Kelli Gargasz Helps Fifth Third Reach Out to Women

Staff Writer
Columbus CEO

Armed with a degree in human genetics from the University of Kansas, Kelli Gargasz moved to Columbus in the early 1990s for a job at Chemical Abstracts Service that ultimately fell through. She soon found herself working by day as a teller at Fifth Third Bank, earning $7 an hour, and by night as a cocktail waitress at a country bar in The Continent.

Gargasz knew she wanted something more.

Her willingness to work hard and ask for more responsibility soon moved her up the banking ladder to financial center manager for a Fifth Third branch in Westerville. But she realized that many women lack the chance or confidence to seek the opportunities she had found, and she wanted to do something about it.

So Gargasz helped to create the Women's Network, an effort to educate and empower women in the corporate banking environment. The program was launched a decade ago based on a model in Fifth Third's Cincinnati offices.

"We want women to be prepared to seek success," says Gargasz, now senior vice president and director of private banking and personal trust. "Men take risks. We need to teach women to do the same."

The goals of the Women's Network are:

  • To help women define and achieve success within their career track
  • To retain and advance a first-class women's talent pool
  • To provide more formal networking opportunities and to foster a mentoring environment for women
  • To create opportunities to market to and network with women in the marketplace

To that end, Fifth Third created four committees to do everything from hosting events specifically for female clients to planning networking and professional development events.

The Women's Network, which has nearly 100 members, was the first of four groups formed by Fifth Third employees to advance the company's growing population diversity. The leaders of the African-American, GLBT and Multicultural and Women's networks make up the bank's Respect and Inclusion Advisory Board.

Previously called the Diversity Council, the board's goals are to promote and enhance awareness of diversity in the workplace while also working to attract, retain and develop employees from different backgrounds. Activities include "Networking with the Leaders," a bingo game based on personal background information; charitable endeavors; and monthly "champion" events to celebrate such topics as Women's History, African-American History, Veterans' History and the Chinese New Year.

With meetings open to all employees, the board aims to utilize the uniqueness of each person to bolster the company as a whole and to open a dialogue about what diversity means to the greater operational good.

"We have had such success as an organization because the people at the executive level realize we have to have different voices at the table," Gargasz says. "We need diversity as far as what the board looks like, and for diversity of thought. Diversity makes us all stronger."

Nicole Kraft is a freelance writer.

Reprinted from the September 2012 issue of Columbus C.E.O. Copyright © Columbus C.E.O.