Pull Up A Chair: How Having The Right People At The Table Paves The Way For Others
Photo Credit: AfroTech

Pull Up A Chair: How Having The Right People At The Table Paves The Way For Others

The year is 2016, and behind a syncopated instrumental, you hear the clarion call: “Who run the world?” And the emphatic answer is “Girls!” Fast forward five years, and the answer remains the same. While they’ve been killing the game for centuries on end, there’s still room for more women to have a seat at the table. And the tides are changing, one chair at a time. 

 T. Rowe Price shares the same sentiment through its commitment to gender equality. But how does an organization truly advocate for equity? The global investment firm understands that creating spaces for inclusion is not an act of happenstance. It takes introspection, dedicated resources and programming to ensure equal access to a seat at the decision-making table.

This commitment to inclusion is made evident by the thriving careers of T. Rowe Price’s associates. Recently, AfroTech sat down with Teresa Woodard, Head of Trading Analytics, and Shonyel Lyons, Head of Client Experience, Americas, to discuss their impact on the finance industry and how T. Rowe Price supports their career development.

The Road Less Traveled

When people think about tech and finance, most have a specific academic track, networking plan and job strategy in mind. As time and culture continue to evolve, these more traditional paths are not a matter of fact. Woodard and Lyons are testaments to this emerging trend.

Teresa Woodard, Head of Trading Analytics

Teresa Woodard graduated college with degrees in political science and Spanish. She spent the first few years at T. Rowe Price in administrative roles supporting project managers and analysts. While working in this space, Woodard was approached by her manager with a question that can be intimidating: “What do you want to do next?” 

Nervous because she had just started a family, Woodard didn’t know what to expect from such a question. “‘I hope he doesn’t fire me because I just had a baby,’” she jokes. “What he was probing me on was ‘What was I interested in and how could I use my background to go further?’ This is how I got on the path of data analysis.”

This question sparked Woodard’s interest, and she began working in data analysis, utilizing her liberal arts background and love for research as translatable skills toward her advancement. However, she wouldn’t stay in that role for long. After a few years, Woodard found herself in what she calls a “typical bathroom conversation” with another co-worker, who told her about a new position on the trading desk. That one push led to over a decade of building products that examine all trade orders from execution to post-trading.

Shonyel Lyons, Head of Client Experience, Americas

Meanwhile, Lyons has spent her entire career — 20+ years! — in the financial service industry despite graduating with a degree in communications with a focus on marketing. This is a testament to the fact that there isn’t one way to get to T. Rowe Price.

Directly out of undergrad, Lyons had several job offers that directly aligned with her degree focus. However, there was a specific job in tech that stood out to her. During the beginning of the tech boom in 2001, Lyons was so intrigued that she abandoned what would have been “the right fit” and opted for the path she was created for. 

As a self-proclaimed strategic change agent, Lyons spent the majority of her time at T. Rowe Price as the Head of Global Distribution Intelligence. In this role, she was responsible for delivering customer-centric analytics to sales and marketing associates globally with a focus on helping firms transition to using data as an asset to gain business insight. 

“It was an interesting opportunity, and I could always fall back on those other skills if I needed to. But why don’t I push myself and try something new? And it all worked out,” explains Lyons.

Although Lyons struck gold by venturing down a nontraditional path into tech and finance, moving into the new space left her with the lingering feeling of wanting to be more engaged with the client. The new question became: How would she leverage her experience and new skills in tech to get back to the client? Needless to say, Lyons is finding her way back. In her new role, Lyons is leading the charge for client experience in the institutional sales organization. She’s motivated to transform a model that has remained mostly stagnant over time, which will benefit the client and T. Rowe Price. 

Know Your Worth + Build Your Community

Moving up starts within. Understanding the power of your voice is critical to how you remain the captain of the ship. What do you want to do? How do you want to advance? What are the key elements necessary to take you to the next level? A combination of questions like these helped Lyons realize she was the best designer for what her future could be.

“To do something different, you have to have that personal advocacy. You must be able to tell people, ‘Hey, I want to do this other thing.’ And once you do that, you will have people rallying behind asking ‘How can we help Shonyel get closer to the client?’ But it takes that personal advocacy and rallying for that type of transition to occur,” she points out.

The introspection and confidence in what she wanted attracted others to Lyons’ desire to pivot and continue to grow. Personal advocacy created the path but building a community that believed in what she wanted is what made the journey tangible.

 Woodard also understands the power of self-awareness and cultivating a core community that believes in you. “The way you navigate this journey is by knowing who you are and knowing what your strengths are. Knowing your strengths also means knowing when to ask for help. Who is your power posse?” 

Cultivating a personal board of directors can be the game-changer that helps one rise through the ranks. Woodard and Lyons are products of faith in oneself, and mentorship done well.

It’s Not Our Turn. It’s Our Time.

Often, the tides don’t change until the right people are at the table, and Lyons and Woodard have pulled up their proverbial folding chairs (shout out to Shirley Chisolm). While T. Rowe Price is dedicated to gender equality and inclusiveness, these women understand that the industry itself needs some work. Approaching work and development from a place of empathy, compassion and intentionality is crucial to ensuring everyone has access to what’s necessary to get to the next level.

“We have to figure out a way to have internal mobility. For folks at the mid-level, we have to up their exposure and visibility. We have to define what’s next and not let people get stuck. People need to move around,” says Woodard.

With resource groups like the Black Leadership Council and Amplify Voices in place, Lyons jumped at the opportunity to use her skills to develop complex solutions and lead by example to push the needle forward for those coming behind her.

“My hope is that my continued growth in this industry can be used as an example for Black women looking to enter the financial industry. Also, I hope to serve as an example of the different career options in financial services,” Lyons points out.

No matter how unique the journey, Woodard and Lyons are living examples of how persistence and the belief in oneself can be a game-changer. To those looking to take on a similar path, these women encourage them to research and pursue internships, take advantage of networking opportunities and do a deep dive into what their passions are.

Beyond advising those on their way up, Woodard would tell her younger self to stop sitting in the back and to pursue those connections she didn’t think were possible. For Lyons, the message would be about believing in her potential and limiting all the time spent worrying about the next step.

Neither of these women was satisfied with the status quo, and how could they be? With influences like Mellody Hobson, Roz Brewer, Luvvie Ajayi and Serena Williams, Woodard and Lyons are consistently motivated to go above and beyond the call of duty. So, when the question about who runs the world comes up again, look to Teresa Woodard and Shonyel Lyons. They’ll have the answer.

Click here to learn more about T. Rowe Price and its work to amplify the position of women in the industry.

This editorial is brought to you in partnership with T. Rowe Price.