Grace Staten: Versatile Market Leader Making a Mark in Financial Services Industry

The 10 Most Admired Women Leaders to Follow in 2022

Grace Staten, Vice President of Marketing at Coastal Wealth, a MassMutual Firm, has built a remarkable career, marked by versatility, in the financial services industry, where women still struggle for parity with men. Her inspirational rise up the corporate ladder has not been devoid of challenges and failures, but she has not let them shape her personality or career. She continues to write the story of her professional life – spectacular in every way – by shunning fear of failure and focusing on self-improvement.

As the Vice President of Marketing at Coastal Wealth, Grace ascertains her firm’s position in the marketplace and then determines how it should be positioned. She also oversees the development and placement of creative marketing campaigns and recruitment marketing and handles public relations. “I make sure the firm’s message is spread across social media channels while staying up to date with the latest trends and innovations,” says Grace.

Grace, who still “feels the struggle” in the industry as a woman, is also mentoring other women. “When you make it to the top, turn around and empower the woman behind you to pave her own pathway” is her favorite quote, which she strives to follow. Helping other women through mentorship gives her a sense of empowerment. Grace also feels empowered when another leader recognizes her talent and appreciates the hard work and dedication she puts into every project.

Entering a New Ground

Grace has always been ambitious. As a teenager, she knew that she had to climb the corporate ladder to reach a leadership position, and she also figured out that networking was very important. It is her association with one of the industry organizations that opened the doors to new ground for her. It had referred her name to Coastal Wealth, a MassMutual Firm. Grace was approached by the firm’s then-Managing Partner, who asked her to consider a new role he had opened in marketing.

At the time, Grace had little experience in marketing. Her background consisted of assisting to financial advisors and a mutual fund internal wholesaler. “Marketing for a firm was new ground for me, but he believed in me and my capabilities,” Grace says. “I consulted with a colleague who encouraged me to take a leap of faith and apply.” This break led her to many other professional opportunities, including building out and leading the firm’s marketing team. She was also asked to take on leadership roles in her local industry chapter’s organizations.

Grace sits on the Board of Directors for Girl Scouts of Gateway Council, and in addition to that, she is the national President-Elect of Accounting and Financial Women’s Alliance (AFWA), the incoming Membership Chair for National Association of Insurance and Financial Advisors (NAIFA) Florida and volunteers with American Business Women’s Association (ABWA) locally.

Bringing Clarity to Firm’s Strategy

The vision of Coastal Wealth is to be the “most innovative, collaborative and trusted financial solution firm in the nation.” Grace has played a part in defining the company’s mission, vision, values, and guiding principles. “These are spoken at the beginning of every firm meeting,” she says. “This has given me a sense of pride that I helped provide clarity of direction for the firm.”

Under Grace’s able direction, the firm’s marketing team sets quarterly goals and objectives, which, according to her, is an important strategy for evolving the team and firm. Her team members regularly receive her feedback, which shows them her interest in their growth. It also indicates that she sees a path for their future.

Grace and her team help different departments significantly impact what they do in marketing, especially related to event support, digital marketing, and content creation. In 2022, Grace, with support from the firm, redefined the marketing team by focusing on the most important parts of the organization: recruiting, culture, and branding. “We know that to be successful we must work together to change,” she says.

“Versatile” is how Grace describes herself in a word. Marketing, she says, is a field that can become stale quickly, and it is her versatility that gives her the confidence to take on ambitious goals. It also motivates her to identify what can be improved upon and enables her to adapt to an unexpected situation.

Innovation and Changes

Innovation is a key aspect of what Coastal Wealth does because of the competitive nature of the financial services market. “There are many other firms like us, so we need to stand out,” points out Grace. In order to strengthen professional skills and enhance business acumen, the firm invites industry experts on their all-firm calls.

Recently, the firm created a Director of Culture position, with the aim to focus on the experience each team member gains from the time they come on board, and throughout their career’s journey.

“We are developing integrity and innovation by fostering continuous learning opportunities and creating compelling, engaging initiatives to build inclusion for each person, the firm, and our communities,” Grace says.

For its employees, the firm has laid out a pathway to a leadership plan. Grace points out that people are also taking the initiative to write their own job descriptions, create new positions, or mold their current positions into their dream jobs. “We are working to build a culture that encourages open communication,” she adds. “As leaders, we are taught to develop leaders as we develop ourselves.”

After the COVID-19 pandemic outbreak, which ushered in unprecedented human, social, and economic crises, the firm realized that it had to come up with a new way to market. Grace says they created a community calendar to incorporate all of their offices to participate in monthly virtual or live social events. The firm also gave employees unlimited PTO, flexible work week, and paid educational expenses. It created a lucrative employee referral program and formed a diversity and inclusion committee. And a hybrid workforce of onsite and remote employees throughout Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina was built as well.

Growth Mindset

Grace, a mother to two children, often sees her children’s reactions when they are completing homework and have difficulty finishing a problem. “I know the real growth happens when they figure out the steps to solve with little to no assistance,” she says. “They have learned to do this with not only homework problems but life problems.”

Just like her children, Grace feels that she, too, should watch struggle or even fail from time to time. “What builds character is when I pick myself up and go forward, not letting the failure define me or control my whole outlook,” she says.

Grace has encountered many roadblocks throughout her professional journey, and when she looks back now, she realizes that the lack of a long-term vision and action plan along with fear of failure prevented her from overcoming challenges. She now knows that having a growth mindset is all about new experiences and taking risks.

“If I set my focus on improving myself, I can overcome these roadblocks and discover a life of greater joy, possibilities, and career advancement,” says Grace.

Professional Journey and Success

Before Coastal Wealth, Grace worked as Regional Marketing Consultant at Calvert Investments (now Eaton Vance), managing a territory of seven states. The job offered her the opportunity to learn about mutual funds and the financial services industry. Prior to that, she served as an advisors’ assistants at Ameriprise. “Both the jobs helped me understand this business and how hard it is to have your own professional practice,” says Grace.

Over the years, Grace has received multiple accolades, including the 2020 National Woman of the Year with Women in Insurance and Financial Services (WIFS), which she considers the highest honor she has received outside of work. It recognizes her dedication and passion for the industry and starting a chapter of the organization and mentoring women.  In 2018, Coastal Wealth selected Grace to be on its national Marketing Steering Committee because of her longevity and expertise in marketing. She sees it as the best recognition she received inside the firm.

For Grace, success, however, is not just about winning awards or accomplishing a task. She feels that it must incorporate growth, progress, and improvement on oneself. “Everyone should define success on their own terms through what is most important to them,” she says. “We all have our own life’s journey to discover what we believe success to be.”

She believes that how one views success changes over time as their lives evolve. “To some degree, success is about being happy with the choices we make,” Grace says. “Ultimately, each of our versions of success does not have to look like anyone else’s as it really comes down to what aligns with one’s morals and values and what makes the most impact and meaning to them.”

Struggle as Woman Leader

As the woman in a position of power, Grace hopes to influence a change that makes men more accepting of women in the leadership position in her industry. Her stellar performance as Vice President has not stopped people from perceiving women leaders as less capable than men. “There is a continuous struggle between being accommodating vs. assertive,” Grace says. “Some assume that because I am a woman, I should naturally be accepting of a man’s instruction rather than leading the discussion.”

Grace also wants to make sure that the next generation of women knows how to effectively use their voice and influence others both in and out of the workplace. “To make changes, I know I personally need to use my voice, stand up, and be heard,” she says. “To prepare the women that follow my footsteps, I must empower them to effectively advocate for themselves.”

“The ability to persuade and negotiate is critical in this world and I wish I had someone to guide me through this when I was younger,” she adds.

Work-Life Balance 

For Gracemaintaining a work-life balance has been a struggle since the birth of her two children. Both are of school age now but are not yet driving, so Grace has to keep hers and children’s schedules in sync. And, as it is not possible to get time back, Grace feels that family time with her children is fleeting. This puts in perspective what is important for her and requires following a strict daily routine and planning in advance.

“Having strong mental and physical health allows for more productivity,” Grace says. “So having interests outside work has helped me be a more well-rounded and happier person.”

The Future 

Grace’s future with Coastal Wealth is ever evolving. Over the past three years, the company has merged with three other firms so there has been constant change. As the leader of the marketing team, Grace’s future focus is on helping their Recruiting Department market the firm. It is to enable them to attract qualified prospects. “In order to attract the best candidates, we know we must stay current with trends and technology,” says Grace.

“We have also been building out our culture, employee experience, flexibility in hours and location of the workday, mentorship, and teaming opportunities, and a pathway to leadership,” she adds.

Message to Aspiring Businesswomen 

In her message to aspiring businesswomen, Grace tells them not to be afraid of change. She points out that personally, she can tell when she is growing – it is when she is uncomfortable.

“There have been many tasks I have been asked to do within my role, and those that frustrated me the most are the same ones that have made me grow,” she says. “I had to find a way to push through, perhaps something I was not yet ready to do.”

“When I stopped making excuses or avoiding the task, I saw what I was made of, and realized it isn’t so scary on the other side,” Grace adds. “Define your goals, give a firm timeline to achieve them and then go after them.”