Being heard, finding mentors: Female payment execs share leadership tips

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Most women who reach the executive level in the payments industry didn’t get there alone. Finding the right mentor, developing a voice and taking positive lessons from negative experiences often are keys to success.

There’s an art to gaining visibility within organizations, said several of PaymentsSource's Most Influential Women in Payments honorees.

Speaking during the Women in Payments Leadership Exchange at SourceMedia’s Card Forum in New Orleans, the executives shared knowledge they wish they’d had earlier. “Early in my career I felt I was sharing ideas that weren’t being heard, and other people were getting credit for some of these ideas in these meetings,” said Debra Tenenbaum, chief people officer at Yapstone.
After watching others highjack several of her ideas, Tenenbaum brought up the problem with her manager.

“My boss partnered with me [to fix it]. In a meeting, she said, ‘That’s exactly what Deb just brought up,’ about one of my ideas. And I learned new ways of presenting my ideas. Maybe before I’d been a little bit insecure that people wouldn’t like my idea, and I learned to be more confident about bringing things forward,” Tenenbaum said.

Kristy Carstensen, CFO for U.S. Bank’s payments group, had similar experiences seeing others about to take ownership of ideas she also had.

“I realized the ideation isn’t finished at that table, and there’s often an opportunity afterward to go talk to the ‘owner’ of the idea. I can share my idea, and often we can work together. Instead of being pissed off because my idea was stolen, I showed up as a partner,” Carstensen said.

Kim Bynan, senior vice president and head of EBT and Valutec at FIS, hit some turbulence when she was new to the management track, partly because she was trying to control too many of the ideas.

“After several months in my role as a new manager, a person who worked for me finally sat me down and told me what wasn’t working. My own direct report helped me learn how to use my ‘work village,’ and rely more on the people and resources around me,” Bynan said.

Some lessons honorees learned on their path to the top were jolting, like the time two male colleagues literally slammed a door on Tenenbaum.

“I thought I was doing great with credibility and everything in my first head of human resources job, and I traveled to New York with the CEO and a co-founder. When we got there, as the three of us walked out of the airport, talking business and stuff, we got to the taxi, and—this is the defining moment—the two men got in the taxi and shut the door and drove off,” Tenenbaum said.

Watching them drive away while she stood alone with her suitcase, Tenenbaum fumed with anger, but she learned an important lesson.

“This was my takeaway, that I held on to for the next 20 years: No one can drive off with my power. I decided I’d show with my actions and the results I get in my job that I’m as valuable as anyone else at the table,” Tenenbaum said.

Finding the right mentors to navigate a career is critical to getting ahead, the panelists agreed. “If you have a boss who doesn’t believe in you, get out, because it won’t be good for you,” said Bynan.

Bynan was fortunate to have a boss early in her career who championed her advancement, and she continues to rely on mentors while offering similar guidance to other women. But each person is the architect of her own career and how she works with mentors, Bynan said.

“Be sure you’re making career choices and you’re working for the companies and career moves that ultimately put you on the path to where you want to be,” Bynan said.

Tenenbaum noted that a prospective mentor’s own career momentum matters.

“Choosing your boss correctly is important, to help you navigate as you should. And men play a really important part in this. We often think of female mentors and sponsors we’d like to have, but remember there are more men in senior leadership positions than there are women,” Tenenbaum said.

Women shouldn’t hesitate to reach beyond their circles to find mentors, U.S. Bank’s Carstensen said.

Carstensen admired a colleague from afar, and built up courage to seek her help.

“I had to figure out how to get to know her. It was hard, but I asked her to lunch, and I asked her to help me,” Carstensen said.

That move paid off when her colleague agreed to mentor her, and it helped Carstensen lose her fear of taking chances, leading her to advance beyond auditing to become a CFO.

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