Toward More Diverse Bank Leadership

Jim Cargill Commentary

Toward More Diverse Bank Leadership

Growing up as the great-grandson, grandson and son of local bankers in the small town of Lewisville, Arkansas, taught me invaluable lessons about the role banks can and should play in building healthy communities. Beyond the traditional roles of providing financial products and services, banks also provide intellectual capital and a roll-up-your-sleeves approach to supporting nonprofits, chambers of commerce and other community builders.

Banks have the ability to improve the quality of life in our communities. That is why I am humbled and honored to be chairman of the Arkansas Bankers Association, taking the helm from Jon Harrell this week. I’m also excited to partner with Lorrie Trogden, ABA’s president and CEO, and her amazing staff.

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Lorrie and her team exemplify an important aspect of banking — the expanding role of women. Growing up in the family bank, it was always the Cargill men who rose to the top positions. But I observed that the Cargill women were more involved in running day-to-day operations. This observation made a significant impact on me and made me want to work at expanding the role of women in our industry.

My junior high track coach, Martin Herman, a caring and talented man, taught me that working together with all my teammates was not only right, but would also lead to success. He invested in us, spending many hours of personal time helping us prepare and learn to work together. Our team, two Black and two white, bonded, worked together and eventually set a state record in the 880 relay. To this day, we remain friends.

Early in my banking career, I worked with Leroy Shepherd in Oklahoma. Leroy taught me the importance of connecting with communities of color. As a Black man and banker, he stressed serving all people and came to work every day with that objective in mind.

These experiences taught me that diversity provides us different perspectives and experiences, and acknowledgement of various challenges or sensitivities faced by those in our communities. The terms we use today are diversity, equity and inclusion. The job now is to diversify the banking workforce. If we serve our communities — all parts of our communities — then we must bring more women, more people of color and more diverse people into positions of leadership. Doing so will improve the quality of our institutions, and the quality of life throughout our communities.

As an industry we’ve made progress.

Three years ago, Cathy Owen became the first female chair of the Arkansas Bankers Association. In September, Gov. Hutchinson appointed Susannah Marshall as Commissioner of the State Bank Department, replacing Candace Franks, the department’s first female leader. A growing number of minority bankers in our state are making a positive impact, including Little Rock Mayor Frank Scott Jr., whose leadership and commitment to public service are an invaluable asset. Mayor Scott was a community banker before running for office. His banking experience and understanding of how banks can help build stronger communities are impactful examples to those who will follow him.

The ability for women and minorities to serve the community as role models for the next generation of bankers is crucial, as is the role of education. It is vitally important that we educate our children on the important role bankers have in building healthy communities, and for students to envision themselves in such careers. That is why the Arvest Foundation has supported the Academies of Central Arkansas, an initiative of the Little Rock Regional Chamber and area schools to transform education. In coming years, local banks will help develop a banking track in this curriculum, serving as advisors and mentors to teachers and students.

As an industry, we’ve made progress in bringing attention to the career fields that fall under the financial services umbrella, but we have work to do to make banking a sought-after career for more people of diverse backgrounds.

We also have more work to do in creating workplaces that value diversity, equity and inclusion. Not only is it the right thing to do, but it is also our responsibility. Our communities need us to provide opportunities for everyone. When we do, we strengthen our communities and we strengthen our organizations.

Jim Cargill is president and CEO of Arvest Bank in central, northeast and southwest Arkansas and will become chairman of the Arkansas Bankers Association on Wednesday.