TD Bank CIO, Janice Withers: "We will never move the needle on diversity until we can engage all of the talent to realize their potential by enabling the education they deserve." | FI SENSE

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In our series on Women In Finance, we speak of women who are leaders in the Finance industry. Wall Street and Finance used to be an all-white boys club”. Great progress has been made and this has changed a lot recently. Of course, despite the progress, we still have a lot more work to do to achieve parity. According to CNBC, less than 17 per cent of senior positions in investment banks are held by women. The key question asked to all the leading Women in Finance is:

“In your opinion or experience, which 3 things can be done by a) individuals b) companies and c) society to support the movement towards greater gender parity in the finance industry?”

In this article, we speak of Janice Withers, the Chief Information Officer at TD Bank.

Janice Withers has more than 35 years of experience in information technology and was appointed CIO for TD Bank, America’s Most Convenient Bank, in January 2016. In this role, Janice is responsible for technology strategy and planning, technology project execution, production support, and managing technical risk for TD Bank. Prior to her current role, Janice managed a similar portfolio for TD in Canada as SVP and CIO for Canadian Banking, Auto Finance, and Wealth Technology Solutions. This included technology for Retail, Commercial, Small Business Banking, Retail Branches, Operations, Auto Finance, and Wealth products and services. Janice joined TD Bank Group in December 2012 as VP, Retail Products and Distribution, where she was responsible for managing the end-to-end technology capabilities supporting the Retail Products Group, Payments, and Retail Distribution at TD Canada Trust. Prior to TD, Janice held several senior executive technology roles with Bank of America in the areas of information management, card operations, and mortgage servicing. Before that, she held technology leadership roles at Freddie Mac and spent 10 years at General Electric where she held multiple technical and executive leadership positions within GE Capital Finance and GE Aviation. Janice spent the early part of her career in software and database development at IBM, Federal Systems Division. She received a Bachelor of Science in Computer and Information Science from Ohio State University. Janice sits on the BITS Executive Board (policy division of the Financial Services Roundtable), the FIS Large FI Advisory Board, and the Board of Advisors for WinIT Leadership, a Philadelphia-based networking organization for current and future women leaders in IT. She also served as a co-chair of the TD Bank Employee Giving Campaign in 2016 and 2017. In March 2018, Janice was named a CIO of the Year at the Women in IT Awards.

According to her,

Despite excellent grades in high school, I came close to not being able to go to college because of the cost of attending a 4-year university, none of which were close to the small town where I grew up. Due to my parents’ sacrifice and student loans, both my sister and I graduated from Ohio State University. There are still so many talented, diverse people across the country whose luck doesn’t fall the right way, preventing them from the chance to pursue higher education. Education is the great equalizer that earns us the first seat at the table, opens the first door, and starts the conversation. We will never move the needle on diversity until we can engage all of the talents to realize their potential by enabling the education they deserve.

Can you tell us the “backstory” about what brought you to the Banking/Finance field?

Absolutely, and I want to thank you for the opportunity to participate in this interview.

I’ve held technology roles throughout my entire 35-plus-year career and have worked in various industries. I began my career in defence contracting, working in large-scale software development for IBM. When my husband took a new job that required us to relocate, I had to leave IBM and the defence industry. After a few months, I joined GE Capital and found that the technical skills I had obtained at IBM transferred well. And my strong software development background helped me to quickly move into leadership roles. I loved the pace of change and the diversity of roles I could play in the financial services industry and decided that was where I wanted to spend my career. Technology is the engine that drives financial transactions, and technology roles are at the heart of the change and innovation in the financial industry.

Can you share with our readers the most interesting or amusing story that occurred to you in your career so far? Can you share the lesson or take away what you took out of that story?

Early in the leadership phase of my career, the company I was working for was taking nominations for a new highly visible leadership program. My immediate manager thought the program would be great for me, but we had missed the nomination deadline. Coincidentally, we found ourselves at a large company dinner where the sponsor of the leadership program was in attendance. My manager was sure that if I could get to know the program sponsor, there would still be a chance for me to get a spot in the program. On my own, I wasn’t yet a strong enough advocate for myself to seize an opportunity and create the space required to network and make an impression. So, my manager waits until everyone was seated, then takes me to the sponsor of the program and introduces me. My manager then begins talking to the person seated beside the sponsor and invites that person to his table, making the seat next to the sponsor available to me. This gave me the entire dinner to make an impression. And yes, I got a seat in the program! While I am not certain of the tactic, this always reminds me of what it means to really sponsor someone. Sponsorship is more than supporting someone’s career, it’s actionably creating opportunities that make things happen.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

Like most financial institutions, our bank is embarking on a technology transformation. Transformation starts by defining a clear north star and then changing the way you think and the way you work so that you can achieve that vision. Driving this type of change across an organization is extremely exciting and not something you have an opportunity to do often in your career. The work our team is doing will engage every business line at the bank as teams come together through new ways of working to more quickly, and with great quality, deliver value to our customers and colleagues. To be successful in our transformation, we need to build new technologies, develop new skillsets, and most importantly, think differently. This transformation is going to result in a better customer experience, it’s going to make it easier for our colleagues to do their jobs, and it’s going to provide our colleagues with expanded learning and development opportunities. I am truly looking forward to this journey and creating meaningful change that will further enrich the lives of our customers and colleagues.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

For me, it’s TD’s unique culture. Even before I joined the organization, when I was going through the interview process, it was clear to me that TD doesn’t just talk the talk, it truly walks the walk when it comes to creating an environment that’s inclusive, supportive, and customer-centric. One part of the culture that I especially value is how well we collaborate at TD. I’ve been in meetings where multiple business lines are seated at the table, and we’re actually able to finish each other’s sentences because of how closely together we’ve worked and how well we understand one another. TD’s top leadership really pushes the organization to break down silos and bring business lines together, and what we see from that is that we’re aligned to the same vision, we understand the challenges each other faces, and we work together to overcome challenges and meet our goals.

Wall Street and Finance used to be an “all-white boys club.” This has changed a lot recently. In your opinion, what caused this change?

From my perspective, this is still very much a work in progress — not only in finance but also in areas of the technology industry. The dialogue has changed, but the actions still lag behind.

The industries outwardly embrace diversity and there is a clear commitment to making sure hiring managers have a diverse set of candidates for interviews. This is a huge step in the right direction because if the opportunity isn’t created, there is no chance to take the role. But while these steps are driving progress, they’re not quite getting us to where we need to be. As leaders, we must increase our focus on how we can create those opportunities and we need to support those who are coming up behind us. There is no substitute for having the right manager and support system as you navigate your career.

Of course, despite the progress, we still have a lot more work to do to achieve parity. According to this report in CNBC, less than 17 per cent of senior positions in investment banks are held by women. In your opinion or experience, what 3 things can be done by a) individuals b) companies and/or c) society to support this movement going forward?

There is a lot of work to be done, but we are starting to take the right steps. There are three things that many companies are already doing that I feel organizations and those in leadership positions need to continue to focus on and, in many cases, increase their focus on. They include:

  • Interviewing diverse sets of candidates when hiring
  • Enabling mentoring and sponsorships
  • Implementing internal programs that support and facilitate the development and promotion of women into more senior roles

I’ve had the opportunity to benefit from all three of these approaches. They are not mutually exclusive but rather work together to create more opportunities and help rising talent become comfortable working at the next level of leadership.

You are a “finance insider”. If you had to advise your adult child about 5 non-intuitive things one should do to become more financially literate, what would you say? Can you please give a story or example for each?

  • When you think about finance, tie it to an industry you understand or a business you are already familiar with. The learning curve will be faster, and it will give you another lens on the business or industry.
  • You don’t need a finance degree to gain confidence in overall financial literacy. Use the many great resources that are out there — books, TED Talks, etc.
  • Get past the jargon and acronyms; they can be intimidating, but the concepts aren’t that hard.
  • Learn by doing, whether it be buying a small amount of stock or sending a digital transaction.
  • Listen to others but make your own decisions.

None of us is able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

Absolutely. Nearly 20 years ago there was a particular leader at GE who had a tremendous impact on my career. In fact, I am certain I would not be in the role I am today if it wasn’t for him.

This leader believed in my abilities long before I recognized them or aspired to CIO roles. He supported me in assigning the CEO of our business as a mentor and went above and beyond to make sure I was part of a senior leadership program within GE. He was a sponsor for me and helped me to build important relationships within the company and to get the proper assignments to gain the critical experience required for the senior level assignment that I am privileged to hold today. He truly gave me the push I needed to really challenge myself and start to accelerate my career. I am forever thankful to have had the opportunity to work for such a special leader who thought beyond his own career to support mine. I truly owe it to his leadership to continue to pay it forward.

Can you please give us your favourite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

There are several life lessons quotes that I have taken to heart and reflect on from time to time, but the one that has been most relevant to my life is, “You can have it all, but not necessarily all at once.” There were things I wanted to achieve in my personal life and things I wanted to achieve in my professional life, and this quote reminded me that sometimes you step forward, but it’s also OK to sometimes step back and let the other things in your life take priority. It helped me to keep a balanced life and to better manage stress. I’m happy with the choices I made and proud of the way I was able to find that balance between meeting family and personal commitments and competently performing work responsibilities.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the greatest amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

Access to education! Despite excellent grades in high school, I came close to not being able to go to college because of the cost of attending a 4-year university, none of which were close to the small town where I grew up. Due to my parents’ sacrifice and student loans, both my sister and I graduated from Ohio State University. There are still so many talented, diverse people across the country whose luck doesn’t fall the right way, preventing them from the chance to pursue higher education. Education is the great equalizer that earns us the first seat at the table, opens the first door, and starts the conversation. We will never move the needle on diversity until we can engage all of the talents to realize their potential by enabling the education they deserve.

 

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