By LYNN LOFTON
Women have stepped from behind tellers’ cages as the role of women in banking is changing in what is considered a male dominated field. In banks across the state women bankers are leading and assuming more responsibilities. Two such examples are Mary Childs and Teresa Thornhill. Childs is CEO of the Peoples Bank of Ripley and last year served as the Mississippi Bankers Association’s first chairwoman. Thornhill is chief wealth management officer for Citizens National Bank of Meridian where she is responsible for the oversight of the Wealth Management Division with more than $1.3 billion in assets under administration and management.
“The mix of men and women in banking brings more diversity because women tend to have a different perspective; men and women look at things differently,” Childs said. “Women have a lot more opportunities now as far as management positions go.”
Thornhill sees more women leading subsidiaries and divisions of major U.S. banking corporations. “Mary McNiff was recently appointed chief executive officer of Citibank N.A., the banking unit of Citigroup which is approximately 75 percent of Citigroup’s total assets. Her predecessor, Barbara Desoer, held the position since 2014,” she said. “Within the regional banking arena, Beth Mooney assumed responsibilities as chairman and CEO of KeyCorp in 2011, and in 2016 Nandita Bakhshi was named president and CEO of Bank of the West, just to name a couple. However, a female CEO of one of the largest U.S. banking corporations still eludes the industry.”
Published statistical information on the topic of gender parity in banking is varied with some support of equal employment in the work force, but there is agreement that females are the minority in executive management.
Childs, who’s been in banking 40 years with 29 of those years at Peoples Bank, has held numerous leadership positions with the MBA and currently serves on the board of directors. “I haven’t really felt I faced challenges because I’m a woman, but the time factor is hardest for women who’re juggling career and family,” she said. “Family support is very important.”
Thornhill says she’s had the pleasure of working with many qualified women who have led departments with decision making responsibilities. “This has allowed me to learn from them throughout my career,” she said. “I have always been afforded unique, challenging positions within banking organizations that would not have been available to me in most corporate structures. I have experience working with proprietary mutual funds companies, registered investment advisors, trust divisions and brokerage financial services companies.”
Although she has worked for a bank for more than 25 years, she does not consider herself a banker. “My career began in the investment industry, but in the 1990s banks were growing their non-interest income lines of business by expanding into investment and insurance services,” she said. “As a result, these institutions were recruiting persons with knowledge in these areas. I found it to be a good fit for my skills and experience.”
Before joining Citizens Bank, Thornhill worked for Trustmark National Bank and First American National Bank/Deposit Guaranty National Bank in several management positions.
With a banker father, Childs was around banking all her life and saw it as a good way to help people and the community. “Being able to help someone start a business, buy a car, get an education or buy a home is rewarding. Banking has to be more than just a job,” she said.
Her advice to women who may be considering banking as a career is to learn all they can and be willing to start at the bottom. “You can’t learn too much and starting at the bottom is a good thing.”
Thornhill agrees with that advice. “Complete as many years of advanced education as possible,” she said. “Work with the best and brightest people and challenge yourself. My most rewarding professional growth has been from exposure to persons who are the best in their respective fields.”
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