By Melissa J. Anderson

“Right now is a very exciting time for the Diversity and Inclusion team at American Express,” said Jennifer Christie, Chief Diversity Officer and VP, Global Executive at American Express.

Christie is leading the company’s global diversity team on putting together its next three-year strategy. She said, “We’re taking the diversity and inclusion work that was done here, which was really transformational, and taking it to the next level.”

“This company and culture allows you to dream big – and we are,” she added.

A Circuitous Career Path in Diversity

Christie described her career path as a “circuitous route.” After graduating from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, she got a masters degree in Criminal Justice at George Washington University. “I started as a probation officer,” she said, then the federal court system, and then the Department of Justice. When she was ready for a change, Christie moved to Booz Allen Hamilton, where she worked in organizational design and change management.

She joined American Express almost two years ago, working in HR and executive recruiting, and recently took on the role as Chief Diversity Officer.

“From a diversity perspective, it has trailed throughout my career, which has always been about working with people and organizations,” she explained. “And at American Express, I worked closely with the previous Chief Diversity Officer on recruiting and diversity issues.”

“We do believe that diversity makes us more of an innovative company so we can provide customers with exemplary services and products,” she said.

“My proudest professional achievement is the work I’m doing right now at American Express, coming up the career path, drawing on my experience and coming into this organization. We have a wonderful team and it’s something I’m proud of.”

Christie said that while, looking back, her career path makes sense, when she was first starting out, things weren’t quite as clear. “I wish I had known it wasn’t necessary to have a five-year plan or clear career path,” she said. “I didn’t – and I struggled with that and focused just on having a good job.”

“But I think it is okay not to know when you’re starting out, and kick the tires on a few careers that interest you.”

Gender Diversity at American Express

“I think the challenges women face in the financial services are the same ones that women face in all industries,” Christie said.

She mentioned just a few – “how to obtain sponsorship,” “how to navigate your way through the organization,” “how to get constructive feedback,” “how to find mentors,” “how to overcome environments that are male oriented,” and “how to communicate so that the company understands you and where you come from.”

Christie advised young women, “Really focus on what you do well, and get into roles where you exhibit that. As you become senior, your roles are built on top of your performance.”

She continued, “Senior women should really pay attention to women coming up. They need sponsors and mentors. Look back and pull them up with you.”

Christie mentioned that 60% of American Express’s workforce is female, with strong numbers of women at the top. “But we want to do better,” she said. She highlighted the company’s Women in the Pipeline and at the Top program. “It focuses on making sure there are women at the highest levels in the organization and deals with issues like sponsorship, creating a women’s community, and building a gender intelligent organization.”

“It has proved to be very effective for women in the organization,” she added.