The Financial Journey is a unique series focused on financial education and opportunities. These stories have been created through a strategic partnership between Wells Fargo and Word In Black.

The number of women leaders in the financial services industry has steadily increased within the past ten years. Women now hold 18% of corporate positions, globally, according to a 2023 report from Deloitte. An estimated 5% of those positions have been held by women of color, according to McKinsey & Company. Despite gradual improvements in women’s representation, it is often difficult to bring new ideas and strategies to the fore. The industry is traditional. It may even seem unyielding at times. But there’s hope for Black women determined to encourage innovation at work.

“Be 100% authentic to who you are,” recommends Kristy Fercho, head of Diverse Segments, Representation and Inclusion (DSRI). Fercho is the first Black woman executive in Wells Fargo’s history to report directly to the CEO. As the leader of DSRI, she is responsible for integrating diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) into the company’s business, developing products and services to serve customers from underserved communities, and driving DE&I initiatives companywide. This year, American Banker included her on its Powerful Women to Watch list, which includes founders, board chairs, and legal experts from the nation’s most influential financial institutions. It is the third consecutive year that Fercho has earned this recognition for Wells Fargo.

“As the only black woman in many of the rooms, I feel as if it’s my obligation to speak up, bring the voice of others into the room and to offer a different perspective,” says Fercho. “If I don’t speak up, authentically, I’ve missed the opportunity to challenge the status quo.”

A 2020 analysis of data from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission found that 3% of Black women held the highest positions in financial service firms. Since then, there have been strategic efforts to create opportunities for new perspectives within the corporate culture. This includes organizing summits and requesting regular feedback. There is evidence that diversity increases companies’ profitability and long-term viability.

Tanya Sanders, head of Wells Fargo’s auto division, says that there are other ways for up-and-coming women leaders to make progress, such as continuing education. “If you can embrace change as an opportunity to learn something new, it will make the difference between being seen as a leader, or innovator versus being left behind,” Sanders recently told Word in Black.

She recently joined American Banker’s Powerful Women to Watch list, praised for being intentional about how she applies her curiosity and love of problem solving to her job. Before pivoting to finance, Sanders had a career in mechanical engineering. She was also the first in her immediate family to graduate from college.

The path toward executive leadership may vary from person to person, but what’s for certain is that the presence of Black women affirms the infinite possibilities in this sphere.

Wells Fargo Bank, N.A. is a member of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation.