“Take risks and be better.” This is the powerful guiding mantra for CWB Women, a grassroots employee-led initiative that began taking shape in 2016 as a way to empower and inspire women to take on leadership roles in what can sometimes be viewed as a traditionally male-dominated sector. Spearheaded by Vanessa Noga, assistant vice president of Credit Risk Management at CWB, it has become a beacon for other leaders within the organization and staff who aspire to stretch and grow as professionals.
“We encourage people to reach their full potential,” explains Jennifer Yuen, senior manager of Retail Banking and a member of the women’s group since 2017. “We really need to progress in this area as women. Some of us are still less willing to take risks, are still shy and fall prey to the ‘old school’ mentality. We want to move women away from that mindset.”
Supporting women on their career journeys
CWB Women began in earnest when Vanessa Noga came on board the CWB team. “I reached out to our HR team and asked if we held any events to celebrate International Women’s Day,” explains Vanessa. “I put together a proposal, and our HR team helped convene a working group to bring it to life.” From there, CWB Women became formalized in January 2017, and a male and female executive champion were brought onboard to provide strategic direction.
The goal is to inspire, develop and connect women at CWB. “We’ve held 17 events to date, bringing people together to connect and learn,” Vanessa continues. “When looking at diversity and inclusion, we also developed a charter with hopes that as other diversity initiatives are established at CWB, they can use our framework to help them get started.” To reach all women at CWB, we have established Women Champions in all branches and teams, and are utilizing technology options to bring value to all teams.
This initiative is one fully supported and recognized by CWB, as the bank continually strives to support employees’ professional growth and build inclusive work environments. And the creation and development of initiatives like CWB Women helps CWB make even further strides in diversification and inclusion, particularly in leadership positions. Through understanding what barriers hinder women from filling these leadership roles, CWB can take the necessary steps to empower them.
The group’s implementation is also straightforward and effective. “We meet once a month and come up with ideas on what we should focus on, and each year we host our flagship event on International Women’s Day in our major centres,” Jennifer says. “Last year, we held a panel discussion in Edmonton comprising executives and board members on women’s leadership and videotaped this event to make it accessible to every team.”
Making a tangible impact
The events also help reinforce this supportive environment and drive home the message of inclusivity and acceptance. “When we held our International Women’s Day events last year, people really felt a sense of pride,” says Vanessa. CWB Women is also eager to help support our communities, and has raised over $70,000 through Women Build events to support Habitat for Humanity.
For Vanessa, the necessity of the CWB Women initiative, however, extends beyond individual development.
“It’s all about building a community where people feel they belong. We want to help build connections, confidence and work environments where we can all be our very best,” says Vanessa.
“Seeing and feeling the immediate support within our leadership for this initiative told me this is the organization I want to be a part of and help grow”. Moreover, she believes that for CWB to attract the kind of talent that delivers superior customer service and business outcomes, the bank needs to be a reflection of the populations they serve.
Having leadership champions from within
While this initiative has focused on and involves women, there is support and pride from the men at CWB as well. This creates a positive community for all, and has encouraged even more women to step forward and participate.
“It started off with just a few people in the Edmonton region, and now we have tripled our team and added regional teams in Calgary, Vancouver and most recently Winnipeg,” Jennifer says. “Women are wanting to be part of this and to be heard.”
Support from the executive level has provided strong momentum as well, particularly in the form of access to female leaders with opportunities for them to share their personal experiences and offer guidance. They've been advocates for the group from the start and have continued their involvement in the form of intimate quarterly Fireside Chats across CWB markets for 2019.
CWB Women is eager to engage both men and women in their events and discussions. “Understanding what is holding women back, and identifying ways to help us all move forward is a conversation we all need to be a part of,” says Vanessa.
Jennifer concludes by reiterating how much of a positive influence being a member of this group has had in helping her take that risk and leap of faith to become an inspiring leader for others. “I’m so lucky to have been asked to join. But it’s not just me; it’s us. Let’s do it together.”
If you want to become part of this forward-thinking team and join an organization that supports your professional growth and success, check out CWB’s many opportunities to find one that’s right for you.