The ELFA Women’s Council aims to find the superpower in you
Dr. Tanya Menon is an expert on negotiation.
Talk to her for 30 seconds and you’ll find yourself as fired up about it as she is. “When you think about it, life
is a series of negotiations, one after another,” says Menon, Associate Professor at Fisher College of Business, The Ohio State University; author of a recent book on management; and deliverer of a TED talk named one of the most popular of 2018. “Conversations with your team at work about the tasks you’ll take on, as well as discussions with your spouse about how you’ll divide aspects of childcare, are negotiations,” she says. “If we don’t negotiate well or at all, the effect is cumulative—and can have a major impact on our quality of life.”
Rochelle Carrington is a sales and leadership authority. She teaches people how to build and maintain their personal brands. “All of us are inundated with commercial branding, but personal branding is something most of us don’t think about,” says the President and CEO of Bulletproof Management, Inc. “As a result, our personal brands are usually created by default.” Personal brands “are what people say about you when you leave the room,” Carrington explains. “If your brand isn’t a true reflection of yourself, people will decide for themselves who you are and what you stand for—and you might not like it.”
“We hope to provide an entrée to women who haven’t yet engaged with ELFA or thought about equipment finance as a career, as well as to those who have more experience and want to continue to advance.”
—Lori Frasier, Women’s Council Chair
Both Menon and Carrington will speak at the 2019 ELFA Women’s Leadership Forum, April 1–2 in Washington, D.C. This popular event—now in its second year—will focus on leadership development for women at all stages of an equipment finance career. The theme, “Find Your Superpower,” celebrates the idea that there is a superhero inside all of us—we just need the courage and skills to put on the cape. Despite doubling in size over the 2018 gathering, the Forum sold out well before its occurrence.
“But fear not,” says Lori Frasier, Chair of the ELFA Women’s Council and Senior Vice President, Strategy and Performance Management at Key Equipment Finance. “We are thrilled by the response we’ve had to this year’s Leadership Forum—and if you didn’t have a chance to register before it sold out, don’t worry! The enthusiasm for this event is more evidence that there’s a great deal of pent-up demand for leadership development opportunities for women in our industry. More events are already in the works, and we are discussing how we can provide additional resources and opportunities to help meet this demand.”
Filling a Growing Need
Indeed, the Women’s Leadership Forum is just one event, albeit the largest thus far, sponsored by the Women’s Council. But its popularity exposes an enormous hunger for professional development, networking and support on the part of industry women, and a challenge for the Council to respond quickly and in substantive ways.
Begun in May 2017, the Women’s Council is a 19-member steering committee created by ELFA’s Board of Directors. Its mission is to help achieve gender balance in leadership across all levels of ELFA and the equipment finance industry. As Frasier said rather famously at the start, “Having an inclusive and diverse industry overall is our long-term vision. We hope not to need this Council five to 10 years from now.”
“ELFA is committed to supporting and accelerating women, as well as other underrepresented groups, into positions of leadership within the Association and, most importantly, in the industry.”
—Kris Snow, ELFA Board Member
Today the Council leads ELFA toward its vision by focusing on what Frasier calls The Four A’s:
- Advocacy and
Frasier says improved access to leadership is the overarching goal. “Historically, Association leadership has been dominated by white males, so we’re working to create a new set of access points that will result in a more balanced picture that better reflects the markets our companies serve,” she says.
Increased awareness that gender-balanced leadership creates better business results is one access point. Research from multiple sources, including Gallup, McKinsey & Company, Catalyst and MSCI, show that gender diversity, combined with an inclusive culture, have positive impacts on productivity, employee retention and profitability.
Kris Snow, President of Cisco Capital at Cisco Systems Capital Corporation and an ELFA Board Member who will be speaking at the Women’s Leadership Forum, discusses the value of diversity and inclusion overall, and their role in the work of the Council. “Diversity enables different points of view, which spark innovation, support enhanced performance and deliver competitive advantage,” she says. “ELFA is committed to supporting and accelerating women, as well as other underrepresented groups, into positions of leadership within the Association and, most importantly, in the industry. The Women’s Council acknowledges the importance of inclusion by providing a focused and dedicated framework to educate and empower women.”
Grow Your Network
If you didn’t have a chance to register for the 2019 Women’s Leadership Forum before it sold out, there are other Women’s Council events you might consider attending in 2019. Women’s Council Receptions will be held at the
following conferences this year:
- Funding Conference, April 9–11
- Legal Forum, April 28–30
- Credit and Collections Conference, June 3–5
- Operations & Technology and Lease and Finance Accounting Conferences, Sept. 16–18
- Annual Convention, Oct. 27–29
See details at www.elfaonline.org/events
. In addition, this year the Council will be adding opportunities for networking through social media—stay tuned for details.
Opening Additional Doors
Advocacy of women as leaders in the Association and industry creates further access, Frasier says. Valerie Hayes Jester became ELFA’s first woman Chair in 2007. Today women occupy six seats on the Association’s Board of Directors and two are in line to become Chair: Martha Ahlers in 2020 and Kris Snow in 2022. Says Frasier, “We want everyone to feel that our association’s organization and leadership positions are accessible to them.”
Jud Snyder, President of BMO Harris Equipment Finance Company and Chairman of ELFA, believes the Women’s Council’s agenda for enhanced accessibility to leadership couldn’t come at a better time, since both the Association and equipment finance industry are eager for more professionals who’ll step up to lead or play contributing roles. “The best way to ensure our industry and our member companies are inclusive is to engage with everyone, soliciting viewpoints from across the spectrum,” he says.
“The best way to ensure our industry and our member companies are inclusive is to engage with everyone, soliciting viewpoints from across the spectrum.”
—Jud Snyder, ELFA Chairman
Snyder also advocates supporting the Council by getting involved. “Attending a Women’s Council event is a chance to interact with peers from other companies, share best practices and challenges, and have an honest discussion around building a career in finance,” he says. “Men as well as women have a vested interest in making our industry as strong and successful as possible. This is a shared conversation about our mutual success.”
Last but hardly least, the Council is taking action to create more access through programming, communications and more opportunities for leadership development. “Last year we held the first Women’s Leadership Forum and contributed to the ELFA Annual Convention to spread the word about the work we were doing,” says Frasier. “This year we’re adding opportunities for networking through social media. We’re also working on a mentoring program that may be introduced later this year, or possibly next year. We won’t roll it out until we’re sure we’ve got it right, but this is an area of focus this year.”
Overall, Frasier says, the Women’s Council is building a structure to appeal to and support women at all levels. “We hope to provide an entrée to women who haven’t yet engaged with ELFA or thought about equipment finance as a career, as well as to those who have more experience and want to continue to advance,” she says. “We want to offer events and services that will benefit women at every step in their careers.”
The Council will continue to sponsor and host Women’s Council receptions at ELFA events. In addition to a reception and a breakout session at the Annual Convention in October, the Council sponsors receptions at the Funding Conference and the Legal Forum and in April, the Credit and Collections Conference in June, and the Operations & Technology and Lease and Finance Accounting Conferences in September. What’s more, the Council is working to attract more men to its events. Says Frasier, “We’d love to have more of our male allies join us at our gatherings, which predominantly feature women at all levels. It’s all about women and men learning together.”
“As our industry works to promote more women into senior leadership positions, men would particularly benefit from the focus on diverse perspectives, as well as the unique opportunity to network with leaders who will be a strong presence in the future leadership of our industry.”
—Kevin Sensenbrenner, Women’s Council Member
Another Point of View
Kevin Sensenbrenner is one such ally. He is a member of the Women’s Council who attended last year’s Women’s Leadership Forum and will make the trip again this year. “The atmosphere was highly charged and great for building relationships and making new connections,” says Sensenbrenner, Senior Managing Director and Head of Asset Management at Stonebriar Commercial Finance. “The broad mix of businesses and professionals represented facilitated good conversations and provided diverse perspectives around what leadership looks like, the art of persuasion and networking strategies.”
Sensenbrenner believes in personal branding, so he is especially looking forward to Rochelle Carrington’s Forum presentation on this topic. “I’ve put a lot of work into my own brand, and I think it’s been very helpful to my career,” he says. “In the future, I hope we’ll have more opportunities to learn Rochelle’s insights on personal-branding characteristics and use her strategies to further develop and reinvent our brands as our career objectives evolve.”
He encourages men to attend Women’s Council events. “As our industry works to promote more women into senior leadership positions, men would particularly benefit from the focus on diverse perspectives, as well as the unique opportunity to network with leaders who will be a strong presence in the future leadership of our industry,” he says.
Sensenbrenner makes a salient point. Women can gain confidence and leadership skills until hell freezes over, but without the understanding and support of their male colleagues, their progress again would be limited.
Besides, notes Frasier in a nod to both sexes learning together, there are skills that both women and men need, but which are vital to women’s professional development. She cites negotiating and personal branding as examples. “Research shows that women are less likely than men to ask for what they want,” she observes. “Studies also tell us that women see themselves as weaker negotiators than men, and that people generally don’t see women as powerful negotiators. We think this plays a part in the pay gap between women and men. That’s why it’s such an important topic.”
Developing and maintaining a personal brand, on the other hand, helps women leverage what is unique about themselves and create a personal mission statement to drive their success both in and out of the office. “It’s a particular issue for women because there are so many negative stereotypes,” says Carrington. “A woman who’s strong and knows what she wants is often seen as pushy and demanding. A woman who takes charge might be seen in a way that doesn’t fit social norms.” Creating a personal brand involves “determining the core characteristics and values that you want to project to others,” Carrington suggests. Part of personal branding involves figuring out the actions you need to take daily, weekly and monthly to demonstrate your personal brand and communicate it to others, she adds, “because we all know actions speak louder than words.”
If you’re still on the fence about attending or sending employees to Women’s Council events, consider this reflection from Snow: “Investing in employee education and development is a foundational tenet for talent growth within organizations. Sponsoring one or more employees to attend the 2019 Women’s Leadership Forum provides opportunities to enhance industry knowledge, enable career progression and heighten awareness of the business values of diversity and inclusion.”
If that isn’t enough, think of the opportunities to meet new colleagues and update your perspectives—about your association, your industry and yourself. And why not? Says Frasier, “It’s all part of finding your superpower and putting on the cape.”
In conjunction with the Women’s Leadership Forum, the Women’s Council will be launching a new Linkedin Group. Watch for details, coming soon!