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How Talent Development Helped This Woman Became CEO of a Major Bank

KeyCorp CEO Beth MooneyWhat helped this woman become CEO of a major corporation? KeyCorp’s Beth Mooney attributes her rise in management to humor, perseverance, and an early mentor who emphasized the need for talent development through further education.

The hiring manager at her first banking job hired Mooney on the condition that she would get her master’s degree in finance. That extra talent development made all the difference, Mooney said during her keynote at a DiversityInc event.

“I owe it to him. If someday I wanted a promotion, [not having a degree] would stand in my way,” she said. Her advice? Get all the talent development you can. “Acquire credentials you need for success and the ones that give you the most flexibility for opportunity,” Mooney said.

Additionally, Mooney revealed the three personal skills that she believes women need to focus on during talent development—a strong sense of self, a sense of humor and a sense of team.

It’s these “sensibilities” that helped her become the first female CEO of a top 20 U.S. bank in May 2011 and rank No. 1 in American Banker’s 25 Most Powerful Women in Banking. KeyCorp is one of DiversityInc’s 25 Noteworthy Companies.

1. Sense of Self

Mooney learned an important lesson in personal talent development when she took her first job: Sometimes a strong sense of self is the only thing that’ll get your foot in the door.

She knew she wanted to be in banking—a male-dominated field. After being turned down by several banks, she wasn’t going to take “no” for an answer. It took Mooney three hours to wear down the hiring manager at her next interview. She got the job on the condition that she would go to night school and increase her talent-development potential.

“The man who had hired me was just reflective of the times. Women were tellers, not executives or having executive potential … They simply didn’t hire women into training. The bank did not believe women were a good fit for a managerial training program,” said Mooney. “But I was tenacious, so I was given the chance.”

2. Sense of Humor

But “getting into banking wasn’t the same as getting ahead in banking,” said Mooney. She still had to deal with being one of her company’s only female employees, as well as to earn respect from her male clients. It again was time for some personal talent development.

By using humor to re-characterize herself, she was able to save a commercial real-estate account in the mid-1980s. “[The clients] felt they could take advantage of me. They were anxious to discount me. I had to fix that fast to do my job,” recalled Mooney.

Watch the video above to learn how Mooney’s sense of humor proved that she “wasn’t stupid” and saved the meeting. “Humor creates balance and perspective for the environment around you. It helps manage the external realities in your career, which are not always easy or friendly, even harsh,” Mooney said.

3. Sense of Team 

There has been tremendous progress among women, thanks to increased talent development from diversity-management efforts.

In 2011, the global percentage of women leaders hit an all-time high: 1 in 10 companies had a female director. “Part of the difference is that we led not with differences but by trying to be a part of the team. Diversity has found its way to the C-suite by doing so,” said Mooney.

However, there is still a long way to go. With Fortune 500 CEOs totaling less than 4 percent women (18 total), it is clear that talent-development initiatives in many companies need further fine-tuning.

“The way to succeed in any career is be part of the solution,” said Mooney. Talent development helps every employee to be a team player. Talent development also helps you to better understand the business and how it works. “Behind every successful woman and man is a pit crew.”

Talent Development & the Future?

Mooney knows that it is still “something of an event” to have a “woman or a diverse” candidate leading a company today. But she believes that in the future it will be different. She attributes that more diverse future to the evolution of leadership and the considerable diversity and inclusion efforts of diverse leaders. In addition to mindful recruiting and promotions, their efforts frequently include innovations in talent development, like Kraft Foods’ JumpStart program that provides talent development to master the unspoken “rules” of corporate culture.

She continued, “I have a theory for those who succeed in business dominated by white males. We came in and acted like we belonged. Guess what? Now we do.”

For more on the benefits of talent development, read Best Practices on Improving Retention.

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