By: Elaine Day
March 31, 2023

According to the 2021 iteration of an annual Deloitte review titled Within reach? that examines trends surrounding women in the financial industry, the proportion of women in leadership roles within financial services firms was just 24%. The higher you look in leadership, the lower that number goes.

As of March 2023 at First Carolina Bank, over 60% of our employee base of just over 115 are women, and they are found in all areas of the Bank. If you look at the leadership, you will see a strong proportion reflected there as well. The Deloitte report cites the concept of the “multiplier effect,” or the idea that one woman in the C-suite is correlated with three women in senior management roles, as one way to better the presence of women in the industry, and First Carolina Bank is an example of how that effect then extends even beyond leadership roles.

In celebration of Women’s History Month, we wanted to spotlight some of those leaders by asking them to share their experiences as a woman at First Carolina Bank and in the banking field at large.

Debra Medlin, our Chief Financial Officer, has been at First Carolina Bank since its inception in 2012 and already had an established career before that, and when asked what being a woman in banking means to her, she said that “the banking arena has changed and evolved over my career. Early in my banking career, there were mostly men in the leadership roles. I remember having a conversation with an executive about my five-year goals, and I told him that I wanted to learn all I could to advance within the company into management. His response wasn’t what I wanted to hear. He told me that my goal was highly unlikely to happen because they don’t have very many women in management. I began looking for a new job the next day.

“I feel like I have broken through several glass ceilings in my career,” she continued. “I am very fortunate to have worked with several banks that allowed me to grow and excel. It’s great to be appreciated and advance because of hard work. It’s wonderful seeing more and more women in leadership roles that use to be dominated by men. We are now recognized by our knowledge in the field, not based on gender. We have some great leaders at First Carolina Bank and I’m so proud of the diversity we have.”

Kristen Brabble, our Chief Operating Officer who has also been at the Bank since the beginning, commented on the number of women across the Bank, from Universal Bankers to the C-suite, saying that it reflects the Bank’s open and creative mindset when it comes to hiring.

“We are open to putting anyone in any type of role that suits them the best,” Brabble said. “We’re not looking for a standard type of person to come in and fill a role. We put people in Universal Banker roles, for example, who have no experience, and then promote them up throughout the branches and ultimately into executive positions because of their personality and skillset.”

That was Brabble’s track at First Carolina Bank and the legacy bank before it, and Beth West, our Managing Director - Retail Banking and Marketing, had a similar path when she came to First Carolina in 2017.

West, when asked about how First Carolina has built her up as a woman in banking, noted the voice that she has been given and the confidence it has fostered in her.

“Here, I’ve been allowed to have a voice and know that my opinion matters,” West said. “Regardless of if leadership goes with your opinion or not, whether that be on a route we should pursue or a new product, you know that they are still willing to hear you. It makes a big difference, and it then ultimately instills confidence and problem-solving skills—it has for me, not just as a banker in leadership, but also as I’ve grown into my leadership career. I know that I have support behind me.”

West also noted that the Bank places a priority on both formal and informal professional development opportunities, “whether it’s opening the doors for meeting certain people in the community or in certain circles or allowing us to take part in certain meetings or leadership trainings and conferences. I have a manager that has been able to advocate for me to get into those opportunities and has gone above and beyond in nominating me for awards, and those experiences have, in turn, enabled me to get more exposure in the greater banking industry.”

Shannon Sutton, our Managing Director – Human Resources and another original First Carolina Bank employee, echoed West’s sentiments regarding the importance of an advocating leader when asked what the biggest lesson she has learned as a woman in banking has been.

The biggest lesson I’ve learned is to identify sponsors within the Bank and ask them for opportunities to grow,” Sutton said. “A sponsor is someone more senior to you in the workplace, can be managerial or non-managerial, that sees your work ethic, believes in you, and helps you advance your career. While a mentor can give employees guidance and coaching, a sponsor will also advocate for you behind closed doors. My sponsors gave me stretch assignments that enhanced my knowledge, skill, and prepared me for opportunities I didn’t even know I was a candidate for.”

When being offered those opportunities, our Managing Director – Operations & IT, Hope Moore encourages younger women wanting to pursue a career in banking to not be afraid to say ‘yes.’

“I read a study once that said that men will accept a new job offer or project even if they only have 10% knowledge of how to do it, whereas a woman will feel like they have to know a much more significant amount about the concept to be able to decide they want to agree to it,” Moore said. “I’ve learned that you don’t have to be fully confident in how to do something to say ‘yes.’

“For me, it has allowed leaders to see things in me that I didn’t even see in myself,” she continued. “It gave me self-confidence in abilities that I didn’t know were there. And through those experiences, I gained more knowledge about different areas of a bank that I might not have learned otherwise. The more you learn about all of the different areas in banking, it expands your career opportunities however you might want to grow, vertically or horizontally, and makes you more successful because you know the ins and outs of the industry.”