Welcome to our series of interviews with leading female CSR practitioners where we are learning about what inspires these women and how they found their way to careers in sustainability. Read the rest of the series here.
TriplePundit: Briefly describe your role and responsibilities, and how many years you have been in the business.
Nicole Stein: I have been vice president of community responsibility at Umpqua Bank for 10 years.
As vice president of community responsibility at Umpqua Bank, I oversee Umpqua’s community responsibility strategy and programs in a variety of areas, including strategic charitable giving, associate volunteerism, financial literacy initiatives, and environmental sustainability. I work closely with my team and with those throughout the company to ensure that the company’s conscience is reflected in our brand and culture, actions and intentions.
3p: How has the sustainability program evolved at your company?
NS: As we celebrate Umpqua’s 60th anniversary in 2013, we’re reflecting on our long history of serving our associates, customers and communities with integrity and action. Before we had formalized our community responsibility efforts, we focused primarily on community involvement programs that reinforced our social commitment to our communities and associates.
That strategy has grown significantly, and is now a comprehensive approach focused on integrating our values as a community bank into everything we do. We have developed and grown programs that are making a significant, positive impact on our communities and associates. One example is our Connect Volunteer Network, which provides every associate with up to 40 hours of paid time off each year to volunteer. It’s regularly listed as one of the benefits our associates value most – and in 2012, saw 93 percent of our associates participate.
We have also integrated our programs into our customer experience in a variety of ways, including in our stores, where we highlight information in cards at teller rows and through interactive touch-screen Discover Walls, inviting customers to explore how many volunteer hours we’re contributing and which community groups are benefiting. Customers have even been known to pass along donations to a favorite cause through Umpqua associates. This tangible evidence of Umpqua’s community impact also reinforces the culture of service – both customer and community – that defines our company.
Most recently, we’ve begun to formalize our stakeholder engagement, deepening relationships internally and externally, and evaluating our operations in order to connect our obligation as a community bank with our daily function as a company.
3p: Tell us about someone (mentor, sponsor, friend, hero) who affected your sustainability journey, and how.
NS: I feel lucky to say that it’s not one person, but many who regularly inspire and keep me committed to the work I do.
I’m surrounded by family and friends who live their lives with integrity and respect. These deeply ingrained shared values have helped establish and maintain the internal compass that guides how I approach my work.
Professionally, I’ve had the opportunity to work with talented people who challenge the status quo every day and have had managers who challenge me to keep learning and pushing my own boundaries, sharing their own perspective along the way.
3p: What is the best advice you have ever received?
NS: Three things come to mind and I lean on them regularly within my day-to-day work in corporate responsibility. They’ve come from conversations with friends, colleagues and managers over the years and I’ve internalized them as my own.
The first is: “Be present. Wherever you are, be there fully.” This has become even more important as I’ve recently started a family and am consciously working to keep balance in my life.
The second is: “To put it simply, get started.” Recognizing that corporate responsibility efforts are often an unpredictable journey is important. While there’s always more to get done, it’s best to put a stake in the ground and get going.
Last, but not least: “Don’t be afraid to take risks and possibly fail.” By taking risks, you learn what you don’t already know. You release yourself to embrace honest mistakes – which can spark some of the best learning and growth opportunities.
3p: Can you share a recent accomplishment you are especially proud of?
NS: I’m incredibly proud of how we’ve grown and managed our Connect Volunteer Network since it started in 2004 (we are currently in the tenth program year). Connect was designed to foster employee volunteerism by giving our associates 40 paid hours annually to volunteer with youth development organizations.
I’m especially proud of the fact that as of April 2013, Umpqua associates have contributed more than 250,000 volunteer hours through Connect. We also had 93 percent of associates participate in 2012 — the highest employee volunteerism rate of any corporation I’m aware of in the country. This is a testament to the strength of Umpqua’s collective commitment to corporate citizenship.
Our associates are terrific community ambassadors who wholeheartedly embrace giving back through Connect. Every day, I’m inspired by working with like-minded and driven colleagues, who genuinely believe in making a positive change in our communities.
3p: If you had the power to make one major change at your company or in your industry, what would it be?
NS: Within the corporate sector overall, it would be to change the operating context so that investment in the long-term is valued. While many drivers of decision-making within the corporate world reward short-term gain, responsible corporate responsibility strategies, like those Umpqua embraces, require the long view.
3p: Describe your perfect day.
NS: I’m lucky to live in Portland, Oregon – a vibrant city near the coast and mountains. My perfect day would be to take full advantage of all it offers. It would start with a trail run, then move on to a stroll through the farmer’s market and outdoor brunch at one of Portland’s terrific breakfast spots. Next, a hike in the Columbia Gorge. I’d finish it off with a barbeque in our backyard and some time with a good book and glass of Oregon pinot noir. All the while accompanied by my sweet husband and son, good friends and neighbors.