Describe your involvement with the Cultural Awareness Network (CAN), one of Associated Bank’s colleague resource groups (CRG). How did you first get involved and what is your involvement today?
I became a member of CAN when I joined Associated Bank over four years ago, participating in events based on my availability. Last year, I was asked if I would be interested in taking a more active leadership role. I deliberated for a while, but finally agreed.
I have always been passionate about D&I (diversity & inclusion) and serving our communities. As the director of multi-cultural & affordable lending, I lead a specialized residential mortgage lending team focused on lending to minority and low- to moderate-income (LMI) individuals and those purchasing in LMI areas. With this background, I knew I could bring some helpful insights to CAN.
Describe your role as the D&I council representative for CAN.
With the support of our executive sponsor, I provide guidance on CAN’s overall progress toward our company’s D&I objectives. I ensure that CAN’s perspective is heard. I am responsible for D&I strategy, governance and active engagement in support of our D&I vision. I manage CAN’s overall budget and ensure consistency across our chapters.
How is CAN helping our company achieve its D&I vision?
CAN strategically accomplishes its mission by focusing on D&I education for mid- and senior-level managers. We have worked with third party vendors to provide in-depth interview (IDI) assessments for leaders to identify unconscious biases. We have offered workshops on topics such as micro-aggressions in the workplace to both members and leaders. We also offer mentoring opportunities for our members with company leaders.
We partner with our HR department to attract top minority talent by attending college career fairs and speaking on panels. We also engage with our community accountability team to identify non-profit partners for volunteer opportunities that support our company’s strategic objectives.
Through your involvement with CAN, what has been your proudest achievement?
Several achievements come to mind. First, I organized the CAN Senior Advisory Council (CEAC), a 10-member council representing various lines of business at the SVP level and above that supports our mission by providing leadership, counsel and mentoring to each of CAN’s chapter Co-Chairs.
Second, we launched Colleague to Leader (C2L) meetings in Milwaukee, an informal mentoring program where senior leaders meet with colleagues bi-monthly. This schedule allows colleagues to engage with multiple leaders, getting to know each other both personally and professionally.
Lastly, I worked with a chapter colleague to create efficiencies around our operations and administration. For example, we consolidated six chapter newsletters to one CRG-wide newsletter, sharing CAN activities across all of our chapters for greater awareness. Similarly, for budget planning, we share CAN activities across all chapters to share our successes and replicate impactful activities across our markets.
What is the greatest benefit CAN provides for colleagues?
There are a number of benefits to colleagues. Through D&I education, we are working to develop a more inclusive workplace when it comes to job opportunities and promotions for minority colleagues. We encourage action planning as next steps on how leaders can implement best practices with their teams.
We provide leadership and learning opportunities, helping colleagues improve their knowledge and skills beyond their current job roles and often helping to prepare them for future career advancement. Leadership opportunities are also available, allowing colleagues to expand their network and further develop professional skills.
CAN aids in retention of colleagues through our onboarding process for new members. When a colleague joins the company, the first 60 to 90 days of employment are critical. This can be especially challenging for underrepresented groups. CAN helps to acclimate new colleagues and engender loyalty and engagement with the company.
As a leadership group, the CEAC is working to ensure that our workplace reflects the demographics of our communities. We are looking into strategies to support our lines of business with pipelines of diverse talent, get more minorities represented in higher levels of the company, and find ways in which we can impact career development and growth for minority colleagues.
How is CAN helping to strengthen our communities?
CAN strategically partners with our community accountability team to support the company’s community commitment plan. We look to partner and support organizations with a focus on minority workforce and community development. Across our company, we create awareness of the diverse communities we serve. CAN members also volunteer with agencies and causes for which they have a personal passion, such as schools, mentorship programs, etc.
How is CAN influencing interactions with our customers?
A significant number of CAN members work in our retail branches, having direct interaction with diverse customers and community members across our footprint. We support our customers and communities through regular volunteer activities. We are also working to better understand our diverse segment customers to support our company’s overall growth strategies. We strive to have a workforce that mirrors the communities we serve, creating greater customer loyalty and feeling they’re doing business with people who truly understand them.
A great example of a recent success was the introduction of our Zero Interest Savings product that was sparked from a conversation at a CAN meeting in the Twin Cities.
What are your key focus areas and long-term goals for the group?
Our long-term goals are to increase engagement by demonstrating to colleagues that their voices are heard. We’d like to raise awareness among leaders that CAN is a great resource for professional growth and development and to encourage their teams to get involved.
We strive to become an influencer for products and programs that impact diverse communities. We are working to identify gaps in our talent development process and ensure that CAN is focused on achieving strategic business objectives.
What are some recent successes of CAN that you’d like to highlight?
We have worked collaboratively across CAN chapters and other CRGs to host a number of professional development workshops. One recent success was our End of Summer networking event in Chicago, which provided an opportunity for CRG members to network with senior leaders. Prior to the event, a colleague facilitated a Lunch & Learn on next level networking to help colleagues gain the most value from their experience.
We’ve hosted CAN panel discussions with internal leaders for colleagues to learn about their career paths and journeys. In addition to providing skills development and networking opportunities, colleagues are able to share their ideas and pursue passions outside of their regular jobs. There truly is value for colleagues of all levels to get involved.