Jennifer Docherty: Absolutely. We look forward to it.

Sean Keathley: Well, listen. That’s wonderful. Thank you so much. Gina probably has one more question and it’s our favorite one to ask. Gina, do you want to wrap this up?

Gina Bleedorn: Yeah. We would love both of your perspectives on the answer to the question of, why do you believe in banking? Jen, first?

Jennifer Docherty: Yeah, to go back to the start of today’s conversation, I’ve spent my entire career in banking and I might be one of the few people that actually set out to have a career in banking. I was an economics minor and I have always really believed in the banking system and I’ve had the good fortune of working with thousands of banks over the years, raising capital. And I get the opportunity to go in and meet with management teams and conduct due diligence, which really means talking to them about their stories and their communities. And the one resounding similarity across every single one of those conversations is you learn about a management team. You learn about a bank, but you learn about their local economy and the people who live there.

Community banking really is the backbone of our economy in the US. We have a very unique banking system. A lot of developed countries are serviced by a few larger banks and so I really believe in the importance of the community banking system and just being able to reach out and touch hands.

I’ll give you one quick story. Early on in the pandemic, went down to my local bagel shop to get bagels and it was very sad. The local bagel store in New Jersey and this, I think, is somewhat of an unwritten custom in New Jersey, but everybody congregates in the bagel store, the local politicians, people in the community. And of course, during the pandemic, there was nobody there.

I said to John, who had bought the store from David, who had owned the store with his brother for years, I said, “How are you doing?” And he said, “I can’t get a loan to keep my employees going. We want to try and stay open as much as possible.” And I said, “Well, there’s this paycheck protection program that’s out there.” He hadn’t even heard about it. And then he went and he talked to one of the larger banks, who I won’t name, and he couldn’t get a return phone call.

Now, John was able to scrape through and I’m very happy that he’s still around and the business, which has been there for forever, is still there, but community banks really stepped up during the pandemic. They were able to service their customers. They were able to get money into their hands. They were one of the first to grant deferrals to keep communities functioning, and so I think it’s a really important service that we provide and I really realize the opportunity to help make those banks stronger.

Gina Bleedorn: Beautiful. And Terrie, how about you?

Terrie Spiro: Thank you. I would add that I’ve spent my entire life and career in banking and so I know firsthand that banking is just such a powerful tool for growing the economy. And in smaller communities, of course, it can be a critical lifeline for consumers and business owners alike. And then further, what I’ve seen and enjoyed and experienced firsthand is that most community bankers in particular are deeply involved in their communities and support local organizations and nonprofits through their leadership and participation and also through their contributions from their banks.

And if community banks were to disappear, the impact on our communities and on those businesses and on those consumers that live and work there would be devastating, so I think that community banking in particular is such a force for good in this country. And that is why Jen and I in particular are motivated to get up every morning and figure out ways that we can make Bank on Women more effective and get the attention of more CEOs and more chairman of boards in the community banking sector so that we can make them more competitive. And so that not only will they just be around for a few more years, but they’ll thrive for many years to come.

And so I just want to say thank you so much for today. It’s been a pleasure and we look forward to coming back and talking with you again when an Adrenaline client uses us to place a board member or someone in their C-suite.

Gina Bleedorn: We thank you. It’s nearly impossible to listen to both of you and not be not only inspired, but moved by what you are doing and championing. Thank you very much. We hope this is the start of many more conversations.

Jennifer Docherty: Thank you. We’ve really enjoyed this.

Terrie Spiro: Yes. Thank you so much.

Sean Keathley: Yes, Terrie and Jen, thank you. We’re behind you and like we’ve said, let’s have this next discussion when we have another win. Thank you both for the time and we wish you the best and we know you’ll be successful with the passion fueling such a well-intended endeavor.

Terrie Spiro: Thank you, Sean.

Jennifer Docherty: Thanks so much, Sean.

Outro: You’ve been listening to Believe in Banking. A podcast series created to empower decision makers, influencers, and industry leaders in financial services. Be sure to also join us on our flagship site,