Tukwila-based BECU is Washington’s largest credit union, with some $19.6 billion in assets. Last year, the financial institution increased its membership by 7.5%, to 1.16 million members. One member of the BECU team who is helping to drive that membership growth is Sara Reiner, the credit union’s community strategies manager.
Reiner is responsible for engaging current and prospective credit union members via its digital platforms and strategy to help optimize growth. Prior to BECU, Reiner oversaw marketing strategies and campaigns across multiple platforms for the School of New & Continuing Studies at Seattle University. Reiner also has previously held management roles in content marketing at the University of San Francisco and at Electronic Arts. She is a graduate of Western Washington University with a bachelor’s in journalism.
As part of the latest Daring Woman interview, Reiner shares some insights about the challenges faced by women in leadership roles and ways to overcome them, her views on mentors and networking, and she also offers some advice for the upcoming generation of female leaders.
What are the most important characteristics of a good leader and what leadership traits are overrated?
A good leader helps create more leaders and helps lift others up. I think good leaders take time to truly listen to their team and find ways to strengthen the skills and passion their team brings to work every day. Leadership skills I think are overrated include judging someone’s leadership abilities based on their past roles and achievements. What can a leader do today to effect positive change either for their team or organization?
As a woman, what is the most significant barrier to becoming a leader?
As a woman with a disability and a service dog, the biggest barrier has been having leadership take my skills seriously, rather than having me on staff because I check a diversity or feel-good box. I am often the first service-dog team [member] a company has hired. I have had to learn to be comfortable with being “the first” and all that entails. My hope is that just by showing up every day and doing my best work I am teaching others the value that disabled women can bring to the table.
How can women achieve more prominent roles in their organizations?
I think women need other women now more than ever. Try and develop your sisterhood at work where you can regularly meet and chat about what’s going on in your careers and how you might be able to support one another. Seek out women in your place of business or locally who hold a position you would like for yourself and ask them to meet for coffee so you can chat and learn from them and maybe even develop a possibility for a mentorship type of relationship.
What key lessons did you learn from a woman who has inspired, mentored or sponsored you?
My mentor taught me to always keep learning. There are so many great options these days like Udemy, Lynda, LinkedIn Learning, etc. Take advantage of those. Look at the skills listed on your dream-job description and figure out how you can start learning those skills now.
What advice do you have for the next generation of female leaders?
Be fearless, don’t take no for an answer. If your dream can’t come true with a current employer, find one that better aligns with what’s possible for your career and your dreams for yourself. Yes, you work for a company, but make sure you are learning on the job and that future opportunities work for you.
How important is networking and how do you expand your contacts?
Networking is key, but it can also be intimidating. A good way to expand your contacts is to be sure to join any professional organizations pertinent to your industry and go to any social functions they may have or attend things like the events put on by the Seattle Chamber of Commerce’s Women in Business and Leadership Initiative. LinkedInLocal and Meetup events are another great way to expand your contacts.
What would you do differently in your career?
I would have had more mentors earlier in my career. When I was first starting out, I thought I was too junior for a mentor since I wasn’t quite sure of what I wanted to do, but I imagine it could have helped my career if I had reached out to a more senior person in an area I was interested in.
Where will we find you on a Saturday afternoon?
Playing with my son or out exploring one of Seattle’s amazing parks.
What would be the title of your autobiography?
“She Was Told She Couldn’t, But She Did.”
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Daring Women Q&A responses have been edited and condensed.