When Wells Fargo first launched the EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa) Women’s Network in 2008, it was the company’s first employee network outside of the US. Since then the member-led programme has developed and grown – both in terms of the number of members and its volunteers, but also in the scope of its remit and activities. Following a change to the new name of Women’s Connection, the efforts of both Stefanie Hanstveit and Lana Vannerem are being recognised by Wells Fargo – with both put forward for the celebration by Women in Banking & Finance – due to their joint leadership of Women’s Connection, as well as the success of their individual projects.
Having originally joined Wells Fargo in 2016, Lana is now an Enterprise Risk Officer in the Risk Strategy, Planning, and Governance team of Wells Fargo in EMEA. In this role, she is responsible for providing risk oversight of key processes for capital, liquidity, and recovery and resolution planning across Wells Fargo’s regional platform. She also provides coverage to strategic and model risk exposures in the EMEA region.
Her involvement in Women’s Connection came as a previous co-chair had to step down unexpectedly and Lana was asked to help lead the network alongside Stefanie. It’s an opportunity Lana readily admits was something she immediately embraced and is proud to have taken the organisation to the next level, breaking the attendance records for the network’s events in 2020, building out the leadership team of volunteers and increasing membership. This last achievement was a challenge due to the recent and significant organisational change taking place at Wells Fargo and given there was a global pandemic in which many women found themselves homeschooling children, caring for relatives and holding down a job while working from home.
However, instead of being daunted, Lana pushed for the network to reinvent itself, changing its operating model to a virtual one. In doing so, Lana also saw the period as an opportunity to cross geographical barriers. This not only enabled the team to partner with other networks – both internal and external – but also to significantly increase attendance numbers at their discussions.
At the same time, however, employees’ attention was being pulled by new networks which were being prompted by the organisational change in the region. Lana responded by increasing cross-network collaboration and the number of events – often held jointly with the competing networks – which led to an increase in engagement, as well as the number of events and the breadth of topics being covered.
Some of the projects Lana is most proud of include the launch of a book club, the offer of a one-to-one executive coaching programme to the Women’s Connection leadership team, the establishment of the Ally Engagement Program, as well as the cross-network and cross-regional collaboration. In addition, Lana redesigned engagement with the network’s most senior supporters by creating an advisory board and hosting quarterly board meetings.
The strategic and tactical achievements by Lana have led to the highest volunteer retention rate (88%) as she started her second year in the co-chair role, with a waiting list of colleagues ready to join the network’s leadership team when someone next steps down.
Lana was thrilled and honoured to learn that she would be representing Wells Fargo for this industry-wide celebration. Believing there are still many barriers to women’s progress in financial services and a shortage of women in senior leadership roles in the sector, she believes it is all-the-more important to celebrate the successes of women who have managed to at least crack the glass ceiling, as well as the contributions of both men and women who helped them get there.
She remains passionate about inspiring, engaging, and educating women on how to succeed in their roles and climb up her company’s corporate ladder. Most of all, Lana hopes the work achieved by her and her team has touched many women at Wells Fargo and encouraged them to make their professional dreams a reality.
And when asked what her advice would be to young women entering the financial services workplace, she advocated: “Be fearless. As women, we often struggle with self-confidence and suffer from self-doubt. It is crucially important to brush all of these worries aside and just get on with it. You would be amazed at what you can achieve with a bit of courage and self-belief. No one is 100% ready when they start something new. There is always a learning curve, however small. Keep this in mind, soak in knowledge, and be brave!”
Stefanie Hanstveit is a Director within the London based Real Estate Syndicated Finance team at Wells Fargo, where she is responsible for assessing new underwriting risk for commercial real estate loans and managing the sell-down process of that debt. Stefanie has used her role to help promote female talent at Wells Fargo and across the real estate industry.
This support included co-chairing Wells Fargo’s Women’s Connection for over two years, before stepping up to sit on its advisory board. She is also an active member of Wells Fargo’s EMEA Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Council.
It’s worth noting that the recognition from her company in being put forward as a role model for Women in Banking & Finance is not her first reward for her role with Women’s Connection. Stefanie became a 2019 Golden Spokes Award winner, the firm’s most prestigious annual achievement award, which honours the highest achieving team members who demonstrate exceptional leadership and outstanding results for clients, its teams and the company.
The reasons for that award were clear given Stefanie recruited and managed a team of 25 volunteers and developed a series of social and educational events with the aims to provide networking and development opportunities for women, to improve the bank’s gender balance and to create a more inclusive and equitable work place. She co-chaired the network alongside Lana in 2020.
In her time as co-chair, the network hosted over 26 (virtual) seminars and networking events, attended by team members and clients across EMEA. These included International Women’s Day celebrations, senior leader speaker series, speed mentoring and speed networking events and a series of business ‘lunch & learn’ sessions. But it is the Gender Pay Gap (GPG) discussions (and their outcomes) that hold a special meaning for Stefanie.
The first of these sessions was hosted in 2018 when Wells Fargo first published its GPG numbers, and detailed how the numbers had been calculated and what they meant. A year later, the team hosted a second presentation and panel discussion to learn about the year-on-year improvements, how the firm compared to other financial institutions, and what was being done to reduce the gap. The eye-opening conclusion was that everyone had a role to play.
To follow on from this realisation, the network worked on an action plan designed to empower each and every individual team member to do his (or her) ‘bit’ to hire, develop, promote and retain female talent at Wells Fargo and actively manage their own personal development – effectively to be their own CEO. A year later, in 2020, the Women’s Connection hosted yet another GPG panel discussion, this time with the aim to learn from others, sharing financial industry best practices.
In addition to the investment from the firm for the network and the GPG conversations, the work has helped reduce gender biases and engaged male allies. It has also helped change employment policies. Given the team felt strongly about trying to change the perception that women always need to be the primary care givers, they lobbied for a change in the company’s parental leave policy. Now both male and female team members have equal parental leave rights and pay.
Some of the other challenges raised in discussions by the Women’s Connection members are also being addressed, such as societal expectations and deeply ingrained unconscious biases. However, the desire to develop depth and transparency in gender specific data, as well as the increased desire for accountability and willingness from some team members to drive personal change, is leading to broader change at all levels of the organisation.
Stefanie acknowledges that the imposter syndrome, that many women feel, will continue to encourage the expectation that rewards/promotions only come as long as women put their heads down and work hard. But one of her biggest lessons learned is the importance of (strategic) networking:
“We are all different, unique and defined by a huge number of factors that have influenced our lives. It is important to create a safe space to share views, be authentic, be true to yourself, be respectful to others, listen, ask questions and get to know each other in order to understand what drives us, what brings us together and how we can succeed professionally.
“By having as strong a network as Women’s Connection, women and men have the chance to develop that understanding. And colleagues have the opportunity to meet people that might help them in their careers, find people who inspire them and hear of shared experiences that will help women to progress.”