Despite being the first African-American to serve as CEO of JPMorgan Chase & Co.’s consumer banking division, Thasunda Duckett is under no illusions about the lack of diversity in leadership positions across the financial services industry.
So when it comes to creating a more diverse and inclusive corporate environment, Duckett said the industry has to approach the issue with the same focus and ruthlessness it does “any other effort in business.”
“When you are not delivering the right level of returns or the right level of performance, you focus on it and you do not allow excuses to get in the way,” Duckett said at Fortune’s Most Powerful Women Next Gen Summit in Laguna Niguel, Calif., on Wednesday.
That means “hold[ing] people accountable” to organizational goals for hiring and promoting both women and people of color to senior roles—and in that regard Duckett agreed with Fortune’s Leigh Gallagher, who pointed out that companies like JPMorgan Chase wouldn’t simply accept a failure to meet their targets in any other aspect of their business.
“It has to start from the top, and then you have to make sure you hold people accountable just like you do every other business metric,” said Duckett, a Texas native who joined the banking giant in 2004 after starting her career at Fannie Mae. “You don’t say, ‘I just can’t find the customer.’ In Texas, that dog don’t hunt.”
But Duckett lauded JPMorgan Chase chairman and CEO Jamie Dimon as “a phenomenal leader” who has prioritized and advanced the cause of diversity within the company’s operations—and “not just during Women’s History Month.”
And as an African-American woman in the C-suite, she noted the importance of not “water[ing] down the journey” but rather owning the status that she and others like her have earned for themselves in corporate America.
“When I walk into a room, you’re gonna see my race and you’re gonna see my gender,” Duckett said. “I just think that we need to stop being apologetic and trying to fit in.”
While adding that she’s “super proud” of her position at one of the world’s biggest financial institutions, Duckett stressed the importance of “recognizing we’re not where we want to be, being black or female or a person of color.”
That drive and determination is all the more impressive considering what Duckett has already accomplished as the self-described “first-generation integration” daughter of two parents from the South. Her father Otis saw his house burned down by the Ku Klux Klan while growing up in Louisiana, and, despite not going to college, he supported his family by working as a stock handler for Xerox.
“When I think about being a CEO, I think about Otis and I think about [my mother] Rosie Brown and all that they’ve done to give me a shot,” Duckett said. (In return, she named a library in her hometown of Arlington, Texas, after her parents.)
Duckett also made sure to note the important role that her husband Richard, a stay-at-home dad to their three school-age children, has played in helping her advance her career—expressing gratitude that he chose to put their family and Duckett’s ambitions above those of his own career.
“I am fortunate enough to have a husband who’s a marine and an engineer and a stay-at-home dad,” she said. “Someone needed to stay at home [with our children], and he understood that his job is to lighten my load.”