We Chatted With the Philly Exec Introducing Michelle Obama at the Pa. Women’s Conference

Beneficial Bank’s Joanne Ryder gives us the lowdown on next week’s big event.

Michelle Obama speaking at the DNC. Photo by J. Scott Applewhite/AP.

The Pennsylvania Conference for Women outdoes itself every year. For 2017, the one-day event happening next Tuesday, October 3, will gather 12,000 attendees for sessions led by more than 100 speakers in 27 breakout sessions at Pennsylvania Convention Center. None other than Michelle Obama will keynote the conference, and she’ll be joined by other trailblazers like Shonda Rhimes and Brené Brown. Philadelphia’s oldest bank, Beneficial Bank, has been the conference’s presenting sponsor for several years now, and the bank’s executive vice president and chief administration officer, Joanne Ryder, will introduce Michelle Obama next week. She gives us a peek into her role with the conference and what we can expect this year. 

BizPhilly: Beneficial Bank has been involved with the PA Conference for Women as sponsor for several years. How’d the bank get involved?
Ryder: When I first joined Beneficial Bank in 2007 as the Director of Marketing, I was a new leader at an organization that was new to me. One of the things I did at the time was attend the Pennsylvania Conference for Women. I was blown away by the inspiration and the flow of information that was available to me, and from there, I decided that it was very important for Beneficial to get involved with the conference. When I joined Beneficial, it was a traditional and very old and stodgy banking institution. I came in and was one of the few female leaders here and struggled with having my voice being heard. That was partially what inspired me to go to the conference. I wanted to figure out how I could get my voice heard in a company that was very traditional and where a lot of the men were in leadership roles. I now was now in one myself, and I had to partner with these individuals and move the agenda forward on the marketing side and build up a brand platform here. I talked to our CEO Gerry Cuddy and he reached out to the Pennsylvania Conference for Women and bought tickets for our employees to attend. I saw it as a great marketing opportunity for us to get involved and sponsor the conference. Not only were our employees excited to get involved with it, but I knew our customers were as well. We’ve been the presenting sponsor for five years now.

BizPhilly: And you’re now on the board?
Ryder: Yes. I joined the board in 2014 because I wanted to do more to move women’s issues forward. My job is to help plan and set the agenda for the conference. We use a lot of the data we collect every year from the attendees to craft the conference based on who the attendees want to hear from. Things don’t necessarily vary that much year over year because women for the most part are very interested in leadership development, career progression, and personal branding. And so this year, when we were looking at crafting the agenda, Michelle Obama popped up on our list and we were very fortunate and honored for her to say yes to our invitation.

Beneficial Bank executive vice president & chief administration officer Joanne Ryder speaks onstage during the Pennsylvania Conference for Women 2016 at Pennsylvania Convention Center on October 6, 2016 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Marla Aufmuth/Getty Images for Pennsylvania Conference for Women)

BizPhilly: Yes, each year there’s a pretty impressive slate of speakers. Any speakers this year or topics you’re particularly excited about?
Ryder: As women’s issues are more top of mind and as women are speaking out more, I think it’s become easier to attract some of the talent we’re getting because there’s so much demand. We’ve been trying to get Brené Brown for a long time. And to have her this year along with Shonda Rhimes who is also an outstanding woman, will be amazing. And when I found out we were getting her along with Michelle Obama, I was really excited because she’s starting her own path with her website where she’s having discussions around women’s issues. I just can’t wait to see Michelle Obama, Shonda Rhimes, and Brené Brown all in the same room.

And while this is all very exciting, the challenge for the conference is keeping the discussion going all year long. Right after the conference, everyone is always so inspired and we feel like we can move the world forward. But how do we move forward with conversations and influence policy decisions? So throughout the year we host different seminars and podcasts to keep the momentum.

BizPhilly: How do these conversations connect back to your work at Beneficial?
Ryder: The mission of the conference is to amplify women in the workplace, and I feel like that speaks directly to my role at the bank. One of my areas of responsibility is HR, education and development. An effort over the years has been to bring in female talent and a diverse group of people. I really do think organizations need a diverse group of people to get that unique position that represents your customer base. You also get that innovative thinking. So we’ve specifically recruited women into leadership roles because we need to represent our customer base and learn how to best serve them. I’m also passionate about equal pay. We’ve done a lot of data studies of the marketplace, and we’ve shared that information with our leadership. Everyone embraced the fact that we needed to pay our female employees equally to their male counterparts. Right now, we’re looking at creating a flexible workplace. We recognize that people, whether it’s men or women, need more flexibility in their lives because we’re taking care of children and aging parents. We’re looking to broaden our family care leaves across the board for men and women.

BizPhilly: Looking ahead to next week, where can conference attendees find you?
Ryder: Well, I’m definitely going to be on stage with Michelle Obama. [Laughs] I’ll also definitely be at the Beneficial booth in the dedicated Beneficial area. I encourage people to stop by and ask me questions. I’ll be supporting my colleague Pam Cyr, who will be giving a talk at 10:00 in meeting room 204 about using tech to build resilience and succeed.

Find the full schedule of events and list of speakers here. Because of overwhelming demand for the conference this year, Michelle Obama’s keynote address will be live streamed on the PA Conference for Women website.

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