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Nov 22, 2017 01:41PM ● By Michael Watkins
During his 40 years in banking, Michael Pate, president of United Republic Bank, has seen his fair share of evolution and change.

The perception and inclusion of women in managerial roles may be the evolution that has had the most long-term, industry-altering effects.

“When I started, there were very few women in banking, and those who did work in the industry were tellers or bookkeepers,” he says. “That’s not the case anymore. Over the past 20 years or so, more and more women have reached manager and higher-level positions, and, in my opinion and experience, that’s made banking better.”

Pate credits this shift largely to a gradual change in the way men in power and decision-making positions see women.

Similarly, as more women became interested in more prestigious roles in banking, young women found more role models to look to in the profession.

In a traditionally male-dominated field, Pate says he’s seeing more and more women interested in, and applying for, internal promotions to managerial roles as well as more external female applicants for open management positions.

“I can only speak for myself and my own experience, but I know we look to hire the most qualified candidates regardless of gender,” says Pate, who’s been president at United Republic Bank since 2006. “Is it difficult to find and hire female bank managers? Not today. But as I said before, that hasn’t always been the case.”

One of those women who has found her way into bank management for the majority of her career, Corinne Safford, says she hasn’t had any personal experience having doors closed to her or not being considered for managerial roles in her 15 years at Great Western Bank—13 of them in management.

As vice president, regional retail manager, Safford says she, in turn, has had no trouble finding and hiring females for available management roles.

But when it comes to higher levels—executive levels—the hiring process gets more complicated.

“It really could be a multitude of reasons, but one that is common stems from confidence,” she says. “Women tend to be more apprehensive about applying for higher level positions. They want to know that they are 110 percent ready for the position and are not realizing their true potential and value they add by growing in and with the role. I’ve always aspired to be in a leadership role where I could help positively impact a team, my customers, and organization. But, I did not envision myself in banking and happened to stumble [thankfully] into a universal banker position with Great Western Bank. Once I was a part of the organization, I had my sights set on being a manager and leader.”

Pate says he sees different strengths in female leaders at United Republic Bank that aren’t necessarily visible with males in similar roles— adding depth to the bank’s management.

“From my lens, women stay on task better, longer. Men seem to become more easily distracted, depending on what they’re doing,” he says. “Women are just better multitaskers and are more thorough in managing tasks and people.”

He added that the very shallow labor pool in Omaha right now has created gaps in finding available candidates, but when someone applies for an open position, gender is never a deciding factor.

“I am definitely seeing more interest in managerial roles among younger women, and I attribute that to the changing attitudes in the industry as well as more women believing they have real opportunities for advancement in banking that didn’t exist in the past,” he says. “I am the chair of the Nebraska Banking Association, and in the past—even as recent as 20 years ago—there were very few women on the board. Today, it’s very balanced with men and women, and this is a definite reflection of the industry as a whole.”

Pate and Safford agree that having diverse leadership teams in banks continues to trend upward, which is a positive for banks.

“In any industry, it’s important to have a diverse workforce and leadership team,” she says. “This is what helps move a company forward. The customers we serve are diverse, and having a team that reflects the same from the top down only ensures we are serving their needs. Diversity and inclusion in general should be a top priority for all companies, and bringing awareness is the first step. I can only speak for my experience with Great Western Bank, and we have a Diversity and Inclusion Council that has committed to this initiative.”

Safford goes even further, offering advice to women currently in banking or planning for a future in the industry who aspire to hold manager and above positions.

“It’s great to see more awareness of the gender gap issue as many are unaware it still exists,” she says.

And for future female leaders of banks: “You get to choose who you are when you step out of bed each morning, so be the best version of you and make it count. Be brave and confident. You have a voice. Don’t be intimidated to pull your chair up to the table.”

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This article appeared in the Winter 2018 issue of B2B.