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You can meet Thasunda at the WBC Summit on September 21 at 3:15pm when she is interviewed by Richelle Parham for the segment “Diverse Voices: A conversation with Trailblazer: Thasunda Brown Duckett.” 

May I introduce Thasunda Brown Duckett, President and CEO TIAA:

As I learn more about Thasunda, I realize that she has risen in her role as a leader with a clear mission for herself and a true understanding of her role and her responsibilities to those she leads. In her life stories, she offers us lessons about being who you are and liking what you see. It is your authenticity, she tells us, that brings others to you and helps them trust you and follow your lead. What you will love about her personal journey is that it is full of how she cared for, engaged with and inspired others. She is so amazingly “other-focused.”

Successfully smashing the glass ceiling

While Thasunda’s appointment in February 2021 as President and CEO of the revered investment firm TIAA was a landmark for women and women of color (she is only the third African American woman to be a full-time Fortune 500 chief), she had actually been moving up the ladder for some time and was already a rising star in the finance industry. As head of consumer banking at JPMorgan, she was responsible for 4,900 branches, 40,000 employees and $600 billion in deposits. Before that, she held key roles at Chase Auto Finance including CEO, SVP of emerging markets and affordable lending, and SVP of home lending.

“You find your passion, and for me, that was homeownership.”

What I find so interesting is that Thasunda got into the financial services arena through Inroads, a program which helps minorities enter the business field. It was Inroads that helped her get an internship at Fannie Mae while she was still in college, which was her entrée into corporate America. Once there, she loved it, particularly the mortgage business, because it enabled her to help people own their own homes. She talks a lot about this in a 2019 New York Times interview.

As Thasunda built her career and gained more seniority and responsibilities, she says that the key lesson she learned was the importance of building relationships, whether with clients or employees or communities. “Early in my career I learned that the mission is to establish relationships. The fact that a client had never had someone like me covering them didn’t matter — I still had to accomplish the mission,” she says. “But I could do it in a way that was authentic to me, and that was comfortable to them.”

An example of her living out her mission, as told to the NYTimes:

“When I was named CEO of Chase Auto Finance, within the first 90 days I went to the mail room and told the staff there, ‘Keep doing your job with excellence. If you don’t put that person’s payment in the right chute, and it accidentally goes to mortgage, then the customer doesn’t post on time, they’re upset, and they end up closing their account with us. But you started that process. So, when you hear me talk about our customer experience having improved, brush your shoulders off.’ And they go, ‘You’re welcome. You know we got you.’ At that moment I was able to connect them to Chase, to this bigger narrative. And now they know that T cares about everybody.”

The path forward is always a challenge, especially for women of color, but they’re excelling

Consider this: For the past four years, not one of the Fortune 500 companies have been led by a female African American CEO. Appalling? Yes. Surprising? No. But, there is change coming.

In a blog written by WBC CEO Edie Fraser and WBC COO Gwen Young at the close of 2020, they highlighted the progress, albeit slow, in the promotion of women and women of color to CEO roles in top US companies. With its partners C200 and Catalyst, WBC had recently published the Women CEOs in America Report which was carefully optimistic about the progress being made. From that report:

“The data showed an increase in the number of women CEOS. In December 2019, women held 30 (6.0%) of the CEO positions in S&P 500 companies. At the start of 2020, women comprised 6.7% of CEO positions and with the close of 2020, women represented 7.8% of CEO positions across all companies.”

And the number is rising as Citigroup, CVS, Walgreens and Dick’s Sporting Goods have all named women CEOs.

Please join us as we change the future for women in business

As a champion of the WBC advisory council, I am very active with our upcoming Summit, where we will showcase some of these accomplished women, sharing their stories, and providing powerful insights into how other women can overcome the hurdles that might be holding them back—whether it is a glass ceiling or a sticky floor.

Hopefully these women are not just the “firsts” of the future. Perhaps they are on the brink of major transformations of our society. None too soon. Please join us.

Register for this year’s Action for Impact Summit happening on September 25, 2024!