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Perspective

#WomenInFinance Are Built to Lead — An Interview with Colette Taylor, CEO and Chair of Russell Investments Trust Company

State Street

December 11,2019

#WomenInFinance celebrates strong women in all corners of the financial services industry who are using their talent and power to change the game.

Think of history’s most successful leaders. What qualities do they exhibit consistently? Are they trustworthy and authentic? Do they foster honesty and transparency? Colette Taylor, CEO and Chair of Russell Investments Trust Company, leads with others in mind. Why? Because she knows that leaders who understand and advocate for the team boost engagement, cultivate trust and build better relationships.

You’ve been CEO and Chair of Russell Investments Trust Company for nearly 10 years. As a leader of your organization, what are the most important decisions you make?

Three things come to mind. First, hiring the right people for the right roles. Our associate base is essential to successful client engagement and retention. We have to ask ourselves: does this person have the right aptitude and the right attitude?

Second, building an inclusive, collaborative culture. People in this company are called “associates,” not employees — a subtle but impactful nod to our culture. It humanizes and equalizes the environment. Everyone, from the most entry-level role to the C-suite, is valued and is on the same team, working together toward a common goal. How we engage with our clients and each other is vital to maintaining our culture, and to the retention of both clients and associates.

Lastly, how I choose to spend my time. What are my goals? The firm’s goals? Our clients’ goals? Am I spending my time on something that isn’t a key objective? This is true is my personal life as well. I’m very involved in community boards and nonprofits, but I’m also careful with what I commit to. I’ve had to make some really tough choices over the years and I have learned to delegate. Saying “yes” to one thing may mean saying “no” to another.

You founded and served as president of Russell Investments Women’s Network — and chaired their Global Diversity and Inclusion Roundtable for several years. How have these programs inspired change at Russell Investments, and how can companies continue to make an impact through inclusion and diversity initiatives?

Our diversity and inclusion programs were a grassroots effort for many years and have since amplified across the organization. We’re lucky to have strong allies and advocates at all levels of the firm. We’ve dedicated significant time and energy to the firm’s Diversity and Inclusion Roundtable — which covers our women, multicultural and LGBTQ associate resource groups. Recently, Russell Investments launched two more associate resource groups to support our veterans and other individuals starting a new career. I am always in awe at the number of associates who come forward to serve on the steering committees of these resource groups.

One thing I love about this industry is that people are supportive of each other’s corporate initiatives, so it’s easy to have an open dialogue. For example, I’ve discussed best practices on inclusion and diversity with State Street Chief Diversity Officer Paul Francisco. It’s so important to learn from each other! At the end of the day, companies can be the change agents in this industry, and this can be amplified by working together.

You sit on several boards, including Partners in Care and Guardianship Services of Seattle Trust Company. What are the key points you’ve taken away from your board service, and how does it impact the way you work at Russell Investments?

I’ve sat on boards in several sectors — banking, higher education, healthcare, correctional services — and I’ve watched these different industries go through massive changes. Healthcare is a great example. Witnessing organizations work through profound change is inspiring and educational. In many cases, I’ve been able to bring what I’ve learned back to our industry. Conversely, I can contribute knowledge from the changes we’ve experienced — different perspectives can build exceptional ideas.

In the past, you’ve described yourself as a “servant leader.” How has your leadership style played out both inside and outside work?

Being a leader comes in many forms such as actually managing a team, serving on a board or managing a project/program, which I call leading from the side. Any form of leadership is an incredible privilege and responsibility. I tend to picture an inverted triangle — front line people are on the top, and the rest of us are here to support and serve the front line. I see servant leadership as one way to contribute to this world. It is a characteristic that not only works in the corporate world, but also in the non-profit space.

The best way to be successful at this is to focus on the person on the other side of the table — what do they need, and can we create a better outcome for both parties?

How do you work with different kinds of leaders?

I immediately think of a Stephen Covey quote: “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” The best way to be successful at this is to get outside of your head, and instead focus on the person on the other side of the table — what do they need, and can we create a better outcome for both parties? So often, whoever is the loudest, most assertive person in the room wins. We need assertive people to push us, sure, but we also need someone to ask the quietest person what they think, and we need those who can bring us to consensus. As leaders, it’s our job to bring diverse strengths and opinions to the table.

Nine years ago, I participated in a year-long leadership development program. Part of my discovery during this time was a detailed awareness of my biases and blinders.  This experience caught me off guard and opened my eyes. In general, I discovered the sameness that was around me. Perhaps I had picked up habits that I was not aware of. It’s human nature to have biases and I don’t think that’s shameful. The work is in acknowledging them and recognizing how they can impact you and your decisions.

Recent studies have found that companies with gender-diverse executive teams were more likely to outperform on profitability and have superior value creation. What can our industry do to help develop the pipeline of female executives?

Mentoring and reverse mentoring — this is key for up-and-comers across the diversity spectrum. Reverse mentoring is something we intentionally did in our investment division where women began mentoring senior-level men. It was eye-opening. Male executives — the traditional decision-makers — were mentored and given advice by women at all different levels in different areas of the company. It provided great exposure for these women and a safe place to ask questions. Three years into the program, we’ve expanded past the investment division.

In addition, firms need to change fundamental processes, procedures and human resources functions. Let’s take a look at the metrics, both quantitative and qualitative. As leaders, we need to take the first step in providing professional development, sponsorship, mentoring and a focus on cultivating top performers.

What’s the most important lesson you’ve taken away from your career?

There’s no single most important lesson, but learning how to listen ranks near the top. Being a good listener has helped me in so many ways. Learning is a journey; five years from now I may have a different answer. I’m still on the journey.


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