×

Student Loan Refinance Head Barbara Thomas’ Advice to Those Caught in the Gender Gap

August 26, 2018

The gender gap, sounds like something that ended when women gained the right to vote, but think again. Every day women are fighting for the same treatment as men. Not only do women get paid 80 cents to the dollar that men receive, but recent research from Pew Research Center shows that women hold only 10% of the top executive positions. The same report goes on to illustrate that in the financial sector, women make up only 8.1% of executive level positions. Basically, what all these stats are showing is that women not only get paid less, but they also don’t have leadership positions. If you’re like us, you’re thinking finding a woman executive in the financial sector is like finding a unicorn, but we did it! Luckily, we have the pleasure of working with SouthEast Bank Executive Vice President and Head of its student loan refinance division Education Loan Finance, Barbara Thomas. We sat down with Barbara and discussed what her long and successful financial career has been like and if she has been affected in the past by the gender gap.

How did you start working in the financial industry?

My first job out of college was a credit research analyst for a municipal bond insurance company. After graduate school, I went into investment banking.

Why did you want to work in finance?

My BS degree is in mathematics, and MBA in Finance, so I consider myself quantitative and highly analytical. I always had a knack for numbers so a career in finance was a natural fit.

Did you ever feel that people in your personal life tried to deter you from working in the finance industry?

My family and friends have been very supportive of me and my career throughout my life.

Did you have moments when you reconsidered your career? How did you move past them?

Yes for sure. I have three children – I traveled a lot and worked very long hours, including weekends, throughout my career so I was away from them quite a bit. The work life balance just doesn’t exist in investment banking. However, I achieved so much in my career, and my children have been so supportive of me and are proud of my accomplishments. I believe I set a great example of how hard work and perseverance can lead to success and all three of my children are successful in their own right. In addition, I always made sure that I was there for them when they needed me most and for the important events in their life. Whether it was editing their papers at midnight when I arrived home from work or driving for hours after a long business trip to make my daughter’s field hockey game, I made sure I was there for them.

Can you explain a bit about the gender dynamics in the finance industry at that time?

No doubt, the finance industry has been and still remains today an old boys’ club. I believe that not much has changed to promote women, including providing the proper mentoring and advancement opportunities, in the past 25 years that I have been in the business. When I finally achieved Managing Director status at Morgan Stanley, so many of my clients and professionals outside of the firm thought that I was already an MD for years.

Can you share some moments that you think may have been different, if you were of a different gender?

There are so many moments- from being promoted long after demonstrated success, lack of invitations to casual events (i.e. golf outings and yes I play!) outside of the office, lower compensation than my male peers and lack of opportunity for lateral moves within financial firms. Just to name a few.

There is often a stigma associated with women – you have to choose between your career or a family. Do you have any comments regarding that statement?

Yes, in fact, when I had my third child and was an investment banker, my colleagues thought I was going to retire. So I left that firm to take on a new investment banking position in a more exciting industry at another investment banking firm – that showed them all that they truly misjudged me!

Were there other women that you had worked with in finance? Did they too notice the gender dynamics of the industry?

There were very few women and most left after they made vice president because the opportunities for advancement were slim and the uphill climb was just too steep. We all felt it.

Have you seen gender dynamics change in the finance industry within the last decade?

Nothing has really changed other than the creation of “Heads of Diversity” and “Diversity Committees” in corporations. It is very hard to change the dynamics when men continue to serve in the vast majority of leadership and management roles in the finance industry.

Have you had similar experiences in your current role? 

In my current role as an Executive of Southeast Bank, I have been presented with opportunities to take on new challenges and leadership roles with the full support of our CEO. As head of certain of the Bank’s business lines for the bank, including Education Loan Finance, mentoring and promoting women is a high priority for me.

What advice can you share with women today who may be facing similar challenges in industries like technology? Where the gender dynamics may not be equal?

Always stay true to who you are, demand to take the lead on those plum assignments, prove that you are the right choice for the position, have a voice and speak up but make sure what you say is relevant and toot your own horn, because no one is going to promote you like you can!

 

Should You Join a Local Professionals Group ? 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

2019-06-17
Why Do Employees Leave?

Today’s tight labor market and frequent employee turnover are challenging U.S. employers to view company cultures with a critical eye. A report by the Work Institute found that some 42 million (one in four) employees would leave their jobs in 2018. What is the cost of replacing so many experienced people in an organization? According to the report, last year’s “employee churn” costs hovered at $600 billion—a figure that could increase to $680 billion by 2020. Of further concern to companies is the growing realization that young team members are most inclined to move on after a relatively short period of employment. In a recent survey, 59% of respondents felt they should begin looking for a new position after only one to two years on a job. Older employees continuing to work past retirement age or re-entering the workforce are adding stability to many companies, but the turnover trend has serious implications for the long haul. Why are employees leaving and what can employers do to stem the tide? Data gathered by HR organizations and research firms reveal some interesting trends about motivating and retaining current and future employees.  

Top 4 Reasons Employees Leave a Company

The current employee shortage has upended traditional hiring models. Companies are racing to reshape their corporate cultures and embrace the values of a more limited workforce. Although improved pay and benefits packages continue to be important, these four workplace problems are the leading reasons why employees pick up—and move on.  
  • Not enough work-life balance. Team members value their time and don’t want employers to waste it. Their enthusiasm and performance will wane if they are weighed down with busy work and meaningless meetings. Younger employees appreciate flexible schedules, the ability to work from home, and a workload that is challenging without spilling over into personal time.
  • Poor management. Supervisors who are unable to engage their employees or unwilling to help them grow by providing positive feedback are commonly cited as reasons to leave. Today’s professionals respond to personal interaction and appreciate public shout-outs and ancillary rewards like gift cards, tickets, and free meal vouchers.
  • Lack of recognition & career advancement. Employees who excel like to be recognized for their extra effort. They also need to see a clear pathway for furthering their careers. Today’s staff members expect companies to help them grow professionally while providing access to career development and mentorship programs.
  • No company engagement. When a company does not have (or cannot properly communicate) its goals and values, employees lack a shared sense of purpose. Businesses fostering a sense of community are better able to inspire, engage, and retain employees.
 

Create a Satisfying Workplace to Keep Valuable Team Members

In many ways, today’s workforce is looking for the same type of job satisfaction as high performers of past generations. Respect, appreciation for a job well-done, opportunities for advancement, challenging work, and monetary rewards still lead to employee satisfaction and engagement. According to Gallup research, 34% of employees are engaged at work, but 53% are not engaged and likely to leave a job for another offer. To involve these employees and access their potential, employers are putting greater emphasis on corporate culture assets like these:  
  • Relevant workplaces with a clear mission & shared values
  • New-hires who contribute to the corporate community
  • Greater creative freedom & autonomy for staff when possible
  • Updated technology to support performance
  • Employee input as valuable business partners
 

Learn More About The Act Regarding Student Loans and Employers

 

Student Loan Benefits Appeal to Workers of All Ages

Many young employees begin their careers with a heavy burden of student loan debt. They worry about the monthly toll payments will take on their starting salary. Will they have enough money to travel, buy a home, or start a family? Worries about student debt repayment are not limited to the youngest workers. Some data suggest that these concerns cut across age groups and include professionals over age 55. Older workers may have taken on student loan debt to fund advanced degrees or send a child to college. Widespread student loan debt suggests that companies offering repayment contributions and other related benefits have a distinct advantage in attracting and engaging their workforce.    

Improve Retention With Cutting Edge HR Benefits From ELFI

As an ELFI business partner, you can add value to your benefits package with monthly contributions to student loan debt. You’ll also plug into resources like newsletters, webinars and onsite consultations. Connect with ELFI from your HR portal and discover how significant student loan benefits are to your team members—and how cost-effective they are for your company.  

Tops Ways to Engage Millennials at Work

  NOTICE: Third Party Web Sites Education Loan Finance by SouthEast Bank is not responsible for and has no control over the subject matter, content, information, or graphics of the web sites that have links here. The portal and news features are being provided by an outside source – The bank is not responsible for the content. Please contact us with any concerns or comments.
2019-06-07
How Do You Know When It’s Time to Get a Graduate Degree?

The most recent data from the Digest of Education Statistics show that over 54% of those completing graduate studies take on student loans, and the average loan amount for grad school is over $70,000. With so much at stake, isn’t it worth a serious analysis of the value?  

Develop a Decision Matrix to Help You Decide

A decision matrix is an analytical tool that helps you compare different factors when making a choice. If you are about to take on more student debt to continue your education, a personal decision matrix that weighs the following questions can help you clarify your values and decide what makes both personal and financial sense.  
  • Why do you want a graduate degree? Motivation is a complex process, and you may not know what is driving you to continue your education. A little self-analysis is in order. Do you think graduate work will elevate your prestige, make you an industry authority, or help you find a more challenging job? Or are you afraid of leaving your college comfort zone and entering the workforce?
 
  • Do the jobs in your field of study match your talents and disposition? Do you thrive in a fast-paced environment or enjoy working with the public? Perhaps a predictable or solitary workplace suits you more. If you’ve never been employed in your chosen field, it might be wise to work for a while after completing your bachelor’s degree. You’ll get a better understanding of employment opportunities and personal satisfaction levels before investing more time and money toward an advanced degree. Working before pursuing a graduate program has two other distinct advantages:
 
  1. You can make progress toward paying off undergrad student loans.
  2. You will have time to solidify your life and career goals.
 
  • Will a graduate degree improve your employment and earning potential? Before committing to graduate school, do your research. Monitor the job market on sites like Indeed, Monster or Study job requirements, salaries, and the number of job openings. Talk to individuals in your field—both those with graduate degrees and those with four-year degrees. Will an advanced degree make enough difference in job availability, career stability, and earning potential to offset the time and money required to obtain it?
 
  • Are there alternatives for enhancing your employment value? Explore professional or specialized certifications that could make you more valuable to an employer. Obtaining certificates is usually less expensive than continuing with graduate studies, and added training indicates to employers that you take the initiative and possess advanced skills.
 
  • How will you pay for your advanced degree? If you already have student loans, adding more debt for graduate school could further delay your ability to achieve many financial milestones: marriage, purchasing a home, traveling, or starting a family. Often, grad school loans come with a higher interest rate and greater accumulated balance than undergraduate loans. You’ll need to determine whether the added earning potential of an advanced degree justifies the payments and payback period. It may also be worthwhile to explore alternatives like part-time studies and employer educational benefits to lessen the student loan burden.
 

Refinance Student Debt in Three Easy Steps With ELFI

You’ve graduated with a college degree and increased your earning power. Now, get the most for your money by refinancing your student loans with Education Loan Finance. Our competitive interest rates, personalized service, and nationwide availability give you the power to manage your debt and achieve your goals. With ELFI, you could be just three steps away from a brighter future!  

Click Here to Learn More About Refinancing Student Loans

    NOTICE: Third Party Web Sites Education Loan Finance by SouthEast Bank is not responsible for and has no control over the subject matter, content, information, or graphics of the websites that have links here. The portal and news features are being provided by an outside source – The bank is not responsible for the content. Please contact us with any concerns or comments.
Students going back to school
2019-04-17
Advice From A University of Tennessee Knoxville Graduate on Attending College

I have officially completed college. I have gone through four years at a University and taken all the courses needed to graduate. From major courses, general education courses, to classes like a social dance that add a few hours to my schedule. I am now officially a University of Tennessee college grad and ready to embark on the real world…. or am I? As adult life has QUICKLY approached, I find myself wondering where the last four years have gone. Would I have done anything differently? Is there anything I missed? There are a few things I would have liked to tell myself while going through college and here they are:   1- Going into college, it’s okay not to know what you are doing. MOST PEOPLE DON’T. Throughout my college career, I have found that most people do not know what they are doing after graduation. When I first came to the University of Tennessee I took a class that was all about finding a major that best suits you. The class had me take a personality test, express my interest, and meet with college advisors in order to find a major that could lead to a career. After this class, I didn’t actually know what I wanted to do but I had an idea of what my major could lead to. Finding out what you actually will be doing after receiving your undergraduate degree requires research. You should be doing job research, salary research, gaining some experience, and maybe even attend graduate school. College is a time to find yourself and what you see yourself doing in a career. A clear career path doesn’t always present itself right away.   2- Be responsible. Finding yourself does not mean to be irresponsible. Nights with friends are fun and create lasting memories, but take care of yourself. While at the University of Tennessee, there was pressure from people to go out instead of study or to be socializing. To get past my FOMO I reminded myself that I was at school to better myself, no one else. This meant homework came first, scheduling time with friends was necessary, and staying on top of my health was part of my everyday routine. Do your homework, study, eat, clean, exercise, SAVE YOUR MONEY, and always remember why you are ultimately in college. Set goals and prioritize responsibilities so you can stay on task.   3 - GAIN EXPERIENCE. I cannot stress enough the importance of getting experience in your field of choice. If you don’t know what you want to do, explore several careers and internships. The University of Tennessee encouraged students to get out of school experience by offering study abroad trips, internship fairs, and volunteer opportunities. While at the University of Tennessee I had three separate internships exploring my career options. Now when applying for jobs I find EVERY job will ask for your work experience. Having an internship, volunteer work, or shadowing under your belt can be a helpful edge. Getting experience is such an important aspect for your future and is something everyone should consider.   4 - Get Involved. College is hard and freshman year can be lonely. Start looking at groups and clubs early. Finding a sports club, sorority/fraternity or church group to get involved in will help you to make new friends. The University of Tennessee offers hundreds of clubs and activities to get involved in. While being in school I joined a sorority where I found friends that wanted to get involved in different clubs with me. I joined my major club which helped me meet people who had the same interest as me and was a great networking experience. I also got involved in a religious club at the University of Tennessee which allowed me to share my personal preferences with others. The University of Tennessee offers many sports clubs for anyone that wants to get involved in an athletic team and has groups that participate in volunteer work such as United Way® and Best Buddies®.  Accept that you may be lonely at times without your family always being around. Recognize that you don’t need to be afraid to make new friends and get out of your comfort zone.   5 - Prepare for what is waiting for you after graduation, STUDENT LOANS. They may seem far away for now, but soon after graduation loan payments begin. Take into consideration how expensive your loans are. As a college student I never really paid attention to that. Now that I am out of school and saw I was $30,000 in debt, I was shocked. Know how much the interest rates on the loans are. Interest rates can cause you to end up paying an extra 3000+ in just interest on your loans. This is definitely something to consider when going into college and choosing a career path.   6 - Stay calm. A four-year university accumulates into A LOT of homework. Before you know you have 5 assignments, 2 papers, and 3 exams in the span of two weeks. This can be overwhelming when looking over your planner. You may find yourself questioning how you’re going to get everything done and when you will get to sleep next. Remember to stay calm. You are capable of getting everything done and most importantly sleeping. Plan ahead and stay on schedule. Throughout my four years, I kept a planner and wrote in every assignment, test, or even an event I had going on each week. This way, I was able to get started on homework early if I needed to and make time for relaxation. Getting homework done a few nights earlier then the due date helps when planning to study for exams. Study for a few hours every night a week prior to the exam, this helps to eliminate stressful cramming.   7 - At the end of the day, remember to have fun. This is for most people, a once in a lifetime experience. This will likely be your last time as a student before you join the workforce. Make time for friends, call your parents, and make incentives for yourself. Want to go to the football game this weekend? Finish your homework Thursday and have a fun-filled Saturday with friends. Whether it be hanging out with friends on a hike, going to a movie, or catching up over dinner, make time for you and the people around you.   My name is Jordon Brock and I am a SENIOR at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. College has flown by and soon I will graduate with a Bachelor’s degree in Public Relations and a minor in Business. I started my college career by going through sorority recruitment and while becoming a member of Delta Gamma started off as just a group of girls that I could hang out with in my spare time, it gave me more opportunities than I could ever imagine. Delta Gamma gave me the privilege to be the All Sing Director two years in a row where I got to lead our chapter in choreography and songs from popular musicals as well as allowing me to coach Smokey’s Howl; a cheer competition incorporated into Homecoming at UT. Outside of DG, I had the opportunity to be a marketing intern at three separate companies. My learning experience at UT, leadership roles in Delta Gamma, along with what I have learned in my internships has made me prepared, but more importantly excited for the future. I would like to work on a Public Relations or Marketing team at a company that strives to connect people with brands and organizations. I love communicating with others and hope to build relationships with clients and other organizations in my future career!  

Check Out These Scholarships to Save Money on Student Loans for College