Two years after the death of George Floyd sparked a racial reckoning in the U.S., the Massachusetts Bankers Association will hold its first summit focused on diversity, equity and inclusion next month.  

With a history of leadership dominated by white men and lending practices that ended up contributing to inequity, banks across the U.S. had joined other organizations and industries two years ago in pledging to commit to diversity and equity initiatives.  

Hosting the summit was among multiple goals in a DEI strategic plan approved by the MBA’s board of directors earlier this year. The plan emerged from a five-month process that gave the trade group a framework for providing DEI resources to its 120 member banks.  

These resources are aimed at having lasting effects for banks. Multiple studies show that organizations with more diverse perspectives perform better financially, said the MBA’s President and CEO Kathleen Murphy, and communities could benefit as well.

Editor’s Note: Two years ago this week, George Floyd was murdered by a Minneapolis police officer, convulsing America with protests and debates about how to root out the pernicious legacy of racism in our society and economy. In this issue, Banker & Tradesman is examining progress made in addressing the most pressing issue identified in the real estate and banking sectors at that time: breaking down “old boys networks” and building career pathways in these largely white industries for people of color. 

“Our members have always said the morally correct thing to do is to make sure that we are paying attention to underrepresented individuals, to make sure we are bringing in more diverse thought to not only our employee ranks but our leadership,” Murphy said. “But also, many bankers have leadership roles within the community, and it’s important to continue to emphasize the imperative of having diverse views at the table, and in doing so, it will lift all communities.”  

 An Intentional Approach 

The MBA’s process for developing its DEI strategic plan did not begin until July 2021, more than a year after Floyd’s death and the pandemic, which had also highlighted inequities tied to systemic racism.  

Murphy, who had joined the MBA in the fall of 2020 after leading the Maryland Bankers Association for 20 years, said the organization did not want to take an approach to DEI that just gave it “lip service.” 

“We want to make sure that we have put financial resources behind this effort and that it’s sustainable,” Murphy said. 

Christopher Oddleifson, Rockland Trust’s CEO, first questioned Murphy about the MBA’s position on DEI in early 2021 after Lee Pelton, now CEO and president of The Boston Foundation, had asked Oddleifson what bankers were doing about DEI. 

Oddleifson, who traces his commitment to racial and social justice to the influence of his parents, said Rockland Trust had started its DEI journey 15 years ago. Following the death of George Floyd, he said an informal group at the bank began evaluating its DEI initiatives and realized the efforts lacked a governance structure. The bank then put together a structure and framework around DEI, Oddleifson said, adding that the process helped him understand the need to take an intentional approach when developing DEI plans. 

“I felt that there was a need at the industry level to be able to provide the industry with a roadmap of sorts,” Oddleifson said. 

Weeks after first calling Murphy about DEI, Oddleifson was asked to lead a steering committee focused on the issue. 

 ‘We Needed to Elevate Our Game’ 

The initiative began with a survey sent to the MBA’s 120 member banks, with 50 banks responding.  

The results showed that banks were at different places in their DEI journeys, Murphy said. She added that the steering committee, which included 14 bankers and three staff members from the MBA, also kept in mind that while 42 percent was a strong survey response rate, 70 banks had not participated.  

“It was very clear that banks throughout Massachusetts were on different points on the curve,” said Dedham Savings Bank’s President and CEO Peter Brown, who was on the committee as chair of the MBA’s board. “The survey determined that we definitely needed to elevate our game as an industry.” 

“We definitely needed to elevate our game as an industry.”
— Peter Brown, president and CEO, Dedham Savings Bank 

The banks considered furthest along on their DEI journeys were Rockland Trust and Eastern Bank, Brown said. He added that both Oddleifson and Eastern Bank CEO Bob Rivers, who was also on the steering committee, made significant contributions to developing the strategic plan. 

“I can’t emphasize enough the work and openness that Chris and Bob shared with the committee during this whole exercise,” Brown said. “They were invaluable to the process.”  

Guided by DEI consultant Shirley Davis, who has experience working in the banking industry, the committee put together a four-year plan that includes strategic goals for the MBA as well as six pillars for banks to use when implementing DEI plans.

Hosting a DEI summit was one of the goals of the plan, and Davis will facilitate that event on June 14. The plan also calls for annual DEI surveys, as well as the launch of a website to provide members with ongoing resources. 

 DEI Council to Help Lenders 

Another part of the plan called for the formation of a DEI Council. The MBA had researched the work of other organizations, including state banking trade groups, Murphy said, and noted that some had started by establishing DEI councils. She said having a DEI vision first before bringing together a council worked out better for the MBA. 

“At one point we thought we were a little behind than others,” Murphy said. “But what we learned in going through this process and having a plan is that we believe that we’re actually one of the leading state bankers associations in terms of helping our members.” 

Nicole Almeida, chief diversity officer at Swansea-based BayCoast Bank, will co-chair the DEI council along with Dan Moriarty, president and CEO of Monson Savings Bank.

Diane McLaughlin

Almeida said the 24-member council consists of a diverse group of bankers from different size institutions across Massachusetts. 

A longtime advocate for women in banking, Almeida said racial equity affects her on a personal level since one of her two adult sons is a person of color.  

She said the six DEI pillars included in the strategic plan will help banks whether they are at the beginning stages of implementing DEI or further along in the process. She added that the work will be important to help banks that already make significant contributions in their communities. 

“The biggest challenge is always looking internally within your own four walls,” Almeida said. “Taking clear stock of where you are from a diversity perspective – with your culture, your staff, your activities, all of those things – really looking at it through that lens is very difficult to do and those are hard conversations.” 

Mass. Bankers Takes Steps to Guide Industry DEI Efforts

by Diane McLaughlin time to read: 5 min