Inside the U.S. Bank's Grantmaking, and Its Growing Push on Gender Equity

Reba Dominski, President, U.S. Bank FoundationIs the 5th-largest bank in the U.S. gearing up for an unprecedented focus on gender equity and diversity in both its corporate responsibility and foundation strategies?

The answer to this question—posed to Reba Dominski, senior vice president of corporate social responsibility and president of the U.S. Bank Foundation—seems to be maybe.

“We don’t yet have a gender-specific lens to our grantmaking, and I say 'yet' intentionally, because it’s absolutely on the radar. Issues of gender equity and other issues of diversity and inclusion are under careful consideration as we continue to evolve our strategy.”

For a regional bank, U.S. Bank is pretty big. In fact, it’s the 5th-largest bank in the country. Headquartered in Minneapolis, the bank has 3,133 locations in 25 states, and an estimated $428 billion in assets. It currently employs more than 67,000 people.

Despite being so large, this is still an organization that thinks of itself as locally based. “What our employees do day in and day out is share their expertise and give back to the local community,” says Dominski. Grounded in the work of banking—giving people the financial tools to explore possibilities in life—the bank also uses its grantmaking to fuel economic development.

Reba Dominski joined U.S. Bank about a year ago, and during that short span, has rolled out big changes. Six months ago, the bank introduced a new corporate giving and engagement platform called Community Possible, which focuses on three pillar areas: work, home, and play. The overarching goal, here, is to foster possibility and achievement, particularly in underserved communities, by making grants in these three areas.

On work, the foundation wants to create stable jobs and invests in financial literacy training, grant funding to small businesses for technical assistance, and establish job training programs that move people into the workforce. A recent example of a grant under this pillar is a 2015 investment in Self Enhancement, a Portland-based nonprofit we written about in the past that supports at-risk kids graduate high school and attend college.

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For its home pillar, the foundation provides grants to organizations and programs that support access to safe and affordable homes, home buyer education, and homeowner retention. In 2015, U.S. Bank provided a $25,000 grant to Neighborhood Housing Services of Chicago to support neighborhood revitalization through affordable housing and homeownership programs for low- to moderate-income families. In addition, U.S. Bank Foundation has a multi-year partnership with Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity, helping build and repair homes for families with limited income.

The play pillar of the foundation’s grantmaking supports a wide range of activities for artistic and cultural enrichment, arts education, and the Places to Play initiatives for underserved communities. This has included a $30,000 grant to the New Children’s Museum in San Diego that will provide year-round free access to the museum for families and support artist-led workshops in local community centers in the area. “The arts, recreation, and play are really at the heart of possibility for all of us,” says Dominski.

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All of this grantmaking is solidly grounded in community development, but this focus may be shifting more toward gender equity and diversity in the near future, as Dominski gets her sea legs at this massive financial institution. “We believe that supporting women helps build strong, resilient communities and business. It’s good for business, it’s good for community,” says Dominski.

This could be big news for the financial services industry, which needs more leaders promoting gender equity. But Dominski had more to say about how the bank is already prioritizing gender equity. While U.S. Bank Foundation does not yet have a gender-specific lens to its grantmaking, Dominski made a compelling case for how the bank supports women’s economic advancement in many parts of its business strategy.

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One way U.S. Bank does this is by having wealth management professionals on hand who are skilled in guiding clients toward socially responsible investments. “We work with our wealth management clients to help them understand the merit of investing in businesses that support and advance women,” says Dominski, who noted that more clients today want to make sure their investments are being managed in a socially responsible way. “If a client cares about women’s issues, we can help direct their investments to companies that have women in leadership roles and are really thoughtful about women in their programs and policies.”

Another important way that U.S. Bank supports women’s economic development is through its supplier diversity program. From a business perspective, powerful change can arise by conducting business with women. “We’re a corporate member of the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council, so through our procurement and other policies, we spent over $116 million with certified women-owned enterprises in 2015. We do business with over 240 women-owned businesses and 58 percent of our diverse vendor base is women-owned.”

The increasing investments that U.S. Bank is making in supplier diversity are worth noting. The company’s spending with diverse suppliers increased 19 percent from $309 million in 2014 to $368 million in 2015. Part of this jump is due to the company including veteran and LGBT-owned businesses categories in its 2015 numbers.

But perhaps most importantly, U.S. Bank has been working internally to cultivate women’s employment and advancement for years. “This is one of the reasons I was drawn to U.S. Bank and came to work here,” says Dominski. U.S. Bank is beating many of the benchmarks in the financial services industry for both employing and advancing women. Over 60 percent of the company’s workforce is women. The benchmark, provided by Diversity Inc., for best-in-class financial services companies in employing women is 46 percent.

But even more surprising: Nearly 50 percent of all of U.S. Bank’s management positions are held by women. The benchmark for best-in-class in this category is 42 percent.

How does U.S. Bank do such a good job of attracting, employing and advancing women? Dominski credits the company’s strong business resource groups for women, as well as a corporate culture that genuinely values community service and work/life balance.

One recent example of how the company values community service is its partnership with the Minnesota Vikings to invest $1 million over three years to revitalize play places throughout the state of Minnesota, particularly in low- to moderate-income neighborhoods. “It all comes back to those pillars of community—a stable job, a home to call your own, and a community that’s connected through play,” says Dominski.

To build on those pillars, the foundation has an innovative event going on right now—the Community Possible Relay. The event was born from a desire to engage the employee volunteer base in new ways and across multiple locations. To do this, the company chartered a giant bus wrapped in U.S. Bank blue that is travelling 12,000 miles to visit 38 communities over 3 months.

“We’ve been to Vegas, Denver, San Francisco, Eugene, Portland, Seattle, Spokane,” says Dominski. In each community, U.S. Bank volunteers and others have served with organizations like Habitat for Humanity and Junior Achievement to address issues like building affordable housing and quality play spaces.

“This is no ordinary relay. With the hand-off, the local leaders issue a challenge to the next community, pushing for more impact as the event travels on.” She suggests using hashtag #communitypossible on social media to check out where the relay has been and where it is going next.