It is something DeKalb County resident Geri Thomas wanted to change when she entered the business world — and change it has.
Thomas began her career with Bank of America in 1970 in customer accounting, a field filled primarily with women. However, the executive branches of the company were mostly populated by white men.
In the 43 years she has worked with the bank, she has seen it evolve into a diverse institution, she said.
“We probably have one of the most diverse boards in people of color and women,” she said. “That’s a huge accomplishment as far as I’m concerned.”
While Thomas does not credit that accomplishment to her own personal work, she is an advocate of diversity, as she holds the position of chief diversity officer, a branch of human resources.
“I knew that I always wanted to work in human resources because I wanted to be able to make a difference for people and their careers,” she said.
The bank stands firmly in promoting diversity,” she said.
“I think working for a company that shares the same values that I have has been fortuitous,” Thomas said. “We actively recruit people of every gender, as well as ethnicities, disabilities and sexual orientation, while striving to hold true to merit-based appointments and promotions.
“When you look at our leadership team, 40 percent are women,” which is a high percentage Thomas said. “I think it’s probably one of the best you’ll find. You can rest assured that’s not what it looked like when I came to work here.”
Thomas recently received the Fire Starter award from the National Council for Research on Women in New York — an honor based on her work in gender equality.
Much has changed since Thomas began her professional career. She recalls when she had her first child and women were made to take unpaid maternity leave at seven months. When her second child was born, she was able to work during her entire pregnancy, but still maternity leave was not paid.
“That’s an improvement, but there was no pay and no protection for your job,” Thomas said.
Now, not only is there paid maternity leave and job security during the leave, but there is also paternity leave and adoption leave.
Strides like those make Thomas proud to be a part of the change and honored to have received the award, she said.
“I was very appreciative because I’ve been in this work a long time and when others recognize what you do, that’s inspiring,” she said.
On the whole, it is evident Thomas finds gratification in the work she does and the bank for which she works.
She points to its community involvement as one such example.
Recently, employees were planting trees at Crestview Nursing Home, just one of many volunteering opportunities offered to employees.
“It’s almost every day somebody is doing something and I’m not exaggerating,” Thomas said. “We really do take that responsibility seriously, as do I. I don’t just do it as part of a Bank of America role but as a citizen of Atlanta and DeKalb.”
She has several accolades, like being named a Distinguished Alumnus by Georgia State University and Atlanta Magazine’s 100 Most Influential Atlantans.
Thomas serves in many capacities, including as a member of the board of councilors of the Carter Center, the Buckhead Coalition, and serves on the boards of the Atlanta Committee for Progress, the Georgia University Foundation, Leadership Atlanta and the Executive Leadership Council.
She is also a member of the executive committee of the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce and serves as a trustee of the Woodruff Arts Center.