Women in Leadership



Tracie Duncan

Senior Director, Credit A/R & Collections, adidas

Women in Leadership_highradius_image

Jan Estep

President and CEO, Association

Karen Koenig

Director – Customer Financial Services, WESCO Distribution

Eileen Dignen

Head of Cash Management & Commercial Card, Bank of the West


[00:09] Host:

So to start off. Welcome ladies! We are so happy to have you here today and to be hosting this session. So you each have made some bold moves in your careers. What prompted you, what motivated you to make changes. Was it serendipity or was it careful planning?

[00:30] Eileen Dignen:

So, first up the one thing, we did not discuss. Wow. So for me, it was a little bit of both. I started my career as an external auditor and after two and a half years in public accounting, I became an internal auditor where I worked for our Michelin, the tire company that’s also headquartered in our area in South Carolina. And in the course of being an internal auditor, I had the privilege of auditing various areas of the company and audited. And one day I audited credit and strangely enough decided that’s where I wanted my career to go. So after auditing the credit organization I very strategically aligned myself with a mentor within the credit organization. And I truly believe that was the key to success for me in really understanding where I wanted to go and make that relationship, not just a relationship on paper but a very purposeful relationship. We had strategic meetings monthly.

[01:22] Eileen Dignen:

I made sure I understood the ins and outs of his thinking and what worked for credit for him to ensure that if I made it that far one day I would understand the organization and credit. I don’t think to get one wakes up one day and decides whether you know a kid making their choices in life. Oh, I want to be in credit one day. So. That was the purposeful planning part of my career choices. The non-purposeful part was the day that I walked in and had had it up to here with my current manager. In the organization as they always say. People don’t leave companies, they leave bosses. And that was exactly what happened to me. So I picked up the phone one day and called my mentor and said I’ve had absolutely all I can take of this man please tell me you have a job.

[02:04] Eileen Dignen:

As luck would have it there was someone who put in their retirement notice that morning and I was very serendipity. Right. So I went through the interview process and that is actually what launched my career in credit. So for me, I truly think I align myself with two mentors within our organization one within the credit organization one who was a higher up in sales in the company and that gave me a broad perspective of processes and then the organization and growth and development as well as the credit piece. So I truly believe that those relationships are the key.

[02:40] Jan Estep:

Microphone. If it’s on, there we go. So I’ll speak next and then I’ll hand it over because I have to be honest I think my career has been one of serendipity, the right opportunity presented by the right person at the right time. And if I were to characterize my career it’s really two characteristics. One is that I’ve moved only between four companies in over 40 years. So it means that each one I had a bit of time but each one of those moves was one where I went to a totally different industry or a totally different area. So it does mean that I was willing to just jump into something where I was not an expert and that means that my career has also been defined by being very open to not being the expert and asking questions of others.

[03:35] Jan Estep:

So I’ll give you a 30-second synopsis of those four jobs. So in college, I was a liberal arts major majoring in economics and psychology. And at that time IBM was looking for non-engineers that they could train. So I was hired by IBM and I didn’t really know anything about technology and went into their data processing division to sell technology. Sixteen years later an environmental laboratory company was looking for someone to lead their sales and marketing from outside of the industry. Does this sound familiar? And so I took a job there.

[04:11] Jan Estep:

A true leap of faith and also became the first non-chemist to lead their general laboratory. From there I went to U.S. bank to manage their merchant acquiring division because that’s a logical move from an environmental laboratory to a merchant acquiring and again not the expert but the person who interviewed me understood the parallels and kind of attributes of the two companies and felt they were almost identical which to me just still floors me because it means the interviewer knew a lot more than I did about what they were looking for. And so I was in a variety of payments for 11 years with U.S. Bank and then moved to Natchez CEO leading the ECJ payment network.

[04:58] Jan Estep:

The only payment type that I didn’t support or understand while I was at U.S. Bank. So it’s been fun. And in retrospect, I think the rearview mirror is always more telling than you know to try to plant in front. I never would have thought those were logical changes and I’m still not sure anyone would call them logical. But it does say serendipity played a definite role in my history.

[05:26] Karen Koenig:

And so I’ll just talk briefly about my career and I started out also an external audit then moved to internal audit and as my boss wanted me to. Well you know you need to move from a manager role to a director role and that just was not happening. I actually made a lateral move which was not kind of frowned upon and I was kind of nervous about it at first but I had nine years of auditing and I had to get out of auditing you know to me to make a better step and to get into the business world. And my opportunity came where we were having some control issues in our logistics area and so they were looking for an auditor. So I kind of took that opportunity to get out of audit and that’s what really started my career in the supply chain. And then as I was moving along still in finance but always supporting the business there came an opportunity and I actually had a choice whether it is kind of to stay in finance and manage as a smaller team of five people like I’d already always done. I always knew what the work was if I had a vacancy I could jump in and create a spreadsheet and get the analysis done or manage this ordered a cash team of 60 people and I couldn’t enter an order I could make a collection call.

[06:41] Karen Koenig:

I couldn’t resolve a deduction but I had a broad overview of the company. I chose that one and I remember talking to certain people and even one of the CFO I was kind of talking to said Oh you don’t want to do that there’s just, there’s a lot of people issues there. You know it’s just a lot of people management but coming from an audit group and where there’s a lot of teamwork I just felt that that was what I wanted to do and I’ve haven’t looked back since. So I’m just you know lateral moves and then really stepping out of my – if you will- my finance comfort zone.

[07:15] Tracie Duncan:

This went on. There you go. My career has been a series of no’s and it started with Eileen do you want to interview for a bank training program.

[07:26] Tracie Duncan:

I said No. I never want to be a banker. I can’t imagine anything worse. And here I am 30 years later. So I went in as a personal challenge and was accepted into the bank training program and through that, I knew that I wanted to be on the global side. But no I couldn’t be on the global side because I wasn’t in the international training program. Well, 18 months later I was in the international division. And no I couldn’t land in Australia because women, a team of women, could never be successful in Australia because there are Japanese bankers there and it’s unusual and I found myself in Australia.

[08:06] Tracie Duncan:

So I think it’s stretching out of your comfort zone and it’s listening to the nose and saying what does that really mean and anybody that knows me knows I like a challenge. So it’s probably part of my personality. But turning a no into a positive making it a personal challenge and then finding those around you who support you in that has really been the theme of my career throughout my career and I’ve stayed a global banker throughout but I’ve probably had 15 different careers within the 30 years that I’ve done that.

[08:39] Tracie Duncan:

So it really helps with not being bored. Thank you, ladies.

[08:47] Host:

So my next question. Women face harder choices for professional success. And personal fulfillment. So we’ll go through in your experience how women should tackle such situations and how could they break the glass ceiling. And then according to you what are the three most important things to consider as you plan out your career has a lot to ask but-

[09:15] Eileen Dignen:

Yet individuals on my team. I personally see a lot that I’ve had tremendous success. Our support network in my own family. But I often look at the ladies on my team and realize that. It’s sad to say that the choices they’ve made early in life tend to limit their opportunities later in life. And I really think that the key to this is having pointed discussions with our young girls. Girls need to understand when they are in high school college age when they’re looking for spouses mates that those are the people who are going to support them in their careers and their life choices.

[09:49] Eileen Dignen:

And if those are the desires that they have for their path that they’ve got to choose someone who is willing to support them. And if we’re going to continue to break this glass ceiling and move forward. These are things that have to be considered as young girls are growing up. I think that’s absolutely the key is the choices that they’re making now.

[10:11] Jan Estep:

You know the upper part of that highlight though is that it’s hard for a young person to think about what a job is and what they want to be 10 or 20 years ago. I mean think about what Eileen said no way do I want to be a banker and here she’s loving it. Right. Ten years later. Right.

[10:29] Jan Estep:

But you know I might fight about you knowing how you bridge personal and professional and what do you focus on are really intertwined. And I think helping someone from their 20s to their 40s to their 60s says they progress and that is if you can say I am going to continuously learn you don’t put yourself in a box maybe it allows you to take a lateral move as you did right. You know that there isn’t just one path forward and that also means you need to be willing to adapt and to change.

[11:00] Jan Estep:

And clearly that’s more evident in today’s world than it was when I graduated from college because at that time it was you know you go with the company and you’re kind of a lifer you know that is not the mentality at all for people graduating today but I think more than anything you have to be true to yourself. As I am a manager as I am a CEO. You know I do a lot of the people management right and that comes along with the job. And to foster authenticity across your organization today I think is very important versus assimilation and those supporting diversity and those supporting personal preferences of individuals will say fostered that authenticity, because it will bring empowerment and engagement to your employees and that, means people are happier that means they’re more productive.

[11:55] Jan Estep:

And what it really means is that you don’t leave your personal life at the doorstep when you walk into the office. So it recognizes the diversity of sex of religion. It recognizes the fact that I might have a five-year-old at home or I might have an elderly mother that I need to take care of if you don’t have to hide those things but you are true to yourself and your organization supports it.

[12:21] Karen Koenig:

I think that helps not only today but it also helps the career of individuals I think one of the things we have a different perception or that we have this is that there’s only one career path and it’s straight and it’s up and we have to think about and help our team members understand that a career path is very windy sometimes there’s hills and valleys and you know sometimes it’s not paved sometimes it’s a dirt road sometimes it’s a jungle sometimes It is a highway. I see some people shaking their heads so this whole thing about a career path someone coming out of school saying well I want your job in three years you know that that might just not be feasible.

[13:00] Karen Koenig:

I think the other thing when we talk about it. I was thinking about people talking about how I want to work my passion and how I fit my passion for my job. And I just think our career is not an eight to five job anymore. Can your job allow you to pursue your passion in the evening or on the weekends volunteering and giving back to the community?

[13:19] Karen Koenig:

So it’s not just that. And maybe eventually you can turn that into a well-paying job. But you know we all have bills that the students coming out now have a tremendous amount of student debt. So you know they’ve made a choice perhaps to go into debt and now they’ve got to get the job to pay it off. And so maybe that career move to get to that passion has to come a little later in life. So you asked about the glass ceiling and.

[13:46] Tracie Duncan:

I’m going to react and Jan I’m going to talk about you a little bit to change Kansas CEO for the North America bank not for BNP Paribas but North American bank our CEO is a woman and there are several other women that are spoken about in the press.

[14:04] Tracie Duncan:

We haven’t broken the glass ceiling because every single article seems to start with a woman CEO. Now when you talk about you know other CEOs do. Does the article start with the man CEO? And so it really won’t be broken until we stop with the designation that it’s so unusual for a woman to be a CEO it shouldn’t be so unusual. It is. I think the statistics are still under 30 percent. In the business community where we have women in high offices and so January in a small number here. But it’s that designation alone that tells us we’re still maybe we’re monitoring it so that it gets better. But the point is to stop saying women CEOs are capable.

[14:53] Host:

Just the CEO and leave it at that. Good point. Thank you. So actually I’m to direct the director’s one at. Tracy and I are in and direct this one for Karen. So just talking about leadership. We have the two C level suites over here between Eileen and Jan and I want to talk a bit about the leadership role that you have. And is it enough to just have a seat at the table? Or is it that you can do when you face rejection or when you want to earn respect from your colleagues to be able to propel yourself in your career so how do you get just not just to sit there what can you do that’s a little bit more.

[15:36] Karen Koenig:

Well, I think about risk-taking and I think we talked about bravery. Right. And so I had a quote that I kind of like by Seth Godin “if it scares you it might be a good thing to try”. So I think we have to think about if we’re in a new situation, maybe we’re in a large meeting and where we have to get our point across. Maybe we’re not given time to speak how we use our mentors and other people around us to coach us through that process to prepare.

[16:03] Karen Koenig:

So we really have to plan our work and then work our plan. That’s another one of my key phrases. So I think it gets back to understanding the situation that you’re in making sure that if you do have fears you try to conquer those fears before the time has come and then really you know use your network of people to help you get through those times.

[16:20] Eileen Dignan:

When I think about this question one of the things that came to mind is a TED talk that I’ve watched Amy Cuddy I think is her name. Many of you pricing her TED talks and she has a statement that says I am good enough and I do belong. And it’s something that I think you have to always tell yourself that you got that seat at the table because you’ve earned it and you have to make sure of that. When you’re there that you’re delivering yourself in the proper professionalism you’re bringing all your points across you’re making sure that you’re prepared to be there and. While you may not be one of the boys, that’s okay. You’re there because of what you know and what you’re able to bring to the table. And just making sure that you deliver that in the most professional manner possible to achieve the results.

[17:08] Host:

So just let’s get back to this whole idea of this mentorship because this has come up a couple of times. So in saying that you need to have someone who’s going to help support you. Tracy talked about that that was an important key in her roles in advancing within her organization. How do you feel? Do you think that your mentor has to be a male for example to be a male mentor? That’s going to help you get into your career. You talked about it, not just a woman CEO just CEO but do you think that you need to have a male who’s going to be there to support you as a mentor to make that happen.

[17:39] Jan Estep:

So can I answer that? No, I don’t think you need to have a male mentor. But I think I have been very fortunate to have toys. Having been part of formal mentorship programs and I call that out as distinct from a casual mentor or maybe a mentor within your company. And I’ll just explain because I think there’s a great value. I was a mentor maybe 20 years ago for a company that was just starting in the United States. And it was based in the Twin Cities but I was called to mentor him and it was purposefully defined as an organization to bring cross-company mentorship for women. And so I was lucky enough to be a mentor at that time and actually met four or five just wonderful women as my mentees that I learned from. But in totally different industries, totally different roles and in the end, they expanded across the United States. They expanded internationally. And I learned so much from others in that very confidential, highly confidential open talking environment of a formal program.

[18:57] Jan Estep:

A couple of years ago another one was created for women in payments that have an official mentorship program again cross country globally. And I’ve had the opportunity to be a mentor from women in two different countries. And again you learn so much in both directions if, in fact, it’s a form of relationship. And frankly, I think there’s a lot to gain from speaking with other women versus simply saying I have to have a male mentor to bring me up or through the organization.

[19:27] Eileen Dignen:

For me, the two formal mentorships I had both were within the mission organization and it was a very structured program. They both just happened to be males. But when I think back to the first mentor I ever had when I was in college I had a graduate assistantship. It was actually in a corporation that had a female CFO. And when I started thinking about my career and before the word mentor was really formal I didn’t hear it as often right. But I think back on my career path and she is absolutely the person who shaped the direction and thinking of my life and what was feasible that it was possible to have a family to have children and to steal focus on your career.

[20:05] Eileen Dignen:

And I definitely think if I hadn’t had that interaction with a female at that time in my life probably would have turned out differently because she definitely opened my eyes up to the possibilities. I think she was probably the one who led the way for women in the financial world for sure.

[20:21] Tracie Duncan:

So I think what we’re talking about here are tips that can help you know women in their career and mentorship is key. And you’re hearing about male mentors. Why? Perhaps it’s because women there aren’t that many women that could mentor us during our career. I’m constantly getting tapped on the shoulder by the mentorship programs because they’re saying we don’t have enough Women Executives. And so I think my tip is, Men and Women Mentors pick them in your career. The mix is a wonderful thing and I think you were saying that. And my biggest mentors ironically were somewhere bosses that took a chance on me. And then I cultivated that relationship. And by the way, I’m still mentoring people from 15 years ago that used to report to me. And you know that it is really rich. And most of them are men.

[21:17] Tracie Duncan:

So they’re looking for maybe two to develop some other skill sets. They’re looking for not me as a woman but me as a mentor. And I really value that as well. And again early in my career, I was told no. And my boss was told that by the vice-chairman no she can’t. She can’t do that job. She’s a woman, literally. And you know we already have one woman in that office. We can’t have two. Right. Literally that was the response. And he said I will tell you exactly what that was. That was in 1988 and I was young and you know you would think I would crawl back to my desk and say darn I missed that opportunity. He said no. He said to the vice-chairman to take a chance on her. I believe her. I trust her.

[22:06] Tracie Duncan:

And I continued that relationship in my career even long after I reported to him and I knew I better do a really good job. I couldn’t let him down and I couldn’t let myself down. So find that person that helps you buck up against the now. I moved on and I was part of the executive team at Citibank and I walked in and there were 17 men. And me. And that wasn’t that long ago. And I sat down thinking okay I know I didn’t get this job because I’m a woman. It may feel like that. I know I got it because I’m capable and I’ll show everyone I’m capable but the tables still are not in our favor in many places. But you know I don’t use that. I don’t want a job because I’m a woman. I want a job because I’m capable of it.

[22:54] Jan Estep:

If I just had I wouldn’t comment on that I think part of what Eileen said was I’m capable right. And she believed it. And I also think if an individual focuses on doing their best no matter what their job is it’s really hard to ignore somebody who’s at the top of their game. Right. So you know it’s not. Are you a man? Are you women? But if you’re you know just they’re excelling. It’s hard to ignore that by itself. You know that glass ceiling if there is one.

[23:26] Karen Koenig:

And I just wanted to add that there’s been a lot of good comments about mentors. I’ll talk about another critical item, which is a sponsor. So someone may be in the organization that you’ve worked for before you don’t necessarily have a formal relationship but they’re an advocate for you. They speak for you. They know your reputation. If there is a meeting and they’re trying to figure out oh we have a special project who can help on the project they’re advocating in that room for you. And so just think about the people that you’ve worked for before the people that you’re working with now the people that you know kind of you have a good trust relationship don’t forget about that network as you might have the formal mentor. But those sponsors also can play a very very important role in your career development.

[24:10] Host:

So I just want to take a moment and look out at the audience here: how many people, raise their hands, actually are part of a formal mentorship program? Okay. So just a small amount. Okay just interestingly enough because I think that mentorship it sounds like is a key thing. So let’s focus on this.

[24:38] Karen Koenig:

Can I just ask one other or say one thing? So someone approached me to do more of an informal mentoring program and it came to it came at a time where I was on a project so I was kind of removed from the business I was on an escapee project she was still within the business I jumped at the chance to get into that relationship because I felt that she could kind of keep me connected to what was going on with the business as well as and you know I would give her tips on her career whatever.

[25:04] Karen Koenig:

So if someone does approach you or if you’re thinking about approaching someone else just remember it could be a win-win situation. So don’t be afraid to go out there and ask for even an informal relationship, you know, lunch every other month or something like that.

[25:21] Host:

So let’s just as we’re wrapping up or coming down to time. But what’s the single action item that you could share with the audience here to say okay does this have this approach as they go back to their office?

[25:36] Tracie Duncan:

I’ll start by saying I believe in yourself. And it may make you uncomfortable at times. Get out of your comfort zone. I think we’ve talked about that and believe in yourself and do the hard work because it is hard work. But I’ve never been disappointed when I put myself out there and know that I’ve done my best. Whatever my best, however, my best may be defined.

[25:53] Jan Estep:

One tip for the day is something I mentioned earlier and that is to continually ask questions of others. It does make you a little bit more vulnerable when it means that you don’t know the answer to the question you’re asking but I think it opened doors. It opens relationships and it may also spawn brainstorming that leads to something that you don’t expect. So don’t hesitate to show your vulnerability your lack of knowledge but ask those questions continuously and I think it reaps rewards in many different ways.

[26:34] Karen Koenig:

And I’ll just have you two things start the conversation. So if you’re interested in making a move on your career you know have that courage to start the conversation. And during that conversation, I have an attitude of gratitude. So don’t walk in there and say everything that’s been wrong or that you’ve been short-changed but talk about the positives and the things that you want to do and the dreams that you have. And I think that’ll change the reaction of the person that you’re having the conversation with.

[26:59] Eileen Dignen:

So my initial response to the question would make sure you establish purposeful and meaningful relationships both personally and professionally. But since we really covered that topic well I’ll add to that I think as women Montauk is probably our own worst enemy. So make sure that you’ve dealt with all of your own minds, talk about your insecurities and the things that you feel are blocking you from making those next steps in the progression and deal with those and address them to allow you to go to the next step.

[27:34] Host:

Do we have time for questions? Anyone have any questions that you’d like to ask our fabulous panel here. Anyone? Yes.

[27:45] Audience:

I was wondering what your advice would be if you work for a smaller organization so you don’t have access to many options when it comes to mentoring like say to people above you and that’s it.

[27:59] Jan Estep:

So I have a quick answer right now. You would view notch actually it’s a small business and we have many employees who have actually been there 20 or 30 years. Believe it or not and we have afforded them the opportunity to learn new things new skill sets and so even if you’re in a small organization I think it’s the perhaps the lateral move or something else that might be helpful but to the extent that you don’t think of mentors as just within your organization, it’s where I’d go back to that formal mentorship that might be across the company or outside or within your skillset area and just raise your hand and say help me find a mentorship program you know that fits me.

[28:37] Host:

Yes, I’m even at events like this where you can do some networking. There are some tremendous people that are here available. Don’t be afraid to be like hey I would love to learn more. You look like you’re doing well in your career, how can you just give me some advice in your eyes.

[28:58] Audience:

Hi, it’s Rob Dilulio from Hewlett Packard Enterprise. I realize a short time ago that all of the successors for my executive-level positions are women and that I had kind of a unique responsibility to figure out what I can do to develop them and it seems like there are unique challenges that women have as you guys have been talking about and one that comes to mind is sometimes when a man executive is being an authoritative or strong in a leadership style a woman acting the same way can be perceived as too emotional or rude or whatever. Is it incumbent upon you to be aware of that and do something different or is it we just need to educate everybody else to understand that you’re behaving the same way a man is and you’re just interpreting it differently?

[29:51] Tracie Duncan:

So he can’t behave the same way as men. That’s a fact. You know we can be told we can. But your point Rob is exactly right. If a man comes in and is very strong and bangs his fist on the table it will be perceived differently if a woman does that. That doesn’t mean we’re not as strong. It means we approach it differently. And my strength has always come from remaining calm but remaining firm and remaining steadfast in what I believe. But if I came into a conference room bang my fist on the table and started hollering like many men have done in my past and they’re successful men. You’re right. Comments would be made that are fairly derogatory. And so that’s reality.

[30:38] Jan Estep:

So I know we’re out of time but I. Three quick things to add to that one is that we see this on the national stage and in the last two weeks. Amy Klobuchar announced she wants to run for president. The talk after that was oh she’s tough on her staff. Right. Would that have been the same discussion? Right. So it happens all over right and it happens with the press it happens in conversations. So to that, I would say two things which sound two-faced but it answers your question.

[31:06] Jan Estep:

I said earlier be true to yourself which is what I mean was I. You don’t change your personality just because you think you should act in a certain way. But the flip side of that is that I believe that the best c suite executives are those that can adapt their style to those around them. Now is that not being true to yourself. No, I think it is learning to adapt to those around you. So it’s a two-way street. It is. Yes, men recognize that those comments don’t necessarily belong in that it means to women you know maybe you couch how you say things or add a definition behind I’m yelling at you now because I want to make a point. Don’t put a label on it. I mean you can create an environment where you make an obvious point where it’s not misunderstood. But I think it’s really a two-way street.

[32:03] Host:

Okay, so I think that we’re out of time. Thank you all for joining us. Thank you, men, in the audience. They are perpetuating us with the women in leadership so thank you for coming out and hearing us today. I just wanna say they’ve had this really cool caricature upstairs so if you go to automate the autonomous collections live you can get your little caricature done super cool yes. And I would like to thank the panelists here today. We’ve got Tracie, Karen, Jan, and Eileen and thank you all for coming out.

[00:09] Host: So to start off. Welcome ladies! We are so happy to have you here today and to be hosting this session. So you each have made some bold moves in your careers. What prompted you, what motivated you to make changes. Was it serendipity or was it careful planning? [00:30] Eileen Dignen: So, first up the one thing, we did not discuss. Wow. So for me, it was a little bit of both. I started my career as an external auditor and after two and a half years in public accounting, I became an internal auditor where I worked for our Michelin, the tire company that's also headquartered in our area in South Carolina. And in the course of being an internal auditor, I had the privilege of auditing various areas of the company and audited. And one day I audited credit and strangely enough decided that's where I wanted my career to go. So after auditing the credit organization I very strategically aligned myself with a mentor within the credit organization. And I truly believe that was the key to success for me in really understanding where I wanted to go and make that relationship, not just…

What you'll learn

Company leadership around the world remains unbalanced, with women accounting for less than a quarter of management positions globally. Join finance leaders as they share their thoughts on what business leaders and individual employees could do to combat the gender gap and create a greater balance and representation in the C-suite.

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