Bank of America: building a healthier gender balance in IT
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Bank of America: building a healthier gender balance in IT

Jessica Twentyman — July 2015
Denise Menelly, shared service operations executive at Bank of America, explains how the financial services giant has sought to dramatically grow the participation of women in IT.

Every year, the Anita Borg Institute (ABI) – a social enterprise focused on “connecting, inspiring and guiding” women in technology — bestows its prestigious Top Company for Women in Computing award on the organization it believes has demonstrated the most measurable achievements in recruiting, retaining and advancing female IT talent.

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Last year’s winner, Bank of America, was recognized by the ABI judging panel for having the highest percentage of women among its technical experts of any company ever considered for the award, as well as a strikingly low voluntary turnover rate among that group of just 3% annually.

But in accepting the award on Bank of America’s behalf, Denise Menelly, shared service operations executive for Global Technology & Operations, was keen to stress that the bank had no intention of resting on its laurels. Yes, she said, she was proud of what had been accomplished. Yes, the numbers looked good. And yes, the bank has a huge number of talented and committed women technologists in its employ.

“But we still need to do better, to do more. Everybody does,” she said. It’s a good point, because according to recent figures from the National Center for Women and Information Technology (NWCIT), women currently hold only 26% of US technology jobs. Bank of America does better than that average, says a company spokesperson, although it doesn’t disclose the proportion of women among the 100,000 staff and contractors in the BofA Global Technology & Operations arm. (However, given the “highest percentage of women ever” plaudit, its percentage is likely to be considerably higher than the average.)
Marathon not a sprint

Looking back a year after accepting the award, Menelly is able to elaborate on her message: “What I wanted to get across was that, inside Bank of America, everyone needs to know that it’s not time yet for a victory lap. This is, and must be, a continuing focus for us. If we’re going to be successful, we need to have an inclusive environment.”

Menelly herself is working hard to deliver on that goal, notwithstanding her full job spec. With a 30-year track record in the financial services industry, she’s responsible for delivering banking technology to retail, commercial and corporate clients worldwide.

At the same time, as executive sponsor for Bank of America’s Women in Technology & Operations advocacy group, which has around 3,400 members company-wide, she also takes the lead on ensuring there’s a healthy pipeline of female technology talent flowing into the organization and rising up through its ranks.

And then there’s her seat on the board of NCWIT and her membership of the bank’s Global Ambassador Program, which in partnership with the non-profit organization Vital Voices, provides mentorship to emerging women leaders around the world.

“There’s an understanding among senior leaders that diversity is not a nice-to-have. It’s something that gives us a broader and deeper connection to our customers.”

But Menelly is hardly a lone voice in articulating the value that women bring to Bank of America's IT workforce. “There’s a broad understanding among the most senior leaders that diversity is not a nice-to-have. It’s something that gives us a broader and deeper connection to our customers and it’s integral to our success.” This is a view, she adds, that is actively promoted by both the bank’s CEO, Brian Moynihan, and its most senior IT executive, Cathy Bessant. The company also has a chief diversity officer, Geri Thomas.

That’s not to say there haven’t been setbacks along the way. During the toughest years of the financial crisis, Menelly admits, some momentum was lost, “not just here [at Bank of America], but at all sorts of different organizations — both in the financial services sector and the technology sector.”

What matters most is that advances and slowdowns are closely monitored, measured and acted upon. Metrics relating to female employment in IT roles are taken extremely seriously at Bank of America, she says.

“We’re working in the business world, where numbers matter. They bring a seriousness to any topic and they drive action. If you’re not monitoring data or if your data doesn’t connect to activities and strategy, then how can you expect people to take it seriously?”
Inspiring young women

Laying the groundwork, by working to get young women interested in technology careers, is also key, she says. That’s why Bank of America is a lead sponsor of NCWIT’s Aspirations in Computing program, which provides advice, support and networking opportunities to female high school and college students. In fact, Menelly was a driving force behind the bank’s hosting of NCWIT’s Award for Aspirations in Computing ceremony in March 2014.

“I’ve met some amazing young women through this program, many of whom we’ve gone on to hire,” she says. “What’s really important to me is getting girls to understand what a career in technology is really like. Too often, we all tend to put science and art in two different boxes, but there’s a lot of artistry involved in tech careers and many, many roles now require a command of both art and technology.”

She continues: “I want young women to know that every single company in every single industry has jobs available that need talented, creative technologists. If you fit that description, I tell them, the world can be your oyster — and once they hear that message, I find, their interest suddenly grows.”

• See video interview What it means to be a responsible business with Fujitsu’s Duncan Tait.

First published July 2015
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