Gender Balance is Getting More Attention in Equipment Leasing & Finance Industry

As leaders in the equipment leasing and finance industry address the need to recognize more women in leadership, an ELFA council was formed and its leader Lori Frasier points to research finding that gender-balanced teams are more effective. A Women in Leasing event at the trade association’s convention this month should be well attended.

Podcast Transcript, Oct. 5, 2017

 

Jon Fales: Hi, and welcome to “The Alta Group Podcast.” I’m your host, Jon Fales, and today we’ll be discussing an important topic, women in leasing, with Lori Frasier, Senior Vice President of Strategy and Performance Management with Key Equipment Finance. Lori also heads up the recently announced Women’s Council and the Equipment Leasing and Finance Association. Today we’ll discuss the history of the ELFA Women’s Council, plans for the future, and what the council aims to achieve in the months ahead. Hi, Lori Frasier, good morning.

Lori Frasier: Hi, Jon Fales. How are you doing?

Jon Fales: I am doing great.

Jon Fales: The purpose of our call is to talk about women in leasing, and you have been very, very involved in this important area of the business now for a number of years. Could you tell me a little bit more about why this is a topic that’s important right now?

Lori Frasier: You know, this topic has been of concern to the leadership of the leasing industry for many, many years, Jon. We recognize as leadership in the ELFA that we have an opportunity to see more balanced leadership teams across our industry, and when I talk about balance here, I’m talking about gender balance, so, you know, what we know is that teams that have a greater balance between men and women in leadership roles are more effective. Research really bears that out. And we know that in the leasing industry we still have an opportunity to achieve greater balance, and so over last couple of years, the ELFA has really decided to put more targeted focus around this topic. It’s something that we’ve been talking about for many, many years, but we feel like the time is right now to put some more focus on it.

Jon Fales: You know, I mean, when you go to the ELFA convention and look around, you don’t see nearly enough women at all. You look at leadership positions and the major leasing companies, and women are very underrepresented at the executive ranks. Do you have any data or statistics on what the actual proportion of women in the leasing industry is right now?

Lori Frasier: You know, we don’t have specific data on the leasing industry itself. We know that financial services in general has over 50% representation of women across all positions, but as you move up in the ranks across all of financial services and get, you know, higher and higher looking at those leadership teams, the ratio of men to women goes down precipitously. You know, there are very few women in the most senior roles across financial services and banking, and we see that same pattern reflected in the leasing industry.

Jon Fales: So, what was it that prompted the interest in this from the ELFA?

Lori Frasier: You know, this is really a topic that the ELFA’s been talking about for many, many years. And I think that when I was elected to the board a couple of years ago…so I think my first full year was 2016 on the board, and, you know, I really brought the issue to the forefront, and after that, the ELFA, you know, instead of continuing to talk about the issue, put some real focus around it. And so I really think that, you know, it’s been a topic of concern for a long time, and it was just waiting for a leader to try to take it on and champion the cause.

Jon Fales: And so that leader was you, obviously, and several other women in the industry. What happened when you made the decision to start focusing on it? What were some of the first things that you did?

Lori Frasier: Well, you know, one of the first things that we did was, you know, look for volunteers from across the industry, other folks who have a passion for this issue, and we put a working group together. And the working group really spent quite a bit of time talking about the issues, doing some research, and thinking about, you know, what are some of the things we could do to start to influence the industry leadership toward, you know, striving for more balanced leadership in our industry.

You know, so there are a number of ways that we can do that, and, you know, one of those is just simply to raise awareness. And so, you know, as you know, there was recently an article, cover story actually, in the ELFA magazine, and, you know, that story actually, I think, got more hits on social media than any other cover story they’ve had, so it’s clearly a topic of interest across the industry. And, you know, the working group had continued to meet and talk about what we can do to continue to raise awareness and influence this issue in our industry.

Jon Fales: I know it’s still very early days, but do you have any preliminary ideas, or targets, or thoughts that we can do as an industry to do better here?

Lori Frasier: Well, you know, one of the most visible things that we do as in industry, as you know, Jon, is the annual convention, and it’s coming up this year in October and will be back in Florida again this year. And so, you know, one of the things that we’ve talked about in our working group is how we get, first of all, more women to attend the convention, because we really feel like attendance at the convention is sort of an outward sign of one’s engagement in the industry.

And so, you know, how can we increase the number of women attending the convention and make women feel more welcome and more, you know, a part of things when they do attend the convention. So a couple of things that are going on this year, we are, once again, gonna be hosting an ELFA Women’s Council Women in Leasing Reception at the conventions, and, you know, we’re gonna be having a lot more leadership from the industry there than we’ve had in the past, so we’ll have…the entire ELFA board has been invited.

We’re inviting members of the Business Council Steering Committees so that we actually have the opportunity at the cocktail reception, not to just network with other women in leasing, but to network with the leadership in the industry as well in a more, you know, kind of smaller and intimate setting than the convention overall. And we think that will be a great opportunity for, you know, women to get to know some of the leadership in the industry, and, again, we’re hoping that builds more engagement with the association.

Jon Fales: Yeah, I hope it does, too. I remember I went to the reception last year, and the attendance was good. You know, there were a fair number of people there, but we need a lot more focus and a lot more of like the board attending and so forth. I think that’s a nice step in the right direction.

Lori Frasier: Yes, absolutely. And the other thing that you’ll see at the convention that’s here for the first time is that one of the breakout sessions is actually gonna be focused on the topic of gender-balanced leadership. So we’re really excited we have a nationally-known author and speaker who’ll be doing one of the breakouts for us. You know, we expect that it’ll be pretty well-attended. We’ll be hyping it out at the cocktail reception, but we think it’s gonna be a topic that draws quite a bit of interest. And so that’s a first as well, to have a breakout session focused on this. So we’re pretty excited about those two things that’ll be happening a little bit differently at the convention this year.

Jon Fales: That’s terrific. I didn’t know about the breakout session. I’ll bet that gets very good attendance. I hope so. One other thing, too, when we were talking the other day, you told me a statistic that was astonishing to me. What percent of attendees at last year’s convention were women?

Lori Frasier: So, last year there were only…about 10% of the attendants last year was women, so about 1 woman to every 10 men who attended the convention, and I found that pretty astonishing as well, Jon Fales. I really felt that we were seeing greater numbers of women at the convention, and, actually, I think we have been. But as the attendance at the convention overall grows, we need to find ways to grow the attendance of women even faster, because we have seen the convention, which is great news for our industry to get bigger and bigger the last couple of years, but at that same time, you know, the percentage of women has not been growing. We’d like to see that level of engagement and that level of attendance grow much faster in the future.

Jon Fales: And, obviously, attendance of the convention is important, but there’s other things as well, like getting more women in the industry moving up in the industry into management and executive positions and so forth. When the Women’s Council meets, what kinds of things are you gonna discuss and tackle, do you think?

Lori Frasier: You know, I think that we’re actually gonna be having our first strategic planning meeting this year actually just following the convention when we we’re all there at the convention. And I’m excited about putting together a three to five-year strategy focused on both, kind of, year-term and event-driven opportunities such as the convention, as I’ve just described, but also longer term, you know, what can we do to really influence this issue in a more meaningful way. Because you’re right, while attendance of the convention is a one measure, certainly what we’d like to see is that leadership teams be more a better representative of a balanced team and that our leadership teams in the industry simply have more women on them, and that would, you know, by nature, you know, have more women in attendance at the convention.

And so we’re gonna be putting some thought into that, and, obviously, you know, one thing is just simply to raise awareness around the issue and also to educate folks on the fact that, as I said earlier, you know, what we know from research, and this is across all industries, is that gender-balanced leadership teams tend to drive greater results. So what company wouldn’t want greater results, right? You know, companies that have more balanced teams in their leadership ranks as well as on their boards tend to have greater returns, tend to have greater long-term financial success, and so I think raising awareness around that is the first step. You know, it’s like they say, “The first step is just admitting you have a problem,” right?

You know, so we think raising awareness is one thing, and then, you know, again, having an opportunity to have women just feel more welcome and more a part of things when they do attend ELFA we think is another big opportunity for us. The structure and the events that go on at the convention are long-standing traditions, but let’s face it, a lot of those traditions have been built by men for men in the past. And what can we do to shake that up a little bit so that women do feel a little bit more a part of things? And we’ll be talking about topics like that as well.

Jon Fales: Good. And, Lori, we’ve talked about the Women’s Council a few times now. Can you tell us who the members are of the council?

Lori Frasier: Sure. We have a really well-represented council. You know, I’m really excited to say that we’ve got some good balance across all of the different types of companies that are members in the industry. And we actually have a man on our council, and so James Cress from Stryker Financial is part of the council. Valerie Gerard from your own Alta Group is on the council. Shari Lipski from CLFP, Shari Lo Johnson who’s with [Inaudible 00:12:15], Jen Martin who’s also with Key Equipment Finance, Amy Nelson from DLL, Deb Reuben from Reuben Creative, Debbie Schmidt from IDS, Paula Vesa from GATX, and then, of course, we do have our staff liaison, Amy Vogt of the ELFA, who’s also a very active member of our committee. So it’s a very strong committee and, as I said, well-represented across all the different types of members in our industry association.

Jon Fales: Wow. That’s a lot of folks, a lot of good people and good-experienced people in the industry, too. I’m glad to hear that. Any initial thoughts on what targets or what metrics you might think about putting in place for gauging success in this?

Lori Frasier: You know, that’s a really interesting question, Jon, and it’s something that I know that we’ll be setting time on at our strategic planning meeting, but one target that we kinda put out there aspirationally, and it’s a little bit fun, I think, is we’ve kinda set the bar for 20 by 2020. And what I mean by that, as we talked about earlier, we only had about 10% of the attendance at last year’s convention made up of women. What we’d like to see by the 2020 convention is that we double that percentage and get to at least 20% of attendees being women, because, as I said, while, you know, it might not seem like a really meaningful measure, we do think that attendance at the convention is an outward sign of a person’s engagement in the industry overall. And so we’d like to see the percentage of women growing by 2020.

Jon Fales: It’s a catchy title and also a good one, and it addresses kinda that 10% figure. That’s still just astonishing to me. Well, Lori Frasier, look, we’ve covered a lot of things here. Do you have any closing thoughts or things that you wanna make sure we remember as we head into the convention this year?

Lori Frasier: I’m just really excited and I think everyone listening to this should be excited about the fact that we have an industry association and leadership across our industry that really recognize an opportunity to have a more diverse industry, to have a more, you know, leadership teams that are better representatives of our overall workforce, and I think that’s exciting. You know, I think it’s exciting that our industry is taking a step, that they’re so open to it, and, you know, I think we can all look forward to being part of a more dynamic and engaging industry going forward.

Jon Fales: I think so, too, Lori, and there’s lots, and lots, and lots of opportunity just as we look out at the faces out there and see the opportunity for women, because they’re just aren’t nearly enough in leadership positions, or in management positions, and lots of our clients, and actually within Alta Group as well. A few years ago, we had one woman that was in Alta Group out of about 20 or 25 people in the U.S., and while it’s growing, it’s still nowhere where it needs to be, so we need to address that ourselves, too. Lori, thank you again for your time. I really appreciate it.

Lori Frasier: Okay, Jon. Thank you very much. I’m really glad that you’re taking up this topic, and I hope that folks find it interesting.

Jon Fales: I know they will. Thank you again.

Link to a copy of the Women in Leasing article in the May-June issue of the “Equipment Leasing and Finance” magazine at the ELFA website, elfaonline.org. We’ve also posted a link at The Alta Group website, thealtagroup.com/blog. Our podcasts are available on Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Stitcher, TuneIn, and from our website. Finally, if you’d like periodic updates of interest on the equipment-financing industry, please join The Alta Group’s LinkedIn page and follow us on Twitter @thealtagroupllc.