By Patrice Purcell DeCorrevont, Executive Vice President for Illinois Commercial Banking, Wells Fargo

For more than 30 years, I’ve navigated the world of finance – and, as we wrap up Women’s History Month, it is important to reflect on the progress we have made and take the time to celebrate women in leadership. While Women’s History Month was established in the early 1900’s, and the challenges women faced then are different than they are now, one thing remains the same: continuing to push boundaries.

From my first job in a commercial banking training program, to managing thousands of community bank team members, to now leading a team for Wells Fargo Commercial Banking in Illinois, my career progression in a male-dominated industry is a reflection of my familial roots, my personal drive, and advancements in the industry. For the first time in my career, I report to a woman who also reports to a woman, demonstrating some of the strides women are making in the world of finance.

As a result of the pandemic, we’ve seen too many stories of women exiting the workforce. According to a recent Wells Fargo survey, prior to the pandemic, women were not on even footing in the job market but we were moving in the right direction, holding just over half of all jobs. However, in the last year, nearly one million more women have lost employment compared to men. With this in mind, it is even more critical that we honor women and their significant contributions to families, communities, and career fields.  

Source: U.S. Department of Labor and Wells Fargo Securities

I’ve learned a lot in my years as a leader in the finance industry, as a mom, and as a wife. I hope to impart a few nuggets of wisdom on you with these three lessons:

Find your mentor and be a mentor. Growing up in a “go-getter” family, I was taught the importance of hard work from an early age. My father ran an independent insurance agency in Salt Lake City, and my mother was ahead of her time as one of the first working women in Utah in the 1940’s. She had an incredible sense of fashion and an undeniable presence every time she walked into a room. Both of my brothers also worked to reach the peak of their careers as chief executives in the financial services industry. I watched their triumphs, tribulations, successes, and failures, as they chased their dreams and climbed the corporate later.

We can all learn incredible lessons by simply observing leaders like my brothers. As you grow in your chosen field, find a mentor to help you make career decisions, develop as a professional, and navigate difficult situations. Whether it is an issue with a colleague, a job change, or finding work life balance, connecting with a mentor is important to reaching your full potential. Some of my best mentors were not met through a formal program or even within the financial industry, they were people I respected, trusted, and able to give me candid, constructive feedback. Give back by serving as a mentor or sponsor yourself – sometimes our greatest learning and growth comes through the experience of teaching and coaching.

Control what you can control. Like my father and brothers, I went to Notre Dame at a time when it was a 75% male student population. I majored in economics, one of the more popular studies for men, teaching me not only about supply and demand but how to navigate a male-dominated world. To this day, I use the same approach I used attending my macroeconomics class for entering a meeting with senior executives – I focus on what I bring to the table and how that can positively impact the meeting. I cannot control if I am outnumbered by my male colleagues, but I can control what I offer as a finance professional.

Negotiate your worth.  In my experience, women tend to assume they will be  treated fairly with compensation and promotions and that is not always the case – even in the modern workplace. This plays out most prominently when women are offered a job. Research has shown that men are up to four times more likely to negotiate their salaries compared to women. Most women immediately accept the first offer they’re given instead of negotiating out of fear of looking greedy or selfish. Negotiating can be nerve-wracking at first, as it was for me when I started my career, but it is important to know your worth, ask reasonable questions, and not to be afraid to advocate for yourself in these conversations. Do your homework before negotiating your salary by researching the industry standard, pulling a list of things you have contributed outside of your current job scope, and make sure you follow up if you don’t get an immediate answer. Highlight the work you do and the results you bring to the table, leverage your unique skills and experiences, and ask for compensation accordingly. 

Stand strong on your own two feet. When I first started my career 30 years ago, there were not many women in banking. I am thrilled to now be working alongside so many smart and talented women and celebrating them as they move into leadership roles. While we have made significant progress as a society, it is important to keep pushing forward, advocating for women, and helping each other along the way.

READ MORE: Learn how Wells Fargo supports women leaders inside and outside of the company.