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Girl Work: How Lynn Tankesley Followed Her Values and Found Success.

Growing up, there was no such thing as “boy work” or “girl work” for Lynn Tankesley. On her family farm, work was simply “work.” As soon as you were big enough and strong enough, you pitched in.

This was a lesson Lynn carried with her throughout her career.

Today, as Commerce Bank’s chief risk officer, Lynn reflects on her career journey, she realizes just how important that mentality was. From the beginning, she never saw a limit for herself. She knew if she put in the work, the recognition would follow. And it did. Since joining the bank more than 25 years ago, Lynn grew from an individual contributor in the compliance department to becoming the chief risk officer who oversees many of the bank’s risk management teams.

In honor of Women’s History Month, we talked with Lynn to learn more about her career path, her experience as a working mother and how we can support women in the workforce.

Commerce Bank: You’ve recently moved into the role of chief risk officer this past December. Have you always had ambition to take on an executive role?

I learned early in my career I had a passion for managing. After college, I took part in a management trainee program at a bank holding company in Colorado, where I grew up. Within a year I was leading a team.

I did take about a decade-long break from managing when I first arrived at Commerce. However, after that time, I could feel the itch to lead again. While I’ve always felt rewarded from managing others, I never would have dreamed my career would to take me where I am today.

If you told me when I first began in the compliance department in the early ‘90s that one day I’d be leading the department, as well as several other teams, I probably wouldn’t have believed you. It was a lot rarer to see women in leadership those days.

Commerce Bank: You mentioned taking a break from management, why did you give it up?

Lynn: I became a mother and my priorities shifted. While I never lost passion for my work, I knew my commitment was always going to be to my family first. So, I made the decision to stay in an individual contributor role. It was the right move for me at the time.

Commerce Bank: That’s a tough choice. Did you have any concern about the impact to your career?

At the time, probably not, because while I loved my work, my family is my first love. I would have done what was right for them, regardless of its impact on me.

However, I still stayed in the workforce and grew during my time as an individual contributor. I raised my hand for projects that stretched my skills and dedicated time to making meaningful relationships. That wealth of experience and trust I built made it a lot easier to transition back into a leadership role when I was ready, and when it made sense for my family.

I like to joke and say that they finally decided to make me the boss because I was already bossing everyone around. But in seriousness, I have to give credit to Commerce for this transition too. I’m fortunate to work for a company with a culture that would never look down on or think less of a person for prioritizing their family. Even though I pressed pause on my management career, my colleagues saw value in my experience and ability.

Commerce Bank: That’s incredible. You mentioned the importance of relationships. Did you have any female mentors who helped you get to where you are?

Of course! I’ve been lucky enough to work with inspirational women at every step of my career. As far as mentors, two influential women come to mind.

The first was my first manager in Commerce’s compliance department – Becky O’Connor. My experience was mostly with banks that were far smaller than Commerce, so I had a lot to learn. Becky took the time to teach me how to work in an organization this size and never lost patience. She really helped me hit the ground running. I know she’d probably never think someone would say this about her, but she was quite nurturing.

And the second would be Sara Foster, our executive over talent management and corporate administration. She’s played an active role in my career, but her influence goes even further back than our personal relationship.

I was a few years into my career at Commerce when Sara joined the executive management team. It was the first time I could remember seeing a woman so highly ranking in a company I worked for. It was one of those moments where you think to yourself, wow, things are changing.

And since then I’ve had the opportunity to work closely with her. It was Sara who pulled me aside that first time and asked if I was interested in a director role. Since then we’ve worked together. Not only did she see potential in me, but she’s stayed by me and helped me navigate life at this level.

Commerce Bank: It sounds like you’ve had some great mentors. How have you helped provide the same guidance to others?

Lynn: It’s my job as a manager to develop those around me. I’m invested in my team and care about them as employees and as people. That’s why I take time to understand them, their goals and strengths, so I can help them reach their potential. And I’m not outside the norm. I’ve seen this same care and consideration in many managers at Commerce. Knowing your manager cares means the world to team members.

Commerce Bank: How can a manager show their support for women in the workforce?

Lynn: My mind always goes to those working mothers, since that’s been my experience. I can think of two ways to support those women.

First is flexibility and understanding with childcare. When my children were younger, there wasn’t a lot of support. That is a major hurdle to my career, if I hadn’t realized the importance of staying in the workforce back then, I wouldn’t be where I am today. If we want women to move into leadership, we have to make it possible for them to work and be mothers. It’s our job to help them develop and grow their professional skills, even if they aren’t moving into leadership roles for another decade or two.

Another way to support women, is to support men. Or I should say, support working fathers. It’s been inspiring to see the shift where men are now taking on more of the childcare. And as a leader, I make it a point to share the same flexibility I’d give to working mothers, to working fathers. Every time a father can help with childcare, I know there’s a woman who’s benefited by being able to stay in her job that day.

Commerce Bank: What advice do you have for those working moms?

Lynn: I would say to know your values. I see a lot of women trying to have it all at one time. I would remind them, we have a long time for a career. Most of us work 40 years or more. Even if you spend a decade focusing on your family, you have three quarters of your career left to reach your goals.

That’s not to say you don’t have to work hard in that time, but if you get out of your comfort zone, volunteer for new projects and build relationships, you’ll have a foundation to build off when you’re ready.
And of course, knowing your values helps you strike the right balance for you. That’s what I let guide me. And although I had no idea that I would be where I am today, I wouldn’t change a thing. Although it was unexpected and challenging, it’s been thrilling—every moment of it.

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