Virtual Miami at the Merc focuses on women in finance

Women participating in Zoom call

Today, Kay Geiger is the Greater Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky regional president for PNC Bank. But when she was a marketing major at Miami University in the late 1970s, one place she had no interest in working was at a bank. “My international business professor said, 'I want you to go interview at this bank.' And I'm like 'A bank? I want to go into global. I want to work for a multinational.' I had that language background and a long list of reasons why I wanted to be in international business. He said, 'I want you to go interview.' So I did it – I guess I wanted to make sure I got a good grade in his class,” she explained.

“Once I took that first job, I realized this is an incredible opportunity. It fit all the things I wanted. I wanted to be in the people business. I wanted to have deep technical skills that I have to use from my degrees. I wanted to really be able to have a diverse experience. So it's a very, very rich and intellectually challenging place to be,” Geiger said.

Geiger joined Joy Harper '02, a finance principal at Google and Jeneen Marziani '93, Ohio market president for Bank of America, for a virtual Miami University Alumni Association "Miami at the Merc" event, centered on advancing women in the field of finance. Hosted by Farmer School assocate dean Barnali Gupta, the trio talked about ways to grow the number of women working in finance and their power within the industry.

“I actually did not see myself at all in business or finance. I really hadn't thought about exploring it,” Marziani said. “I had heard about this company called Bank of America. When I had my interview there, it just felt like home to me.”

“When you think about working capital and what we can do, you're helping small businesses, you're helping homeowners have their first home, students be able to go to college. When you think about giving people dreams and hopes and all of those types of things, when you're helping communities in need. I really do feel like sometimes people look at finance and ask 'Is it something that's really warm (and personal?)'” she said. “Yes, I do believe it really is. When you really get down to the nuts and bolts, this is what makes not only America work, but the world.”

Looking at the issue of retaining women in the financial industry, Harper said having strong mentors who encouraged her made a big difference. “I started in Cleveland. One of the partners encouraged me to do a rotation in Washington, D.C. I moved there, spent some time in the capital markets industry, learning a bit more about that,” she recalled. “I then took another opportunity, based on very senior women in the Washington D.C. office, pushing me to do an international rotation in London. And even then, once I got to London, very strong mentors and very strong sponsors helped me land a great opportunity here in San Francisco, which led me into proper financial services, working for BlackRock.”

“If you hire key talent, one of the ways to retain them is put them on great projects, give them interesting work, and for those who are interested, find ways to promote them, whether it's in the role that they're in, moving outside of their current role, or moving to a different product area,” Harper said.

The women said that an important part of a sustainable strategy for financial companies is to not only promote women, but show women that there's a viable path to promotion. “Do you see yourself in other roles? Do you see that they're moving people? What are the learning tools that they're providing a fresh college graduate? What does that program look like? What is their retention rate? Do they have a mentorship program? Do they have a tuition reimbursement program so that you can continue to have the opportunity to hone and refine your skills as you are advancing?” Marziani said.

But another part of that strategy requires that women advocate for themselves and keep learning, the women said. “When you come up to your annual review or your bi-annual, ask for something. Ask for more money, ask for promotion, ask for new opportunities,” Harper said. “But make sure you're qualified for it.”

“I think investing in yourself means inside and outside, and that leads to promoting yourself,” Geiger noted. “It's not the ladder, it's the development you have in order to make you even better and better in whatever it is, projects, knowledge or leadership.”

Geiger said that learning process doesn't necessarily have to come from within the company. “Whatever community you're in, there's also natural organizations – non-profits and chambers of commerce – that are focused on a very wide variety of members, small business, mid-sized, large, corporate. And there is a lot of leadership and training and development in those kinds of organizations,” she remarked.

All three women remarked on the importance of networking, whether it's through LinkedIn, alumni, friends, or even family. “We are networking resources for each other. When people reach out to me about public accounting, I actually send them to my brother, because he's in public accounting. So don't discount your immediate circles,” Harper said. “Today's technology allows you to see so much more, and you may not realize that you have connections at certain organizations. It's so cool to be able to see on how deep and how broad some of the Miami connections have become,” Marziani noted. “I think that that network is so broad and vast, and you just have to keep working at it.”

“I was just thinking how the CEO of the Museum Center, a Miami alum, asked for me to reach out to somebody in Columbus for her spouse. I don't know him, but I have people that I know in Columbus that are in his industry and it was all a Miami connection,” Geiger said. “Now I'm not saying everything has to be Miami, but if you just have one connectivity, the connectivity is endless just with Miami alum.”