MetaBank bucks industry trend with majority female leadership

This piece is presented by MetaBank.

By Katie LeBrun, corporate communications director

This group of women represents something unique in business.

More than half – 56 percent – of the senior vice president leadership at MetaBank in Sioux Falls is female.

That’s unusual for any industry, but even more so in banking. LeanIn.Org reports 20 percent of women hold executive roles by the time they reach the senior vice president level. It also explains why so few women become CEOs.

Meta, however, has achieved a more balanced leadership team. Senior leader Kathy Thorson is one of the first female bank market presidents in Sioux Falls and believes Meta has created a culture that supports leadership development for both men and women.

Senior leaders from MetaBank recently sat down to discuss their experiences, opinions and advice for upcoming leaders.

Jeanni Stahl, senior vice president chief risk and compliance officer

What makes Meta unique from a leadership perspective?

Meta is flexible in that it allows you to be innovative and creative. You get to develop staff and watch them grow in their roles. It takes a special skill set to adapt and think about where the company will be in the future.

What are the challenges you’ve faced as a leader?

Maintaining Meta’s culture, which is what attracted a lot of us to work here, has been challenging during this time of rapid growth. It’s something we work at every day.

What advice can you give to aspiring leaders?

Do the right thing and success will follow. Don’t worry so much about the exact end goal; it’s about the journey.

Beth Ormseth, senior vice president of payment operations

What makes Meta unique from a leadership perspective?

Compared to past leadership positions I’ve held at other organizations, Meta has a smaller employee-to-manager ratio. But that doesn’t make it less challenging because you’re required to be a jack-of-all-trades and manage all aspects of your process instead of managing a more narrow function. You have to be flexible.

What are the challenges you’ve faced as a leader?

Managing millennials has been both a blessing and a challenge. We’ve had great success hiring people in that age group, but they want to move up quickly. You have to expect that your new hires will not be in their positions for the next 10 years, and as a leader, you must plan for that change. You know that many younger employees want challenges. Luckily, Meta continuously changes, so we have ways for young employees to grow and learn.

What advice can you give to aspiring leaders?

I have always told people that there is no straight ladder approach to leadership or success. Leadership evolves, a stair step back and forth and includes sideways, up, down and lateral moves. It’s all about gaining knowledge and experience in different areas. A varied resume of experience, in my opinion, makes for the best leaders.

Jenn Warren, senior vice president head of operations

What makes Meta unique from a leadership perspective?

Meta needs a large team of leaders due to its diverse product offerings and tech solutions, which provides an unusual structure for financial services providers in the local markets and beyond. Furthermore, over 50 percent of the Meta SVPs in Sioux Falls are female, which demonstrates the diversity in personnel that makes Meta stand out from its peers.

What are the challenges you’ve faced as a leader?

The biggest challenge for me is accepting that perfection is not attainable when you’re trying to be nimble. This business moves fast, so I’ve learned to accept that not all our projects will end up as we planned. Flexibility and adaptability become important attributes.

What advice can you give to aspiring leaders?

Reassure teams that it’s OK to feel uncomfortable. If it doesn’t challenge you, it doesn’t change you. You learn the most when things aren’t easy. Gaining diverse experience enhances you as an asset in a global economy.

Connie Burrer, senior vice president enterprise project management

What makes Meta unique from a leadership perspective?

Meta offered me the unique opportunity to build the vision of my team. They gave me the flexibility and innovation to build a team without unnecessary structure hindering our progress. This allows me and my team to be more entrepreneurial in our work approach.

What are the challenges you’ve faced as a leader?

Multigenerational managing challenges me. Each generational worker wants something different. The younger generation is not going to be in a job for 20 or 25 years like someone from the baby boomer generation.

What advice can you give to aspiring leaders?

Look for different experiences, whether it’s at one company or at many companies. Don’t plan your life so much! There’s this expected trajectory of where you’re supposed to be at certain points in your life. And life doesn’t always go as planned.

Sonja Theisen, senior vice president chief accounting officer

What makes Meta unique from a leadership perspective?

Servant leadership exists at Meta, which is relatively rare in financial institutions. Meta recognizes leaders for putting the needs of their teams first and making the right decisions for them, all while balancing the necessity of making smart business decisions for our shareholders.

What are the challenges you’ve faced as a leader?

Motivating teams when projects or ideas do not come to fruition remains very difficult. Teams put blood, sweat and tears into doing the best possible job they can, and then they may not get rewarded with seeing the end result. Constant communication, encouragement and celebrating the small wins becomes a must in these situations, along with sending a positive message and expectations when new opportunities arise.

What advice can you give to aspiring leaders?

Engage with your team and make them excited about what they accomplish every day. Encourage them to champion change and step out of their comfort zones. Don’t be afraid to make decisions. Also, be flexible and understand your audience. Some individuals thrive off of certain leadership styles, but depending on the situation, you will be more or less successful by utilizing different traits. Sometimes you need to coach, other times you need to mediate, other times you need to set performance standards. You might not be good at all the different styles, but you need to be able to recognize them.

Kathy Thorson, Sioux Empire market president

What makes Meta unique from a leadership perspective?

Our executive team looks at giving people an opportunity. They look at your passions and strengths.

What are the challenges you’ve faced as a leader?

Going from a small-bank mentality to becoming a large bank is challenging for my team and me. We’re transitioning to better efficiencies and processes. We have to understand that not everybody can know or do everything. Each team member has to learn to become specialized in their area and then work as a team.

What advice can you give to aspiring leaders?

It takes hard work and commitment. But don’t be afraid to hire people that can challenge you and push you past your comfort zone.

MetaBank bucks industry trend with majority female leadership

More than half – 56 percent – of the senior vice president leadership at MetaBank in Sioux Falls is female. That’s unusual for any industry, but even more so in banking.

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