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Addressing the gender gap in financial services

How TD Bank’s internal programs are helping women return to the workplace and advance into leadership roles.

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A clear gap exists between women and men in the financial services C-suite. According to a recent McKinsey & Company report, women make up a bit more than half of the entry-level banking workforce, but less than a third at senior vice president and above. The numbers are starker still for women of color. The long odds women face in advancing to higher levels within the organization may cause them to leave the industry.

In male-dominated banking, bias (whether unconscious or not) continues to permeate the hiring process. It is a factor that determines who gets an interview, who does the interviewing, the questions that are asked and the evaluation criteria. It can be powerful enough to dissuade some women from even applying for advancement opportunities.

Many women also leave the traditional workforce for extended periods for maternity leave, caregiving or other reasons. Their return to the workforce can be hindered by unconscious biases around resume gaps and the ability to quickly learn new skills and reintegrate into the workforce.

As the executive sponsor of TD Bank’s Women in Leadership employee group, I work with my leadership team to implement programming that helps close the gender gap by providing women with learning and development opportunities in every stage of their career journey.

Below are a few examples of the programs we have implemented to support women’s growth and advancement.

Circles: A program where women and allies across all levels of the organization meet monthly to discuss thoughtfully selected developmental topics and content. Participants share ideas, gain skills, seek advice and show solidarity, all in a safe space. Circles brings colleagues together from across the bank and all are encouraged to be active participants and listeners. To date, we have reached more than 1,200 colleagues.

Allies: This program is dedicated to further active engagement of male allies to support the advancement of women in the workplace, and diversity and inclusion more broadly. Allies is specifically geared towards executives and senior managers at the bank who want to enhance their understanding of inclusive leadership, and it provides leaders with tools to make meaningful progress and influence others to actively support women at TD.

Take the L.E.A.D: In 2018, TD launched Take the L.E.A.D. (Leadership, Engagement, Achievement and Development) as a year-long, accelerated sponsorship program for developing and advancing emerging women leaders in the commercial bank. Female executives serve as mentors to program participants and develop tailored content to help high-performing women achieve their career goals. Participants are also paired with a male ally for expanded mentoring and sponsorship. The 2021-22 mentees graduate this month and a new group of women leaders will launch into their career development journey. Of the 42 women who have participated, nearly 40% have since been promoted at least once.

Career Relaunch: TD’s Career Relaunch program, which started in 2020, is focused on recruiting people who have taken a voluntary career break for two or more years and want to re-enter the workforce. This is particularly important for women who traditionally leave the workforce for an extended period to assume caregiving responsibilities, which became especially prominent during the pandemic.

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In this six-month program, provides skills refreshers, training and educational resources. Participants are assigned a “peer buddy” in their business, along with a senior leader mentor and Career Relaunch alumni mentor. The goal of the program is to help these relaunchers integrate into the workforce and secure full-time roles at the bank.

Although this program is currently for the commercial bank, TD is looking to expand it to other areas of the organization. The fourth cohort kicks off in October 2022, bringing the total number of participants to almost 30. The program has a 66% conversion rate and several alumni have been promoted into more senior roles in the bank.

While a gender gap is pervasive in the financial services industry, particularly at the top, and there is still a great deal of work to be done, we are continuing to make strides as an organization to provide resources and tools that support the advancement of women and create opportunities for collaboration and advocacy.

Marla Willner is head of commercial credit management and strategic initiatives at TD Bank.