How to Support Women and Their Careers in Banking

Marla Wilner

October 02, 2020 - Our Leaders United States

Insights from TD's Marla Willner, One of American Banker's Women to Watch

Marla Willner, Head of Corporate and Specialty Banking and Executive Chair of the Women in Leadership Council at TD Bank, was just named one of American Banker's Women to Watch for the second year in a row!

We sat down with the Bank leader to talk about this prestigious honor, a tumultuous 2020 and her advice for other women in the industry.

Congratulations on the honor! What do you think the significance of honors like this are and how do they help advance women in the banking industry?

Thank you! With awards like this, I think we hold the industry accountable to make sure that we are being more inclusive than we have been in the past. Seeing so many of my peers honored reminds me of all the positive change we have made, and I think it is a nod to the honorees and their organizations that their work is being seen and appreciated. However, it is important to consider intersectionality and strive for more diverse representation on the list.

What are you most proud of this year?

I am so proud of the work my team has done to help Customers through the pandemic. I have loved seeing the One TD model at work for my line of business -- Corporate and Specialty Banking. We have been able to refer new business to other parts of the TD family. As a result, we have been able to continue to grow our revenue even with the significant challenges that came this year. My team also did a fantastic job supporting each other. We started a new Well-Being Committee dedicated to helping each other manage stress and people stepped up to take on additional work to support their colleagues.

Do you feel we spend enough time celebrating wins, specifically the ground women have been gaining in the workplace?

TD does a great job taking time to celebrate, and I think that's important during years like this. Women have made great strides in the workforce, but there is so much work to be done. Sometimes you can feel defeated if you do not take time to embrace how far we have come and all we have accomplished. By celebrating the progress we have made, we remind ourselves that change is possible.

What would you like to see occur in the industry to help open more doors for women?

For women to advance more equitably in the workforce, it is essential that we repair the "broken rung" in the career ladder. It is wonderful to support women at the highest levels within a company—we are making real progress there—but research shows us that most women are actually knocked off track early in their careers, when they are passed over for leadership positions or promoted more slowly than their male equivalents. This year, a major focus for the Women in Leadership Council is to try to reach women at every stage of their careers. WiL is developing "Lean In Circles" that we are looking to launch in 2021 as a development opportunity for women at all stages of their career.

The industry also needs more of an emphasis on inclusion. Diversity is one of TD's strengths, and I would like to see us continue to draw on that strength. We need to continue to hire and promote a diverse workforce that reflects the communities we serve.

What advice do you have for other women looking to grow?

Do not forget to prioritize your wellness. It is easy to fall into a pattern where you are always giving and working without taking time for yourself. I think that has been especially hard for women this year, with childcare plans disrupted and the lines between personal and work life blurring. The long-term impact of caregiver fatigue caused by COVID-19 can be deeply damaging for women's careers. As a recent McKinsey study showed, one in five women have considered dropping out of the work force at least temporarily in response to the pandemic. I have been working with CSB's Well-Being Committee and WiL to help provide colleagues with ways to counteract that.

We are doing a panel series that looks at different parts of wellness. The most recent, Power of the Purse, looked at financial wellness. There is also an event coming up in November that will focus on career development and networking in a virtual world.

What is the most inspiring thing you have seen at TD that tells you we are on the right track?

The way TD moved immediately to protect and support employees this year really impressed me. It was heartening to see TD really prioritize employee safety and well-being when the pandemic hit. I was also impressed by our stance against the continued systemic racism in this country. I am proud to work at a place that is not afraid to say we have zero tolerance for racism, and the way the Bank has responded by stepping up to have the hard conversations gives me a lot of hope for the future. We have a lot of work ahead of us, but I believe we are on the right track and we are on it together.


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