USAA tech hires illustrate company's commitment to diversity

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During her first few weeks as USAA’s new chief information officer for bank technology, Maria Alvarez Mann set aside some time for a very human activity — finding other techies just like her.

Mann sought out technology employees with Hispanic surnames to shake their hands and get to know them better.

“There's quite a few, which was really exciting,” she said. “And they were in leadership roles, and it was a mix of women and men. It gave me enthusiasm about being here.”

Mann is one of three women USAA named to key technology positions over the last five months; the company says the hires highlight its commitment to workplace diversity.

“I started my career in the tech space when women did not have a strong presence,” said Judith Frey, who joined the $86 billion-asset company as the vice president of digital banking.

“These hires send a very clear message to our young women of today and tomorrow that USAA is recruiting women into these leadership roles,” said Frey, who previously spent almost six years at Marriott International.

Also joining Frey and Mann in USAA’s executive ranks is Carri Arnold as the bank technology officer.

Arnold came to USAA in late April, while Frey and Mann both arrived at the company in June.

The bank consistently ranks as one of the top workplaces in the country for diversity. Forbes has ranked USAA in the top 50 employers for diversity in the last few years.

More than half the bank’s 7,000 employees are women. USAA also has four women on a 15-person board of directors.

USAA also has been recognized as a top-scoring company on the Disability Equality Index, a joint initiative of the American Association of People with Disabilities and an outreach organization called Disability:In.

“Diversity and inclusion are not only part of the USAA standard which defines how we deliver on our mission, but also essential components of our business strategy for competitive advantage, continued business growth and improved performance,” said Jason Kamiya, the bank’s chief diversity and inclusion officer.

Each of the executives said it is important for USAA's workforce to reflect the diversity of its clientele: U.S. military members and their families.

“USAA has done a very good job of having good representation and diversity of our staff against the members we serve, because they’re diverse as well,” said Mann, who was managing director of global technology at JPMorgan Chase between 2003 and 2016.

Arnold, who held similar roles at American Express and Wells Fargo, said, “I specifically like the fact that there’s an opportunity to serve the military community and give back in some way to people that have served.”

Mann can personally speak to the client side.

Mann has used USAA’s services for over 35 years prior to joining the bank. Her husband served in the United States Marine Corps.

“When the opportunity came up to be part of this leadership team and continue to drive the industry for one of the best banks in the world, it was too good to be true and I couldn’t pass it up,” Mann said.

Mann’s personal background also fits well with USAA’s diversity efforts because she’s been involved in programs that push inclusion for women, Hispanics and military veterans.

USAA has eight diversity and inclusion mentoring groups, two of which are focused on gender and women. The bank also features groups for employees of different ethnicities, sexual orientation and those with disabilities.

Among its cultural efforts to promote diversity, the bank has a longstanding tradition in its San Antonio headquarters where employees wear purple shirts every Wednesday to celebrate women in technology.

Frey said she marveled at the scene when she first saw it.

“I was amazed at that when I came here,” she said. “You walk around the building and it’s just amazing. It shows the support the company and employees have and the supporting growth in the field.”

Frey said she plans to get involved in USAA’s internal diversity groups, as well as the company’s outside community efforts

“I think it’s critical to get involved with coaching and mentoring our young women of today and tomorrow to help along their journey to successful careers in the technology field,” she said.

Arnold, unlike her other two colleagues, did not major in computer science in college. She studied accounting and worked in that field for eight years while working for AT&T, and then American Express.

She actually made the transition to technology while at the card issuer.

“American Express afforded me a lot of opportunities to move into technology,” Arnold said. “I added to my technology knowledge along the way and it grew into a passion.”

“For the past 20 years, I’ve been fortunate to work for companies that see the value in helping you grow your experiences,” she added.

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