Chamber Chat with Catherine Duyka-Morse, Robert Hahn and Clay Melder with Chamber Silver Level Corporate Partner, Amegy Bank
Chamber Chat - Back to Business Blog
The Chamber is committed to telling the stories of our members and Corporate Partners. We love sharing great stories and insight from our members and corporate partners! Chamber Chat is a regular series profiling our members.
In this Chamber Chat, learn more from Catherine Duyka-Morse, Robert Hahn and Clay Melder with Silver Level Corporate Partner, Amegy Bank. Catherine, Clay and Robert have been outstanding advocate for the Chamber and the LGBTQ Business Community since year one of the Chamber. They have collectively founded and led or are leading the LGBT & Allies Business Resource Group (BRG) at Amegy.
Through each of their words, you will learn more about Amegy’s commitment to LGBTQ inclusion and how the LGBT & Allies BRG started, read a few fun facts about each of them and understand why at Amegy, “diversity and inclusion means everyone counts.”
Thank you Catherine, Clay and Robert for sharing your insight and for your leadership and support of the Chamber. We are proud to call Amegy Bank one of our Corporate Partners!
Catherine Duyka-Morse, Manager of Portfolio Management, Commercial Banking;
Founding Co-Chair of the LGBT & Allies BRG 2015-2018
Clay Melder, Relationship Manager for Amegy’s Not for Profit & Community Team,
LGBT & Allies BRG Co-Chair and 2021 incoming Chair
Robert Hahn, Vice President, Enterprise Learning & Development,
Instructional Designer, Trainer, Chair of the LGBT & Allies BRG 2015 - 2020
We would love to hear about the history around Amegy Bank’s LGBT & Allies Business Resource Group (BRG). Can you share some background? How did it start? When?
Catherine: Our management team announced the launch of Amegy’s Diversity and Inclusion efforts and the formation of Business Resource Groups (BRGs) with a request for anyone who wanted to get involved. I indicated interest in helping with the LGBT+ group and was chosen along with Robert to lead the efforts. The group ultimately was formed with the two of us navigating the waters of what it meant to be LGBT+ leaders at the bank, recruiting members to the BRG and initiating relationships in the LGBT+ business community.
Robert: Amegy Bank’s Business Resource Groups (BRG) were formed from our executive leadership team’s vision to make Amegy the best place to work and bank. We have a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) Steering Committee and DEI Council, and seven BRGs that each represent our employees and the communities we serve Our LGBT BRG started in 2015 with just two people – Catherine Duyka-Morse as Co-Chair and me as Chair.
I remember sitting in our offices the day the communication went out letting our colleagues know we were starting an LGBT BRG – we were terrified of what the reactions would be from co-workers and managers alike. I remember saying, “Well if we weren’t out before, we certainly are now!” Banking tends to be a conservative environment, and we worried how people would react. To be honest, we were amazed, relieved, shocked, and excited all at the same time! It was amazing how many people reached out and supported us and were proud to be part of such a diverse organization.
It was the total opposite of what we expected. I remember feeling so proud of the organization I was part of. From that point on, Catherine and I were full steam ahead and starting to plan how we could make an impact and make Amegy Bank the bank of choice for the LGBT Community – as a bank and an employer. It’s amazing how much support we received from every level including executive leadership. In fact, before COVID hit, we had a meeting that executives called because they wanted to know how they could help MORE in our efforts, specifically for the LGBT community. I’m still amazed at how much Amegy truly cares.
How long have each of you been involved in the LGBT & Allies BRG Group?
Catherine: Since inception – 6 years
Clay: Almost four years
Robert: I’ve been involved since we started Amegy’s LGBT BRG in 2015. I have also been a member of our Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Council just as long (6 years).
What have been some of the challenges you’ve faced as an LGBTQ employee in the workplace throughout your career?
Clay: I feel I have been very fortunate in working at companies that have been very open to the LGBT community. Amegy has really set the bar, in my opinion, on these standards. At previous banks, I experienced issues with my direct supervisors referring to my partner as “friend” or “person” which was bothersome.
Robert: This is a tough question since I work for such an amazing and supportive organization. I have to say the biggest challenge is helping people to feel comfortable opening up in an environment society feels is so conservative and closed off. New employees join us and are so scared to be themselves because of places they have worked in the past. The challenge is to help people feel comfortable and know they can bring their “full selves” to work.
What was the driver for each of you to get involved in the LGBT & Allies BRG?
Catherine: I wanted to help create an environment where LGBT+ employees could feel comfortable and safe being their authentic selves. I also wanted to help create a link between Amegy and the LGBT+ business community, so our clients and prospects know they can walk into Amegy Bank and do business with a company that supports the community.
Clay: I wanted to get involved with the LGBT BRG to bring awareness to the unspoken struggles our community faces every day. Whether it’s strained relationships with our families, conflicts with our faith, discomfort in being who we truly are in the workplace for fear of retaliation, or lack of awareness amongst our peers, our struggles are incredibly unique and I want to be a resource and advocate throughout the bank to help others.
Robert: I know most people would say change is the biggest driver, honestly for me it was normalcy. I want to be seen as someone helping a community thrive and grow, not be seen as fighting for a cause. I don’t expect to be treated differently. I’m a regular person, doing a regular job, for a community I love.
Why do you feel it’s important that Amegy Bank has an LGBTQ BRG?
Catherine: Representation matters. When a workplace recognizes that different populations have different histories and challenges, and creates groups that allow for open dialogue, it makes a big difference in employee morale and retention. I also believe that when our group comes together to share ideas or marketing efforts, we do it as a unifying front which helps create meaningful results.
Clay: As LGBT+ individuals, we truly encounter circumstances that no one else can understand. The biases and stereotypes are not always as publicized as they are with other types of individuals. It is important to continue advocating for an inclusive culture and identifying individuals like myself who are willing to continue pushing and advancing in the right direction
Robert: Our LGBT BRG helps connect our organization to our employees and the community. It’s important to have a place where voices can be heard, and ideas be shared in a non-judgmental environment. It helps Amegy understand the needs of our employees and our communities, and to collaborate to make an impact.
The LGBT & Allies BRG at Amegy Bank has been very successful by any measure. What do you feel are some of the key reasons for this success?
Catherine: I think our executive leadership and DEI leaders at the bank including Brenda Cooper laid solid groundwork in terms of the structure of each BRG. We had a framework that allowed us to focus our efforts on three areas: marketplace, workplace and workforce, which kept us focused. In addition, the members and leaders within our BRG including Robert and Clay as well as our Marketplace Chair, Tressa Sagullo, really took the ball and ran with it in terms of making connections through the Chamber and the LGBT+ community to spread the word about Amegy’s desire to do business in the LGBT+ community.
Clay: Honestly? Fantastic inaugural leaders in Catherine and Robert. Also, our founding Executive Sponsor, George Marshall, has been so passionate about our mission and supports and guides us with full engagement. Brenda Cooper, our Diversity & Inclusion Officer, has really dedicated herself to diversity across the board. Our BRG members are the true success as they are consistently engaged and always looking for ways to be involved. And, the Chamber has provided so many resources to help us grow as both leaders and members of the LGBT+ community in Houston and within our company.
Robert: Our success has been our connection and collaboration with leadership. Our DEI efforts come from the top down and are not a reactive approach to a situation. Rather, our success is driven by Amegy’s understanding that we respect the communities we serve and must understand their needs to be successful. Amegy’s DEI Officer Brenda Cooper has been amazing in leading efforts to truly live by our motto, “At Amegy, diversity, equity and inclusion means everyone counts.”
What are you most proud of in terms of your work with the LGBT & Allies BRG?
Catherine: I’m proud to have started the group and laid the groundwork for our newer leaders, like Clay, to really take the ball and run. It has been so rewarding to see Amegy employees join the BRG and bring new energy and new ideas.
Clay: As we move into 2021, there is a conscious effort to be more active and to place our resources into new community initiatives.. As a “new” leader on our team I am proud of the foundation we are laying for 2021 and beyond to better allocate our resources and truly make an impact around the city and within the bank
Robert: I am most proud of the support we have received from our leadership and fellow employees. Our Business Resource Groups work together for events, trainings, and community efforts. I was astounded the first time we had a booth at PRIDE and how many people (allies) volunteered to help; it honestly brought tears to my eyes that people from all departments of the bank showed up – including executive leadership.
We know that success with BRG groups requires a strong commitment from the top. As a Chamber, we’ve not only heard about the involvement of Amegy Bank leadership, but we’ve seen the commitment up front and close as part of our strong collaboration. It must be incredibly powerful to work for a company like Amegy Bank that “talks the talk and walks the walk” around LGBTQ inclusion. Can you share more about what it’s like from your perspective as BRG leaders and this importance of the commitment and action from the leadership?
Catherine: Having Amegy’s DEI initiative start at the top means that we always know we are supported in our efforts and can ask for help if needed. Our executive leaders truly care and listen to our ideas and want to help when we reach roadblocks. It’s refreshing to know that we can speak up when we think there is an issue, and we are heard.
Clay: I responded previously mentioning both Brenda Cooper and George Marshall’s impact to our BRG and the Bank. However, the engagement and dedication from the very top, our CEO Steve Stephens, really sets the bar across the entire leadership for Amegy. Our executives are truly listening and finding ways to make real changes rather than speak about them without any corresponding courses of action. It is truly encouraging and one of the most motivating factors for our BRG leaders and shows the amazing culture Amegy offers.
Robert: From day one, there was no question of how involved leadership was going to be in our Diversity, Equity & Inclusion efforts. At almost every event, in almost every newsletter, there is something said about our DEI efforts and how important it is to get involved. Having this commitment from leadership is what gives us momentum and shows how dedicated we are as an organization. It truly shows that we are all in this together and makes me very proud to work here.
What advice would you share with LGBTQ employees who want to advocate to start an LGBTQ BRG/ERG in their company?
Catherine: Reach out for help and be patient. In the first year of our BRG, Robert and I reached to other BRG leaders to get guidance on best practices and to help us get introduced to the right people – John Hernandez, a leader of our Hispanic/Latino BRG, introduced us to the Chamber! Just know that it could take time for others to feel comfortable being involved, but as long as you are consistently present and supportive, people will begin to show up (like Clay!).
Clay: Be prepared to face lots of questions of “why,” but also be prepared to feel the fruits of making a real difference as you continue to work hard to identify where change is needed. We are fortunate to have a strong support system at Amegy, and if you know your resources and understand where to find the right support – there is nowhere to go other than UP. And, connect with the Chamber as their resources have been immeasurable in our BRG’s success.
Robert: Patience is key! Reach out to anyone and everyone to discuss how important it is to be part of the communities you serve. Be patient but consistent and continue to bring new ways to reach out to your communities. Don’t be afraid to talk with leadership and explain the benefits, you can even set up a meeting along with folks from the Chamber to support you.
Clay, as you take over the reins with the with the LGBT & Allies BRG, what’s on the horizon? What are your goals?
Clay: I always think of “rotating” leadership like a singing competition show: when the format is drastically changed people start tuning out. But, when the format is tweaked in the right places you’re able to engage with new people and build excitement for your program’s future. We have the roots and the tree is already growing so well.
I just want to see our BRG continue pushing harder in better advocating Amegy as a LGBT-friendly workplace and continue engaging our HR team to advertise job listings across LGBT channels in the city. We’ve also begun discussion on reallocating parts of the budget into more community related initiatives. I want to see our members out in the community next year doing the work, showing up for the Bank, and making change that we will see for years down the road. The future is so bright for our BRG within the bank and the community.
We are incredibly proud to call Amegy Bank not only a Silver Level Corporate Partner but our very first Corporate Partner in the Chamber. We are beyond grateful for your tremendous support over the years. Why is it important that Amegy Bank is part of the Greater Houston LGBT Chamber?
Catherine: We want to help the Houston LGBT+ business community in any way we can, and I believe that we have that in common with the Chamber which makes the relationship a perfect match. We want to see the Chamber and its members succeed; and if we can be the first bank on the members’ minds when they are thinking about changing banks, that’s all we can ask for!
Clay: The Chamber and Amegy’s relationship is easily our proudest moment as a BRG. The resources for our employees, clients and ourselves has been the key reason we feel so successful. The growth amongst the Chamber is stunning since its inception, and we are so proud to be a founding member.
Robert: One word: community! As the saying goes, “It takes a village.” No one can do it alone, so it’s important for us to work together. I could write an entire book on how much the Chamber has influenced us and the importance of our relationship. We are truly proud to be part of this amazing organization.
What advice would you give potential Corporate Partners about the value of being involved with the Chamber?
Catherine: Get involved! It’s great to financially support the Chamber, but the real value and growth comes from meeting the Chamber members and making connections.
Clay: I’m unsure if we can find the right words to express how important the Chamber relationship has been to our BRG. The resources, support and partnership the Chamber offers is impossible to find elsewhere in Houston. If you want to see your BRG/ERG at the “next level,” this is definitely the best step and so important!
Robert: Corporate partners should not only join the Chamber but become involved and participate in events. It’s amazing how many people you will meet that you never would anyplace else. I would also recommend challenging yourself to become a leader for the Chamber and for your organization. It all starts with just one person!
Now for some fun…rapid fire!
What's your favorite thing to do in HTX when you're not working?
Catherine: If my wife and I aren’t chasing around our 3-year-old twins, we are likely grabbing a bite to eat at Ninfa’s or going to a Texans game.
Clay: Wait… there are times I don’t work?! Just kidding. Aside from being involved with animals and the zoo in my home, my partner and I make a weekly visit to Riva’s Italian Restaurant – best time in Houston! Try it out.
Robert: Spend time with my dog Simba
Barbeque or Mexican, and where do you go for it?
Catherine: For sure Mexican – Ninfa’s on Navigation or El Tiempo
Clay: My veins bleed queso. Mexican, and Cuchara or El Tiempo for the win!
First app checked in the morning?
Robert: Outlook – work email
Most used app?
Catherine: Outlook or some kind of social media
Clay: A tie between Instagram and Outlook
Robert: Facebook, since I like to keep up with my friends from back home in Pennsylvania
Person you FaceTime most often?
Catherine: Probably my sister who really just wants to FaceTime with her niece and nephew
Clay: My barber turned friend, Jonny. (Thank you, pandemic)
Robert: My daughter Kristina
Most listened-to track?
Catherine: This one is tough – we listen to a lot of kids’ movie soundtracks in our house. And I love everything Billie Eilish puts out.
Clay: Kelly Clarkson stays on rotation in my Apple Music.
Robert: Soundtrack from RENT
Anything else you would like to share?
Catherine: I’m so excited to see what Clay has in store for the BRG in the coming years. It has been a really proud moment for me to see new leaders take over and come up with creative ideas on how we can positively impact others.
Clay: DO NOT let the pandemic keep you from finding ways to impact others. Google it, email the Chamber, call me if you want to be involved in making a difference somewhere. People need connection right now
Robert: It’s going to be an exciting upcoming year for Amegy’s LGBT Business Resource Group. Catherine and I got it up and running, connected to groups, and got brand recognition in the community. I’m so excited to see what Clay and his team have in store. I am confident in his leadership and know the sky’s the limit on what he can do. Get ready Houston, Clay is amazing
Learn more about Amegy Bank at www.amegybank.com
Read more about Amegy’s commitment to diversity and inclusion - https://careers.amegybank.com/moreinfo/Diversity