One on one with Women’s World Banking’s Director of Leadership and Diversity

December 14, 2015

The next installment in the blog series, Meet the Women’s World Banking team: an interview with one of our newest team members, Rachel Field.

Rachel Field joined Women’s World Banking in September 2015 as Director of Leadership and Diversity, after building a track record as a dynamic leader in both the corporate and non-profit sectors. At Avon, she managed the Global Women’s Strategy and helped bring inclusion into the company’s talent management practices.  At AXA US, she established the first Office of Diversity and Inclusion. Her work in the non-profit sector focused primarily on youth from diverse cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds. She is a current board member of Harlem Link elementary charter school in New York City. We caught up with Rachel on a sunny, weekday afternoon.

What projects are you currently working on at Women’s World Banking?

I’m getting ready to co-facilitate the Management Development Program at Ujjivan in India with my team. Ujjivan is in the process of changing from an NBFC (non-bank finance company) to a small finance bank. It’s an exciting time for Ujjivan, and it’s an opportunity to provide leadership training about change management. When you have large-scale institutional change, it’s important to provide leaders with tools to manage their response to change while helping others cope with, and excel, during times of change. I’m also working on the customization of our Senior Management Program for Diamond Bank in Nigeria. We’re working with the CEO and his direct reports to understand their leadership needs and how we can deliver a training relevant to those needs. Similar to Ujjivan, there are some significant changes for the team at Diamond as they continue their journey from a corporate bank to one that is strongly focused on retail and financial inclusion. It’s exciting to be able to work in these two very different cultures.

You’ve been involved in the non-profit sector for much of your career. What led you to join the corporate sector?

When I was in non-profit, I did a lot of direct client work. I wanted the opportunity to have a larger impact so I decided to move to the corporate sector to broaden my perspective and gain different skills that I could apply in the non-profit sector. I went to AXA to work on affirmative action, and within a few months began volunteering to work on the firm’s diversity initiatives. I then realized that there needed to be a more focused effort on diversity and inclusion to really create sustained change, so I wrote the proposal to establish the diversity office (along with my job description to move into that office). It was exciting to be there from the very beginning. It gave us an opportunity to do a full diversity and inclusion assessment and do work that spoke to the needs of the business and the employees. We impacted the culture, and I’m proud of that legacy.

How have diversity initiatives in the workplace changed over the past decade or two?

They’re evolving. What I have seen over the years in the U.S. is a greater awareness of diversity and how a lack of inclusion can affect employee engagement, productivity and morale. There has also been more attention to diversity within the context of leadership, and more organizations are embedding diversity into talent management practices.  It’s not enough to have rigorous talent management practices without having an inclusive lens. If you’re assessing someone’s leadership ability through a narrowly defined view, then you’re missing a lot. For example, in cultures where leadership is not flashy or obvious, where people lead in a quieter way, if you don’t understand that, you might be missing out on the less vocal person in the room who has quietly built the kinds of relationships that move work forward.

How is the diversity and inclusion conversation different in the global context?

When people talk about diversity and leadership, there seems to be a focus mainly on gender. There is certainly a lot of work to do there, and that’s one of the reasons I’m so excited to be at Women’s World Banking. But there’s still colorism globally, where the darker your skin, the more you’ll see a distinction in terms of opportunity or lack thereof. That’s something that people are not comfortable talking about as much. Immigration, globalization and the millennial generation are forcing that conversation in many countries.

What appealed to you most about joining Women’s World Banking?

After much introspection, I realized that I really wanted to go back to a non-profit. Once I had made that decision, I started thinking, well, what kind of non-profit? Social justice, economic empowerment, and gender equality are very important values for me. I also wanted to continue to work globally and creatively.  When I put that all together, everything about this role at Women’s World Banking spoke to me. There’s an opportunity for us to lead on both leadership and diversity in financial inclusion and to do really interesting work. It reminds me of starting inclusion education at AXA: We got to ask ourselves, imagine what we can do to change the culture? Now it’s, imagine what we can do to help leaders serve even more unbanked women?

You grew up in New York, and that’s where you live and work now. What do you do to relax in such a hectic city?

I’m an aerial acrobat! I’ve been doing aerial silks for almost 10 years. Basically, you climb a suspended fabric and use the fabric to wrap, hang, fall, swing and move your body in and out of various positions.  I learned about it from a friend who is a clown (I’m not kidding!). I take class once a week and I train on my own once a week. I’ve performed in a few shows and I’m hoping to do another one soon. What I’ve learned from doing aerial is when you push yourself to do something really scary, it changes your perspective on what you can do in the world.