An International Women’s Day Q&A with two CEOs

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The financial services sector—like many other industries—is making strides when it comes to gender equality. But there’s still a lot of room to improve. Today about 46 per cent of financial services employees are women, at the executive level, women still only hold about 15 per cent of the positions.

Atlantic Credit Unions want to see that number shift. We believe that balanced and inclusive organizations are not only better places to work—they’re better places to do business, too.

Having more balanced representation has long been a goal of ours and today, we’re proud to say that 50 per cent of our CEOs are women. In honour of International Women’s Day, we wanted to interview some of these leaders to get their perspectives and have them share their experiences.

It’s our pleasure to introduce Tammy Christopher, CEO of OMISTA Credit Union, and Lisa Loughery, CEO of Bayview Credit Union. Read on to see what they have to say about their careers, the challenges they’ve faced along the way, and their perspectives on balance in the workplace.

Q: Why do we need more balanced workplaces?

Lisa: Different perspectives are important. Women can bring different thinking. When we have a diverse workplace that includes different backgrounds, perspectives, and cultures, we can offer better understanding for our customers that come from different backgrounds, too. Different individuals have different needs. Being able to understand our members and what they’re going through is important.

Tammy: Gender balance makes our workplaces better and so does diversity. In order to be more inclusive, we need to be considerate about different life demands and be more flexible. Things like flexible hours can help parents balance their careers with their families—it doesn’t have to be one or the other. If you are supportive and work to understand different needs, people will be more productive and loyal. Different perspectives make us stronger.

Q: What advice do you have for organizations looking to build and support more balanced teams?

Tammy: Ask questions and listen to your team. It’s about being flexible and being open to listening to what your employees and new hires need.

Lisa: Look at your internal and external talent pipelines and find opportunities to diversify your team. From a leadership perspective, look for individuals that have potential and the qualities you’re looking for—whether they are front line staff or management. People might not always see themselves as leaders. They might think “because I’m a mother, I need to pick my kids up at daycare”—show them you’re willing to accommodate different life stages. These stages aren’t roadblocks. Sometimes mothers feel because they have commitments at home, they won’t have the same opportunities at work. Show that you value them and that you want to work with them long term.

Q: What are the most valuable lessons you’ve learned throughout your career?

Lisa: I’ve learned to lead by example and to have compassion. You don’t need to be the loudest voice in the room—you get further by being who you are and being genuine. I focus on helping the people around me succeed, because when they succeed, so do I.

Tammy: Speak up and let your worth be known. People sometimes see women as being softer, but that’s not a bad thing. Showing you have a compassionate side makes you relatable and approachable—it’s a strength.

Q: What are some of the challenges you’ve faced?

Lisa: It was tough in the early days of my career. I was the youngest female manager at Bayview and there were very few women in management. I felt like I had to constantly prove myself. But over the years, I’ve realized that it was what I did to encourage others to shine that made a big impact. It wasn’t just about what I was doing in my role—it was about how I helped and supported others to excel.

Tammy: Before coming to the credit union, I felt like there was a glass ceiling. As a female, you had to be home with the kids—there was that pressure. I didn’t experience that when I came to the credit union. There was collaboration, a team atmosphere, and an understanding that my family is a priority.

Q: What advice would you give to women who are looking to advance in the financial services industry?

Tammy: Prepare yourself and put the work in. You can’t sit back and expect an opportunity to come your way. You must work hard for any advancements and you have to be true to who you are and the kind of leader you want to be.

Lisa: If you want to advance, you have to let the people around you know—talk to your supervisors and managers. Ask for guidance and peer coaching and don’t be afraid to reach out and say, “I’d like to develop into this role. How can I get there?” It’s about taking control of your future and letting people know that you’re willing to put the work in. Don’t feel like you can’t do something because you’re a woman or because you have young kids. It’s not a hindrance—and the team around you will help you along the way.

Q: What skills do you think are essential to be a great leader?

Tammy: Listen to your team with an open mind and without presumption. Have an open-door policy where team members can pitch their ideas. Don’t be afraid to admit you don’t know it all—be open to other ways of thinking.

Lisa: Have a clear vision and articulate it to your team. Make sure your employees know what that vision is, what it means for them, and how it connects with your business strategy. Show that you’re authentic and that you care about your team—you want to help them succeed.