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Women in Banking: Progress Made and Paying It Forward

Our People
Headshots of five female Southern First bankers who spoke on the Women in Banking panel.

In honor of International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month, we held a panel discussion for our associates with five incredible women on the Southern First team from across our footprint – Tracey Smith, Nakesha Atkins, Kendra Pfeiler, Laura Keefer, and Katie Moore. They shared important lessons learned, sage advice, and personal stories from their long and successful careers in banking, and we are excited to share some of their insights with you.

Women’s History is Recent History

As we discuss women’s history, it is important to remember just how recent many of the milestones are. Until just fifty years ago, women could be denied credit if their husband didn’t co-sign for a loan. In 1974, the Equal Credit Opportunity Act was established to prohibit credit discrimination based on sex or marital status. Women also faced obstacles to becoming an entrepreneur until 1988, when the Women’s Business Ownership Act was introduced, helping women starting new businesses receive financing. In the 1990s and 2000s, the introduction of the Family Medical Leave Act and Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act made strides to ensure more women could both enter and remain in the workforce.

Changes in Banking

Our panelists have witnessed many of these changes first-hand. Atlanta Team Leader and SVP Tracey Smith said, “When I started my career in the big banks, you didn’t see any women in the C-suite. It just didn’t happen.”

Laura Keefer, Raleigh Team Leader and VP, added, “Women were mostly branch managers, operations managers, or in support roles when I started, and the sales side was male dominated. The biggest change I’ve seen is that women now have more opportunities in sales and leadership.”

“You see a lot more ideas and influence from women today – both in the bank and outside the bank with female clients who own companies,” shared Kendra Pfeiler, Director of Loan Operations and SVP.

Smith concluded, “It thrills me that there are so many powerful women who are running banks today and have a seat at the table - and are making a seat at the table for the young women coming into banking.”

The Importance of Relationships

Nakesha Atkins and Kendra Pfeiler at the Women in Banking panel.Smith has a powerful point about ensuring that seat at the table continues for the next generation. When asked about opportunities for professional development, several of our panelists mentioned the encouragement they had along the way from mentors, coworkers, and friends and how they aim to do the same for others.

Deposit Operations Associate Nakesha Atkins explains, “I’ve been very blessed in my 23 years in banking to have managers and mentors that have poured a great deal into me and allowed me to blossom. I believe in paying it forward and doing that for others now. When people feel appreciated and heard, they take that energy and apply it wherever they go. Each person brings value to the table, and when you can help someone find their value and purpose and shine a light on that so they can see it themselves, there’s nothing they can’t accomplish.”

Keefer agreed, adding, “I’ve been really blessed to have advocates for my career. They have pushed me to do more and be more. It’s really important to have people who believe in you and can help you. Anybody can be a mentor. They don’t have to be in a leadership role or at your organization. I’ve learned from many different people in different roles and at different organizations.”

Katie Moore, Columbia Client Experience Office and AVP, explained that professional development can also happen outside of your office’s walls. She said, “Professional development for me has also been getting involved in the community and meeting other people. Don’t be afraid to share your experiences or ask for help. You never know how you’re going to impact somebody’s life and how that can help you develop as well.”

Banking with Impact

Women in Banking panel event at Southern First.

As you can tell, these women are passionate about impacting the lives of others, which we’ve found to be a key factor in providing the best experience possible to our clients and our associates. When asked what she enjoys most about her career, Keefer said, “the ability to help people and really change peoples’ lives.”

“The financial industry is a service industry, and I’m a servant at heart. We are able to make a positive impact on our clients and communities, and it really does bring joy,” shared Atkins.

Moore added, “I love being able to make an impact on someone’s life through coaching, whether it’s a teammate or client, and the banking industry provides so many options - retail, HR, marketing, operations. If you don’t love what you’re doing, you can stay within the bank and move in a different direction.”

“We serve through guidance - helping people see how they can improve their financial picture – and with our team, I try to come in every day and find something great to say about them and encourage them to be who they want to be. I love what I do and the people I do it with. I think banking is the best career you can have,” stated Smith.

Mindset is Key

Virtual panelists called in to the event via Zoom.

One of Southern First’s core values is “Enjoy the Journey.” In every industry and career path, there are challenges, and our panelists had some excellent advice for maintaining a positive mindset when facing adversity in your journey.

Moore said, “I think it’s important to never stop learning. Be inquisitive and ask questions. When change comes, view it as a challenge, rather than a problem. It’s all about perspective. When you can have the mentality of ‘I’m going to make this work,’ it’s invigorating, and you can look at an issue as a puzzle to solve.”

“When you see someone that is frustrated, that’s an opportunity. Go in with a clear mind, find out the underlying need, and see how you can help. And remember to forgive yourself when you make mistakes. Mistakes are learning opportunities,” notes Pfeiler. 

Atkins explains, “We all have an opportunity to foster nurturing, loving, and kind work environments. The company culture is us. It is every one of us. A smile or a kind word goes a long way. It is our responsibility to make sure that we are creating and leaving positive impacts on each other. Don’t leave it to just leaders to create the environment. We can all take on that responsibility.”

We are fortunate to have so many talented women at our bank who care deeply about helping others thrive in their roles in and outside of our offices. If you’re interested in learning more about banking with Southern First, click here to find a banker, and if you think banking could be a good fit for you, click here to learn more about joining our team.

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