Resource Group at Commerce Bank Helps Women RISE to Their Fullest Potential
Back in 2015, Melanie Boykin and four of her Commerce Bank colleagues came together over a common purpose: to establish a program that would provide female team members opportunities to come together, build relationships and develop their capabilities. “It was apparent that women were happy to be working at Commerce,” says Boykin, a business continuity and disaster recovery coordinator. “We wanted to give them even more reasons to love working here.”
As a result of the small group’s efforts, Commerce’s first employee resource group, called RISE, was born. RISE, which stands for “Respect, Inspire, Succeed, Empower,” helps women at Commerce Bank develop as leaders, mentors, coaches and role models, while also providing opportunities to develop personal and professional relationships through the company.
The founding members worked on building out the mission and structure of RISE for a about a year prior to officially launching in St. Louis and Kansas City in March 2016. Boykin served as a co-chair for the group from the launch until the end of 2019, and during that span, membership grew from the small group of founders to more than 1,200 today.
“It really became much more than I expected, and it’s been a rewarding labor of love,” says Boykin. “I’ve seen it help so many people and bring people together. There’s a great sense of purpose to this group.”
As RISE continued to grow, new chapters were established throughout the Commerce network. Pam Howe, a senior vice president for Commerce Bank in Peoria, was eager to help establish an Illinois chapter. Part of her motivation came from an experience that happened at the beginning of her 35-year banking career.
Howe had applied for a role at a different bank, and the president of the bank called her father to ask how he felt about his daughter applying for a position in an otherwise all-male department. “My father was smart and didn’t tell me about that call until years later,” Howe says now. “Those sorts of things aren’t happening anymore, but I want to make sure they never do. Being involved with RISE is a great way to share my own experiences and help others avoid some of the things I’ve encountered.”
RISE offers a wide variety of programs to team members, all designed to help with their professional development. Among the programs are presentations given by leaders inside and outside the company on a variety of topics, ranging from personal finance and leadership development to diversity and inclusion topics and the importance of a personal brand.
“Many of these talks have been very helpful, and I can say that because I’ve personally gotten a lot out of them,” says Boykin. “I keep journals with all my notes from the presentations, and I’ll sometimes go back and read through them, and it helps me find motivation, confidence and energy.”
Virtual workshops are also popular. During these workshops, groups throughout the entire Commerce network gather and connect with each other via phone and videoconferencing to discuss a variety of topics and share personal experiences.
Howe is a frequent participant in these gatherings in her Illinois region. “We’ll watch thought-leadership presentations together, or discuss news stories that are relevant to women in the workplace,” she says. “People often share their personal experiences with a given issue and talk about how they overcame their own challenges. Sometimes a topic will also be relevant for our lives away from work as well.”
A RISE book club encourages participants to develop themselves by reading, discussing, and reporting on books on leadership, business, coaching and more. “There’s a lot of enthusiasm around the book club,” says Howe. “I hear team members often ask what the next book will be, and they’re enjoying the interaction and learning. It helps people feel heard and valued, and it helps them feel like they’re contributing to the conversation here at Commerce.”
Perhaps the most important aspect of RISE is that it brings together people from every part of the organization, creating opportunities for team members to make new connections with colleagues in other lines of business, and across all levels of seniority. Mentorships often take root, both on a formal and informal basis, helping group members gain a more holistic view of the company.
RISE isn’t all about work, though; it also has a social and charitable side to it. For example, the Kansas City chapter hosts an annual “Galentine’s Day” gathering, and at the 2020 edition, group members will create greeting cards for residents of a local senior home. Many chapters have gotten involved in breast cancer awareness and fundraising activities. There are also gatherings that are held purely for fun, like wine and sign painting parties.
Boykin says the cumulative effect of all the programs and events RISE offers is that it helps many Commerce team members feel more comfortable being themselves in the workplace. “I’ve seen people who join RISE really build up their confidence,” she says. “They meet people, make connections and take leadership roles within the group. It helps people really come out of their shells. I’ve seen it so many times. It’s helped me, too. My own work with RISE has given me more confidence in public speaking and decision-making.”
RISE’s success has also inspired Commerce to develop additional resource groups, such as EMERGE, for young professionals; VIBE, for multicultural team members; and PRIDE, for LGBTQ+ team members. Notably, each of the ERGs is open for all team members to join.
Looking back at the time since RISE was started by a small group of employees, Boykin is proud to see what it’s grown into, and the other groups that it has inspired. “It started off as four people on a phone call,” she recalls, “and now it’s this super-amazing thing that’s changing lives.”