Bank of America Chief H.R. Officer Sheri Bronstein: “Why we need to have a broader conversation about mental wellness and inclusion”

We have to acknowledge that the workplace as we know it is changing.

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I had the pleasure of interviewing Sheri Bronstein who is Bank of America’s global human resources executive and leads a global team of 2,500 H.R. professionals responsible for more than 200,000 employees in more than 35 countries, one of the largest corporate workforces in the United States. In her role, she drives a key part of the firm’s approach to responsible growth, the company’s focus on being a great place to work, through a focus on recognizing and rewarding performance, creating opportunities for employees to develop and grow, being an inclusive workplace for Bank of America’s diverse employees around the world, and supporting employees’ financial, physical, and emotional wellness.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory”?

Thank you for having me! Prior to my current position, I was the Human Resources (H.R.) executive for Global Banking and Markets, which includes the bank’s corporate and investment banking, business banking, commercial banking and trading business. I also led H.R. for the company’s employees located in international regions, which includes Asia Pacific, Europe, Middle East, Africa, Latin America and Canada, accounting for nearly 30,000 employees globally.

Prior to joining Bank of America, I worked at J.P. Morgan in a variety of human resources capacities. My roles included head of Campus Recruiting, H.R. executive for Fixed Income business, and Global Markets Compensation executive.

You could say I am a financial-services H.R. lifer and with that, I’ve had a front row seat to many pivotal moments. I learned a lot from the experience of sitting in a key leadership role during the financial crisis and leading the integration of people and processes through Bank of America’s acquisition of Merrill Lynch. My role as a H.R. leader broadened, as we worked to restore faith in our industry and build the culture of our newly combined company. It’s been a challenging but very rewarding journey and it makes me even more proud of where we are as a company today.

Outside of the office, I’m a mom and a wife and I try to enjoy every minute I get to spend with my family. Having grown up in Boston, I’m a huge Red Sox fan, so baseball season is one of my favorite parts of the year.

What is it about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?

There is nothing more important to Bank of America than our people. Being a great place to work for more than 200,000 teammates around the world means that we have to work every day to improve their experience, make work simpler and more efficient with technology, and create an inclusive environment with opportunities for all of our people to grow and succeed.

A good example is how we’re using technology in H.R., especially around data and analytics. As we’re investing in advanced technology and automating some of our daily activities, we’re much more efficient. It used to take one of our teams almost three weeks to create dashboard views for one part of our business, and now they’re doing it in 29 seconds!

We’re also using technology to help teammates develop in their careers. We’ve partnered with an education technology company and offer thousands of learning courses both online and mobile, so that our employees can learn when, and where it best suits them.

Mobile technology is also extending the reach of our talent acquisition team and helping to broaden our candidate pipelines. They’re now using video interviews with candidates all over the world, including in Africa, where we launched a recruiting initiative a few years ago to attract top talent from universities in Ghana and Nigeria.

One additional place I’m looking to affect change is in diversity, not just in our company, but at the top levels of industry as a whole. Data shows us that companies with women in leadership roles, at the c-suite level, are more profitable than those without. If we’re looking at the business case, it’s hard to dispute that we need more women leaders. That’s why we’ve partnered with Paradigm for Parity and similar organizations, and we are advocating and pushing to have women of all backgrounds in leadership positions.

We all need a little help along the journey  —  who have been some of your mentors?

I’m really lucky in that I’m surrounded by a team of individuals who not only work well together, but are willing to share experience and learn from each other. Our board of directors is an amazing group of people who have really diverse knowledge from different industries that they share. My colleagues, Anne Finucane, Andrea Smith, Tom Montag, and the rest of the management team, all have such a depth of knowledge and unique perspectives from their own experiences. And, Brian Moynihan, of course, who showed a lot of faith in me when he offered me this role, and who coached and mentored me before I was in this role and he’s continued to this day.

How are you going to shake things up next?

With a company as large as Bank of America, we know that whenever we launch a program or benefit, it has ripple effects both within and outside our company. A good example would be when we expanded our parental leave from 12 weeks to 16 weeks fully paid time off. When we did that back in 2016, we saw that many companies followed suit and made changes to their parental leave programs. That’s not to say those other companies reacted to what we did, but perhaps we helped create a wave of support for parents across the U.S.

I’d like to start a broader conversation about emotional wellness  —  like the “How to Thrive” event we recently held with Arianna attended by more than 10,000 of our employees  —  to help take away some of the stigma associated with mental health. As employers, we have to understand that life is complicated and it’s our obligation to help our teammates have an open conversation, and to provide the resources that can help.

We also have to acknowledge that the workplace as we know it is changing. I want us to start solving some of the challenges we’re facing when it comes to training and education, technology, and how we have to help the workforce adapt if we’re all going to be successful. I don’t just mean for Bank of America, but for all companies. That’s why we’re piloting programs to change the environment our teammates come to work in every day, our global diversity and inclusion team is developing an initiative on the Future of Work focused on the responsible growth of our workforce, and we’re partnering with other financial services firms on ways to increase diversity in S.T.E.M. programs.

Can you share three of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.

I believe that H.R. has to be an extension of the business, not separate from it. To do that, and be successful, a H.R. exec has to have sound business acumen, good judgment and then both of those have to be supported with data and analytics.

There is no substitute for on the ground and in the trenches experience with the business, especially for H.R. professionals. You have to get in there, learn what they’re doing, how they’re doing it, what the employees need. Otherwise, you have no experience or knowledge to help bring in and develop the right talent to help the business succeed.

You also have to learn how to make good, well-informed decisions and sometimes just trust your gut. Lots of times, H.R. decisions are based on data, but there will always be times when you have to rely on your judgment and the counsel of your peers.

The breadth and depth of our company means that an H.R. executive has to be rooted in data, and the ability to analyze that data, to drive progress. Being able to analyze that data, and use it to drive the business forward has been an area I have stayed laser focused on. I believe that has been a critical quality to my success.

What’s a book/podcast/talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Share a story with us.

If I had to pick one book that’s had an impact on me recently, it would have to be Grit by Angela Duckworth. I think we all knew the concept of grit, but the way Angela was able to actually study and describe the thought process really drove it home for me. If you look across almost any industry, you’ll see that the successful leaders aren’t always the smartest or even the most talented. They’re just determined to stick it out and keep getting back up. Her book was so impactful, that we asked Angela to come speak to the leaders at our company, and you could see on their faces how it impacted everyone listening in the room.

Some of the biggest names in business, V.C. funding, sports, and entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the U.S., with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? (He or she might see this.)

I’ll give you two. The first person would be Michelle Obama. I’ve gotten the chance to meet and talk with her briefly, but I’d love to just sit and learn from her. She is the epitome of not letting success change who you really are. Of always staying rooted and grounded. First Lady, mom, wife, successful professional woman. She’s done it all, and did it all very well.

The second woman I’d like to meet is Chloe Kim, gold medal-winning snowboarder. I grew up as a skier, so I love snow sports. What she was able to do at the Olympics in Pyeongchang was amazing. It took years and years of training for her to get to that moment. I’d love to just sit and talk with her about how she got there, her dreams and aspirations and to feel that boundless energy she exudes.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Readers can follow me on Twitter (@sheribronstein).

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

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