Women In Finance: “Check your bias; It will surprise you” with Kim Curley and Jason Hartman

The biggest thing, the first thing, for individuals is to check your bias. It’s there whether you know it or not. Get smart about it. Check out Harvard’s Implicit Bias research and tests — it will surprise you. Once you’ve done that, notice — really notice — who is in your meetings, your restaurants, your day-to-day activities. Get curious about how […]

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The biggest thing, the first thing, for individuals is to check your bias. It’s there whether you know it or not. Get smart about it. Check out Harvard’s Implicit Bias research and tests — it will surprise you. Once you’ve done that, notice — really notice — who is in your meetings, your restaurants, your day-to-day activities. Get curious about how and why that level of diversity came to be. And then, of course, speak up!

As a part of my series about strong female finance leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Kim Curley. Kim is the Senior Director and Practice Leader for NTT DATA, a top 10 global IT services provider. Kim is a veteran of the Financial Services industry, having spent about half of her career in consulting and the other half building and running businesses and sales functions for large banks. She is a recovering MBA who now focuses on the people side of business, ensuring organizations’ most valuable and precious resources are ready, willing and able to achieve business objectives.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us the “backstory” about what brought you to the Banking/Finance field?

A talented recruiter and a recession!

In all seriousness, I completed my undergraduate and MBA degrees in four years and was looking for a job during a pretty good-sized recession. I remember wanting to be a “management consultant,” motivated largely by a classmate a couple of years older than me who went to work for one of the consulting firms. She was super cool, getting to travel to interesting places, and I can’t lie; she was making a lot of money! But, I didn’t know what consulting really was, and I’m certain that showed during my interviews.

I also hoped to get to work immediately rather than begin a long training program. You can imagine how pleased I was when this charming recruiter said, “Check out Barnett Banks Trust Company (which was later acquired by Bank of America) — the management training program is just six months!” I made it through the personality assessment and the scary panel interview — me, alone, at the end of what felt like a very long table….and the rest, as they say, is history.

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 you took out of that story?

My first job out of graduate school was as a Trust and Estate Administrator in north Florida. My role was to take care of the trusts people had created either during their lifetimes or at their deaths.

My very favorite trust was one created to care for a woman’s cat after she passed away. She was not close to any of the distant living relatives she had left, but she was absolutely devoted to her cat, Oreo. So, at her death, we hired a caregiver for Oreo!

This caregiver lived the charmed life that Oreo had become accustomed to — a beautiful, large waterfront house with housekeepers and groundskeepers, and an in-house chef for every meal and treat. The caregiver was required to take Oreo for regular checkups with the vet and to generally ensure that she was well loved, well cared for, and had everything she wanted. Visiting my clients was always one of my favorite parts of that job, but visiting Oreo was something special!

In that job I learned a great deal about how impactful the relationship we have with money is on the relationships we have with other people. It was such a learning experience to see how long-gone relatives controlled — or attempted to control — the actions of descendants through their estate planning vehicles.

It was really interesting, too, to see how access to money, or the lack thereof, changed the way people acted and felt toward family members. I vowed then to make sure I was smart about investing my own money and learned to have healthy conversations about finances. I also vowed to EARN a lot of money so I could live the lives of some of my clients!

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

A good portion of the work I’m focused on now has to do with the people side of change in organizations that are undergoing digital transformations or implementing automation tools

Automation has terrific potential to change the way we work and serve clients in the financial services industry. And while you can’t go a minute without reading a headline about the “robots coming to take all of our jobs,” that simply isn’t the way it’s going to work.

Automation will handle the repetitious, boring parts of our jobs and leave us with the parts that require judgment and empathy and other kinds of innately human skills. The skills we need are changing, and the ways we organize our businesses to support the new ways of working need to change too.

It is very rewarding to help organizations prepare by restructuring to focus more on influence and collaboration rather than command and control hierarchies, as well as helping them identify and obtain the new skills they need to be successful in a robot and human blended workforce! The transformative level of change we’re seeing in the financial services industry can be scary, but it also provides a great opportunity for growth. I love being a part of that.

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

As it is in my job, it’s all about the people and relationships! I’m deeply and personally committed to so many of my colleagues at NTT DATA, and I know they feel the same way about me.

Last fall I celebrated a “big” birthday. I got to my desk that morning to find purple (my favorite color!) handwritten notecards strung everywhere and a beautiful vase of flowers right in the middle of it all. A very special colleague of mine had organized a note writing campaign — encouraging folks from near and far to share what they appreciated about me or how I had impacted them, along with a birthday wish.

It was amazing and humbling to see the outpouring of caring from my colleagues. Those cards are on my wall to this day and will be forever!

Beyond the obvious and personal connection with the people I’m lucky enough to work with, our global teams and capabilities make work exciting. In the last year alone, I’ve worked on a core system transformation with a client in Australia alongside teammates from India, Germany and the U.S.; designed culture change strategies for a client in Ireland; and worked on IT services transitions for financial institutions all over the world.

Not only does the global nature of our firm give me access to unique talents and client solutions, but I also get to learn a lot about leading intra-cultural teams, as well as how the financial services business is both the same and wildly different outside of the U.S. The World Clock on my iPhone is one of my most used apps — the time zone struggle is real!

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?

Bravery, persistence, mentorship and technology!

A couple of things pop right to mind. First, bravery and persistence. The bravery of the women and people of color who broke through barriers and demanded to be seen, to be heard, and to participate is nothing short of extraordinary. These things don’t change easily or quickly! The intestinal fortitude required by individuals and organizations to buck the “norms” around them is not insubstantial. Nothing would ever have changed without their bravery and persistence.

Mentorship has to be next. Nobody makes it through barriers alone. The willingness of “first in” individuals and committed current leaders to bring others into the rooms where decisions are made is so important.

And the obvious one that underpins so much of the change that’s happening around us is technology. Innovation, brilliance and skills are all amplified by the technological advancements we now have at our disposal. That technology removes some of the barriers that once existed to bring great ideas into the light and showcase the talents of those innovators. Technology has created greater access to resources, information and the collaboration many of us only dreamed about.

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 percent 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?

We could probably spend all afternoon talking about this topic alone!

The biggest thing, the first thing, for individuals is to check your bias. It’s there whether you know it or not. Get smart about it. Check out Harvard’s Implicit Bias research and tests — it will surprise you.

Once you’ve done that, notice — really notice — who is in your meetings, your restaurants, your day-to-day activities. Get curious about how and why that level of diversity came to be. And then, of course, speak up!

Ask leaders in your company questions about diversity. Ask “why” questions and ask “why not” questions. One question that can really drive change is to ask for — and practice — transparency around diversity data and objectives in your business.

For companies, the first one is easy — you must hold people accountable. This doesn’t mean setting unrealistic goals, but it does mean making diversity progress REAL to the leaders, recruiters and hiring managers in your company. You know the adage: people pay attention to the things they’re measured on.

Creating and supporting employee resource groups is another best practice. At NTT DATA, I helped start Women Inspire NTT DATA — the first employee resource group in the company! We have since launched seven chapters with more than 650 participants around the world.

Lastly, pay attention to the data. Understand what’s driving the diversity or lack thereof in your organization. Pinpoint the breaks in the system and take action to fix them.

On to things we can do in society…this may sound contrived, but it’s not. Opening your eyes and your hearts is probably the most powerful thing you can do. See, really see, the talent around you. Investment banking skills do not uniquely reside in males — not even close! The same could be said for many other industries, too.

Secondly, stop making assumptions. For real. Just ask! In Organization Development, we talk about something called the ‘ladder of inference.’ Every time we make an assumption or select just certain parts of what we observe to add to our decision-making process, the further away we get from a clean answer. Just ask! Don’t assume a woman won’t want a particular role because of her family obligations. Don’t assume a person of color is not interested in joining a team because they haven’t volunteered. Ask!

I guess the wrapper on the society front is promoting and electing leaders who value diversity of all kinds — age, gender, race, ethnicity, sexual identity, types of business experience, introversion/extroversion, you name it. Elect leaders who champion all of us, but especially champion those who have traditionally been left behind or excluded.

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?

1. Sleep on big financial decisions. They will either be clearer in the morning, or not. Either outcome will tell you something. You know that car that you really want to buy? Contrary to what the salesperson says, you do not need to decide right this minute. Sleep on it. If that is still THE car for you, go back and buy it. If not, revise your search.

2. Tracking every little expenditure you make is not worth the time. Yes, little things add up and you should be intentional about how you spend, period, but tracking every $5 purchase isn’t nearly as impactful as focusing on your large regular expenditures, particularly the ones that can’t be changed quickly or easily, like a mortgage. This especially true when you’re planning for large expenditures — like buying that house. When you’re in a defensive position — needing to tighten your belt — that’s when you focus on the little expenses, like the $15 daily Starbucks habit.

3. Think about investing, not saving. Saving will never get you there because of inflation. A recent article indicates that the average rate for savings account is only .26% while the inflation rate is 2.3%. You simply cannot save your way to wealth. Investing might be intimidating, but you must do it. There are a lot of great tools out there to support you no matter your skill level, and there are also a lot of good advisors out there who can help. Which way you go matters less than that you go!

4. Make sure you spend something on learning. This can be investing in developing skills through education, or in broadening your mind through interesting travel and exposure to new environments, people and cultures. In fact, these may well be the very best investments you ever make. A few years ago I went back to school to get my second master’s degree, this time in Organization Development, and just this semester I wrapped up a Graduate Certificate in Executive Coaching. We’d need to be together a lot longer if I was to recount travels that have impacted the way I think! It may be counter-intuitive, but for me and my family travel expenses ARE investments in our futures!

5. And lastly, check the small print. Sometimes that’s where the most important things to know are found. Fees levied against your financial accounts, mutual funds, advisor fees, cancellation fees for travel arrangements — it all adds up. Know what you’ve committed to when you sign on the dotted line.

None of us are 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?

You are so right about nobody getting there alone! There are many people I’ve known in my career that I’m incredibly grateful for. Most of those people set terrific examples for me and helped me grow. And a few of those people showed me what I didn’t want in my career and the kind of leader I didn’t want to be.

But there’s one person without whom I certainly would not be where I am today. Her name was Anne Doss, and I worked for and with her for more than fifteen years before her much too early passing in 2013.

She taught me the power of presence. When you were with her, you always felt as if you were absolutely the most important person in the world. It was such an empowering and motivating thing to feel completely heard and to know the depth of commitment she had to your success. Being around her always made you feel like you could accomplish anything!

She also taught me the power of authenticity. Anne was uniquely herself and never compromised on that, in any way. She encouraged me to be me, and only me by approaching my work from my own unique point of view, to bring my individual perspective and contributions to the conversations at hand, and to value the unique contributions we all make to the world around us, and to care openly and deeply!

As a result of my relationship with Anne, I don’t try to hide my emotions as work — people see me joyous and, as against the rules as this is, people see me cry. The only way I am my best at work is if I let myself be me. Wasting energy to create false fronts or to play a role just isn’t for me, and I think because of that, I resonate as a genuine and caring leader within my organization and as a committed and real partner to my clients.

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

Einstein is credited with saying, “There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is.”

Life is not a series of big, fat events. It’s the collection of little, tiny, breath-taking moments that you miss unless your eyes and heart are open. Let’s face it, sometimes life and work aren’t easy, but if we’re open to it, there’s always something miraculous to see and celebrate.

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. 🙂

This one isn’t particularly original, but we need to bring kindness back. Assume positive intent in the people around you. Ask a question instead of jumping to judgment. Offer to help someone without any expectation of a payback.

It costs nothing to be kind, while the rewards that come back to us as individuals and as a human race are priceless.

Thank you for all of these great insights!

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