Oct. 2015 - Diversified We Stand, Divided We Fall

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TH E M R EP O RT | 5 framework is not the most helpful debate. What is important is for organizations to appreciate the benefits of diversity. Several studies have indicated that diversity benefits the bottom line, and there are direct correlations between financial suc- cess and a diverse workforce. Leadership must make it a priority to voice the importance of, and make a commitment to, diversity. This summer, the financial government agencies released a policy statement on diversity politics and practices of regulated entities, as required by the Dodd-Frank Act. Also, the Five Star Institute is partnering with the industry to introduce the American Mortgage Diversity Council. These actions make it clear that diversity is essential and are positive steps to promoting necessary change. M // How can service providers and lenders make their leadership more diverse? RUSSELL // Companies must demonstrate that movement into leadership is possible for anyone. The problem is not a shortage of diverse talent; I think retaining talent is the problem. If talented and ambitious employees seek to advance in their organization and don't see others like them in leadership roles, they may conclude that opportunities do not exist and walk out the door. MERSCORP Holdings, Inc. has a diverse leadership team and diverse middle managers with potential to move up within the organization. I'd like to believe the diversity of our leadership team is a source of encouragement for employees and potential new hires—it TAKE 5 Leading the Charge Diversity Initiatives Based on Front Line Experience demonstrates opportunities do exist. The workforce is becoming more diverse. If the C-suite is full of white males, a company will have a tough time competing for talent. M // How has your background and experience prepared you to lead within your organization as a diverse professional? RUSSELL // To be an effective leader, I had to be comfortable in my own skin. As a black female CFO, I often find myself in business situations where my skin looks very different from everyone else's. It's not something I focus on or dwell on because from an early age, I had to be comfortable with the reality of being the "only one in the room." While I was growing up, my father was a talented auto mechanic. When Shell Oil started a program to increase minority ownership of gas station franchises, he became one of the first black franchise owners in the Washington, D.C., area. His business was successful and he moved his seven children to an all-white suburb. Despite his second-grade education, he understood the need to provide his children with the best education and opportunities—several decades ago this was primarily attainable in white suburbs. While I frequently felt like an outsider, I learned valuable lessons from that experience. Over time, I gained confidence and learned to embrace my gender and race as strengths and positive differentiators. I carry these lessons with me today. M // What words of wisdom can you offer to other executives on promoting diversity and inclusion? RUSSELL // Engage in honest dialogue with diverse talent at all levels of the organization. Encourage a mentor program within your organization, or adopt a mentee—no official program is needed for you to become someone's mentor. It's an opportunity to make an important and meaningful difference in someone's life. Show interest in your staff and their achievements and encourage additional training in their areas of expertise. Help diverse talent own and leverage their unique and competitive skill sets. With this issue turning it's focus toward diversity, we sat down with MERSCORP Holdings, Inc.'s SVP, Treasurer, and CFO Juanita Russell. A trailblazer, and now a role model, Russell shares her thoughts on the challenges she faced climbing the corporate ladder, and how a diverse leadership team can contribute to a company's success. M // What challenges have you faced as a black female senior executive in the financial services/mortgage industry? RUSSELL // As I advanced in my career, the biggest challenge was the feeling of isolation. There was a lack of role models and mentors who were females and people of color. I didn't see anyone like me in senior roles; I sometimes felt like an outsider. It was challeng - ing enough, as a woman, raising a family while pursuing a career in a demanding role. Add to that, I am a 6'0" tall, outspoken, and asser - tive black female CFO, in a role typically held by white men. This created the dual challenge of not always being sure I was receiving honest feedback and not feeling as if I belonged or that my perspec - tive or views were welcomed and valued. Had there been role models or mentors to look to for advice and counsel, I believe my journey would have been a smoother one and held even greater opportunity. That said, I am humbled to serve as one of the few black women in my position and to serve as a role model and mentor to others. M // Do you believe it is important to have a deliberate framework in place that promotes diversity and inclusion or is it enough to let diversity develop organically? RUSSELL // Whether diversity happens organically or through a "I'd like to believe the diversity of our leadership team is a source of encouragement for employees and potential new hires."

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