Women of Debt Relief leading the financial services industry

In honor of Women’s History Month, we spoke with several prominent Women of Debt Relief board members. This nonprofit organization promotes leadership for women in the financial services industry, highlights their career experiences, shares what led them to where they are today, and highlights the women who inspired them. 

Since 1981, the U.S. has celebrated Women’s History Month in March to honor the success and sacrifice of women across the country. Over the last decade, more women than ever have entered the financial services industry, representing 46% of all employees in the field. While progress is still being made, women undoubtedly play a prominent role in shaping the future of America’s finances. 

Tell us about your work experience and current roles:

Yolanda Schufford: I am the Chief Communications and Public Affairs Officer for Beyond Finance.  I oversee government relations and develop internal and external communications strategies to educate and inspire action for the debt consolidation services industry. 

Teresa Dodson: With 20 years of expertise in the debt management and collections markets, I founded Greenbacks Consulting in 2008 to help other companies in the debt industry improve their compliance and reach consumers in need. In 2020, I founded Women of Debt Relief (WODR), so women can network and support each other in an industry that has historically been male-dominated. WODR provides education, tools and mentorship to help women navigate the financial services industry and rise to the top.

Yanelle Prieto: As the Chief Operating Officer of Consumer Capital Advocates, I oversee the company’s operational, functional, and management aspects. For the past 10 years, I’ve helped refine our strategies and enhance our services. 

Carrie Brown: I have contributed for nearly nine years as the Senior Vice President of Operations at Forth. My role encompasses overseeing four operational departments, active participation in our compliance board, and close collaboration with the Client Communication and Product Development teams. 

What is the best thing women can do to create opportunities for other women in the industry?

Teresa: The best thing women can do for others is to seek out other women where they work or in the industry and begin a meaningful dialogue. Take an interest in getting to know them and their skill sets to build relationships. Then, remain engaged and celebrate each other’s wins. 

Carrie: In a niche industry like debt resolution, cultivating a strong network is paramount. Women can create opportunities for each other by building and nurturing connections. By prioritizing relationship-building, I’ve been able to not only hire valuable employees but also facilitate placements within my network. This approach benefits everyone involved and contributes to our industry’s growth and success.

What’s one piece of advice you’d give to your younger self?

Yanelle: If I could advise my younger self along my career journey, I would say,
“Believe in the sparkle of your intellect and the endless magic of your spirit. You’re a treasure chest of potential. Forge your path with determination and resilience. When doubt creeps in, remember it’s just a shadow, not the star of your story.”

Carrie: As I reflect on my career journey, I wish I had quickly understood the inevitable overlap between my personal and professional life. Embracing authenticity from the outset would have empowered me to navigate this convergence more confidently. Recognizing that my business relationships would evolve into genuine friendships, I would advise my younger self to be mindful of every choice because they will shape both spheres of life. 

What have you learned from being a woman in the industry?

Yolanda: I’ve learned you must bring your whole self to work. Pretending you’re something you’re not in the workplace is disingenuous. That doesn’t mean you ignore decorum and professionalism. Instead, you speak from your unique perspective and help others form theirs. Use your upbringing, experience, education, race or gender to shape open minds around you. 

Yanelle: Being a woman in a male-dominated industry has taught me valuable lessons about resilience, diversity and leadership. Facing challenges highlights the importance of turning obstacles into opportunities for growth. Women have unique insights that drive innovation and enrich decision-making. That’s why advocating for oneself confidently and mentoring other women are essential for breaking barriers and fostering inclusive environments. 

In a historically male-dominated industry, what’s one opportunity you can share during Women’s History Month to help ensure equity for women in finance?

Yolanda: Women must believe they belong at the table. It’s as simple as that. So many times, we hold ourselves back, operating with the antiquated thinking that has affected our gender for generations. As women, we should understand that we have a voice and need to use it.

Teresa: Educate and collaborate with the women and men in your organization. If done right, they can all become your biggest advocates.

How did you become the leader you are today? 

Yolanda: I put in the time, observation, and commitment to learn about the consumer finance space. Before I was a leader, I learned from our top executives. I met with them, asked questions, and observed how they communicated and promoted the industries I worked in. 

Teresa: When you’re passionate about your industry and have been in it as long as I have, you can’t help but become a leader. It’s easy to lead when you love what you do.

Who or what has been the biggest force behind your success/getting you where you are today?

Yanelle: I am deeply indebted to my mentor, Jenssen Varela, for my career success. His unwavering belief in the unique contributions of women has propelled my growth and opened doors to invaluable opportunities. Jenssen’s mentorship, rooted in trust and empowerment, has enabled me to thrive and foster a culture of success within our team.

Yolanda: Mary Jackson was my first corporate mentor and a force in the consumer finance industry. When I worked on her team, she was the highest-ranking woman in the company. Mary always had my back and taught me how to navigate the waters of corporate America. She’s retired now, and I’m proud to say I have yet to drop the torch she passed me. She believed in me then, and she still does today.