Finding herself ahead of the times, Kathy Goucher turned the clock forward

March 13, 2020

The U.S. Bank alumna reflects on her career for Women’s History Month.

From defying unwritten rules to shaping those written, Kathy Goucher left her mark on U.S. Bank.

In the early 1970s, she was the first employee at predecessor First Bank White Bear Lake to ever seek to return from maternity leave. In the late 70s, she got involved in a community organization that influenced the current employee business resource group for women. In the 80s, she led a team in integrating operating systems after a series of mergers. And in the 90s, she helped the company gear up for a what turned out to be an uneventful Y2K.

Of her three-decade banking career during an era in which the industry was dominated by men, the 73-year-old Goucher said, “I was a pioneer, if you want to get right down to it.” 

Taking the first maternity leave

Goucher joined First Bank in 1972 thinking it would be a temporary job to make a few extra bucks for her family. She had applied at the bank and the phone company and simply went with the one who made an offer first. 

Around her one-year mark in the job, the expectant mother approached her boss about taking maternity leave.

“We didn’t have a policy at the time because many women would just stop working,” Goucher said. She ended up taking one week of paid vacation time and three weeks of unpaid leave before returning to her bookkeeping role.

That policy, of course, has evolved over the past four decades. Today, U.S. Bank provides eligible employees with nine weeks of paid pregnancy disability leave and four weeks of paid parental leave, and financial resources for adoption and surrogacy assistance.

Developing a leadership style

Goucher didn’t need to keep working after maternity leave but did so because, in banking, she felt like she found her niche. Her natural ability to look at the big picture led to a promotion from the bookkeeping role. After recognizing how inefficient it was for each product department to reconcile their own booked accounts, she worked with the technology team to centralize the processes. 

In the 80s, the numerous First Bank branches in the Minneapolis and St. Paul region formally came together. As a result of her expertise, Goucher earned the opportunity to lead a team responsible for integrating reconciliation systems. Technical know-how was core to her leadership style.

“I committed myself to knowing how to do everything my team was doing,” Goucher said. “Because of that, I was able to focus on teaching to help my team develop more in-depth knowledge. I would ask them to make each issue they encounter into a learning experience – and never make the same mistake a second time.”

Networking in the company and community

As Goucher emerged as a leader, a colleague suggested that she become more active in the community marketing the bank. This resulted in Goucher and another employee getting involved in the White Bear Lake Women’s Club. She recalls that the first event they participated in was a fashion show at a local supper club.

Similarly, the larger First Bank offices in Minneapolis and St. Paul had their own internal groups, dating back to the 1920s under the name The First Bank Girls’ Club. The club put on fashion shows, handwriting workshops, skating parties, yoga classes, golf leagues and more.

Goucher knows the club name and some of these activities were a product of the times. “I just break out laughing,” she said. “I cannot believe that there is a woman alive today who would join.”

Although the days of fashion shows are long gone, employee demand still drives the existence of professional development and community engagement groups at many companies. For example, U.S. Bank has a number of thriving business resource groups (BRGs, such as U.S. Bank Women), which bring together employees who have similar backgrounds, experiences or interests and their allies. 

“The U.S. Bank Women BRG is open to all genders and it aims to help its members develop, advance and engage,” says Emily Koski, a leader on the diversity, equity and inclusion team at U.S. Bank as well as an alumna of its leadership development and reverse mentoring program the Dynamic Dozen. “It’s a powerful way for employees to learn new skills, expand their professional networks and support one another throughout their careers.” 

As a result of these types of efforts, U.S. Bank has been recognized as: 2020 Most Powerful Women in Banking by American Banker; 2020 Best Companies for Multicultural Women by Working Mother; and 2020 Top 50 Companies for Diversity by DiversityInc; among others. 

Preparing for the new millennium

Toward the end of her career in the late 90s, Goucher felt at times more like a doomsday prepper than a vice president of back-office operations… for Y2K was coming.

“You want to know what happened the night of Y2K? Nothing!” she laughed. “You would have thought the world was coming to an end with how many conference calls I was on about it. But it turned out that all we had to do is make sure that the year column in all of our systems had four digits instead of two (so, 1999 versus 99).”

This type of laid back, common-sense approach to innovation benefited Goucher throughout her career and even in the years that have followed. The septuagenarian said that she rarely carries cash or stops in bank branches, instead relying on technology such as mobile check deposit, online bill pay and Zelle person-to-person payments.

Sharing advice for women today

In retirement, Goucher spends time with her three grown children, provides doggy day care for one of them and volunteers her accounting expertise in the community.

She also regularly attends U.S. Bank alumni luncheons in the Twin Cities, at which she often has the opportunity to mentor young women leaders at the company – rooted in her career journey, her advice is timeless.

“Treat your employees with respect and do not expect them to give anything that you would not be willing to give yourself,” she said. “If you do that, it is amazing what it does for people.”

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