For the Greater Good: Commerce Attorney is a Tireless Advocate for Inclusion and Diversity
Chrissy Teske, a senior attorney at Commerce Bank, is passionate about her role providing legal counsel on a wide variety of issues such as corporate governance, regulatory matters, corporate real estate and commercial lending. If you ask her, she will also tell you she is equally passionate about being an advocate for diversity, equity and inclusion.
Teske credits her parents, who immigrated from Guyana before she was born, for instilling in her the importance of organizations being welcoming to all. “My upbringing and my parents absolutely influenced my desire to focus on inclusion and diversity issues in my career,” she says. “I spent most of my childhood watching them struggle to try to overcome the issues that are present when you aren’t part of an equitable and inclusive environment.”
She says her parents often had to make concessions that they shouldn’t have had to, simply because they were immigrants. “They instilled in me to always, regardless of my position in life, try to use my voice to fight for equity and inclusiveness for all.”
Teske notes that even before joining Commerce, she has always looked for opportunities to become deeply involved in issues of diversity, equity and inclusion. “I’ve never worked in fields that were particularly diverse,” Teske says. “Because of that, it’s always been important to me to find ways to show how inclusion and diversity benefit a company, its employees and ultimately the community at large.”
One way in which Teske works toward this goal is by serving on Commerce’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Council, helping to ensure that the bank continues to enhance its work environment to attract, recruit and retain a workforce that reflects the diversity of the communities it serves.
“I’m proud of what the Council has done,” Teske says. “It’s great to have a group comprised of so many people from different areas of the bank, all of whom are trying to help educate people and increase understanding about the ways diversity, equity and inclusion efforts benefit us all.”
Teske is also active in two of Commerce’s employee resource groups (ERGs): RISE, which is the bank’s group for women; and EMERGE, its group for young professionals. These groups are designed to help team members build important personal connections, develop their careers, and meet others within the company who share their experiences. Teske says she has been involved in RISE and EMERGE since shortly after joining Commerce in 2016. “I was eager to find meaningful ways to get involved with the company when I joined,” she says.
Teske says she knew right away that getting involved in the ERGs was the right approach. “ERGs are amazing groups to get involved with,” she notes. “You get to meet people from all over the bank. You also find out how things work in different areas of the company. As a new hire, it’s a great way to feel connected to the bank, and to get to know people at a personal level.”
Even before joining the bank, Teske had been highly involved in the community, and it’s something she continues today. She’s active with the St. Louis chapter of the Association of Corporate Counsel (ACC), a professional development group for in-house counsel professionals, and was one of their first Membership Committee Chairs who was also a person of color.
At ACC, Teske has an active role in the group’s Diversity Summer Internship Program, which gives minority law students substantive experience and meaningful exposure to in-house counsel roles. She also participates frequently in the St. Louis Street Law program, which introduces legal careers to students from Cardinal Ritter College Prep, particularly those from backgrounds that are underrepresented in the legal profession.
In addition to her work with ACC, Teske serves on the boards of two local nonprofits: UCP Heartland; which provides quality programs, services and support to adults and children living with disabilities; and Guardian Angel Settlement Association, which helps St. Louisans living in poverty achieve economic independence.
Doing such work is important to Teske. “You can’t understand or educate yourself on the challenges faced by people with disabilities or living in poverty unless they are a part of your dialogue,” she says.
She also believes that her nonprofit work makes her more effective in her position at Commerce. “My different roles on nonprofit boards have given me the opportunity to develop strong leadership and communication skills,” she says. “I’ve had the opportunity to learn to work effectively with different types of people from all different backgrounds.”
Peggy Rowe, deputy general counsel at Commerce, works with Teske and says she recognized early on that she brought more to the table than most. “I was part of the conversation when we hired her,” Rowe says. “When you conduct a lot of interviews, candidates can all start to look the same, but once in a while someone will really stand out. That was our experience with Chrissy.”
Rowe adds that Teske’s willingness to seek out ways to make an impact at the bank is part of what sets her apart. “She’s willing to help with things outside of her job description,” Rowe says. “Her work with the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Council at Commerce is a good example. She recognizes that you’ll get more out of your job if you raise your hand for things. She makes the company better through her involvement.”
It’s a spirit that she brings with her to Commerce every day – and she’s looking forward to continuing to do so for a long time to come. “Commerce has a reputation as a place you never want to leave,” she says. “There’s such longevity here, and I’m excited about continuing to learn, develop and be a leader.”
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