Security Traders Association Market Structure Conference
It’s so nice to be here today. And so good to see you all, a room full of women in finance. I mean it’s not my regular experience and I am guessing it isn’t a regular experience for you either.
I am very honored to be the keynote for the second annual Women in Finance Symposium. And I want to thank Jim Toes and Kerry Flynn for having the foresight to bring us all together here today. And while annual is significant, because it signifies something that will occur again, annual is not really “regular”. And I think we as women should look for opportunities to get together and share our stories as often as possible because I believe that is how we start pushing the dial faster toward change. And the dial needs to be pushed.
Monthly get-togethers would be more regular, but as women, god forbid we try to string the words “monthly” and “regular” together in a business meeting. You would have men running from the room.
Joking aside, what I’m here to speak about today are the challenges and opportunities that we – as women – face. And I hope that by addressing these familiar topics by giving my personal story, I can add a different perspective, although I suspect many of you may share aspects of the journey I have been through.
So, let’s start. By a show of hands, I want to know how many of you have taken the fifteen minutes of free time you never seem to have to watch the Sheryl Sandberg TED talk, “Why We Have Too Few Women’?
For those of you that haven’t, seven-years ago, Sheryl Sandberg, the COO of Facebook, was invited to give a TEDWoman talk, and rather than talk about social media, she chose to discuss women and leadership.
It was a watershed moment for her, and it started a very important conversation among women about women in the workplace, which in turn led to her author a best-selling book and ultimately to her founding a global organization dedicated to promoting women in the workplace.
And all of that is very interesting, another woman superhero, but what resonated with me was that she is much younger than I am, and she gave this talk in 2010, and she was describing my experience, and perhaps an experience that many of you can still relate to…
But the fact that she is so much younger was still describing my experience was truly disheartening.
After all the notoriety, in follow-up interviews, she shared that she was actually scared to get on the TEDWoman stage and talk about women. And that’s because the business world in which she grew up, like the business world I grew up in, you never talked about being a woman because someone might actually notice, well that you’re a woman.
And if you were asking for recognition as a woman, the men across the table just might think you were asking for special treatment or complaining, or worse, about to sue them.
I am at the tail end of the Baby Boomer generation. And back in my day, when I was starting out, I was not just the only woman in the room, I was often the first woman who ever entered the room, and I mean that quite literally. In 1982, when I was working in Chicago, as an institutional salesperson for financial futures, there was a luncheon that was held for clients at the Union League Club on Jackson Blvd., which was right down the street from the Chicago Board of Trade. I walked up the steps and into the Club, something I could not have done six-years earlier because women weren’t granted the right to walk in the front door until 1976.
However, as I went to enter the room where the luncheon was being held, I was stopped at the door. I guess no one had thought this through because the room was open to men only. I was 22, and I was with my boss at the time, who was a very progressive 25-year old man. He pitched a fit, and the end result was that I attended the luncheon, but I was escorted in through a side door.
I have watched Sheryl’s TEDWoman talk several times now, and what it did for me was force me to think about my own experience, and think about my own contribution to Club Women, and what I can do as a senior woman in financial markets to make the experience for the women coming behind me a little more palatable.
And what I came up with, what made sense for me, was to make myself more available. And that, in turn, led me to start saying yes more often to women that asked me for my time. And that, in turn, led me to say yes to today’s opportunity. And again, I am thrilled to be here.
If you watch the talk, you will hear some sobering statistics that support what we all know to be true in finance: that very few women are making it to the top, but it’s not just us. Our industry is only unique to the degree women are more underrepresented than in others, but the larger reality is very few women are making it to the top, period.
Now, is it getting better? The short answer is yes. However, we are on a very slow growth trajectory and the bottom line is that 2017 does not look substantially different than 2010, and the statistics that were delivered in 2010, had not changed significantly from 2002:
- In 2010, there 190 Heads of State, 9 were women. Today we have 10.
- In 2010, just 16% of women held C-Suite positions, today it is 19%.
Now, there are several ways you can look at that increase. The glass is half-full approach would be to view the 3% increase in relation to the 16% base which translates into an 18-plus % increase in the number of women moving into C-Suite positions over the last 7-years.
So that is one way of looking at it.
But another way of looking at it would be to track the incremental growth by year, which is a minimal ½ of 1%. And at that pace, it will take another 62-years before there is an equal division of men and women in C-Suite positions.
- That year will be 2079.
- My daughter will be 87.
- That is unacceptable.
In our world of finance, it’s even worse. We lag behind by 5 percentage points. Women have just 14% representation in the C-Suite. On some level that makes me happy that my daughter has chosen a career as a writer, and not a financier. But on another level, she’s a fighter like I am, and if she had chosen finance, she would be working right alongside us willing to push to move that dial faster.
Let me be clear … I love the financial industry, and passion is critical for any chance of success. For us to make changes, we need to care. We need to stand up for ourselves. And if you don’t care, then you need to either reboot or get out of the industry, because your upside will be limited.
I have a dear friend. She is my daughter’s godmother. We met when I took a semester off from college to become a ski bum. I was 19 and she was 21. When I graduated from college, I moved from California to the Midwest. I had a professor in college that told me if I was able, I should explore the opportunities on the trading floor of either the Chicago Board of Trade or the Mercantile Exchange. My parents lived out of the country at the time, so when it came time to look for a job, I packed everything I owned in my Super-beetle Volkswagen and drove to Chicago.
About that time, my friend was looking for a change and expressed an interest in moving to Chicago. I helped her get her first job on the floor, working for one of my then customers. And the thing is–she hated it. She hated numbers. But rather than quit, she stuck it out, and after a few years, she was just as miserable as when she started, but she refused to leave because she had become accustomed to the paycheck. She wasn’t willing to give up the income.
She still works in finance today. She is the office manager of an institutional sales office in a small town down South. She enjoys the people she works with, and enjoys interfacing with clients, but I don’t think she would tell you she is passionate about her job. She has spent her entire life in a career she simply tolerated. I often wonder what she would be doing if she chased her passion rather than the paycheck.
If you are not passionate about what you are doing, the odds of you making it to senior management, let alone the C-Suite are slim. You need to be passionate about what you do, and to be clear on what it is you are fighting fo because you will need both when the headwinds get strong. It is still a struggle out there.
Over the weekend I read The Ambition Collison. It is a short article published by The Cut. It’s been making its way around social media. Sallie Krawcheck, the Founder of Ellevest, made it the centerpiece of an article she published on LinkedIn and on Twitter on Friday.
In short, it is a piece on millennial women, who are now entering their mid-30’s. And to give you the gist, I will read a quote from the article:
“The ‘promise’ used to be domestic happiness. Now another bullshit promise has taken its place, and another generation is waking up. The men in charge are still in charge. It is impossible for women to have faith in a vision of their own empowerment, when empowerment is, in fact, a pose.”
That sounds very much like a call to arms. And a call to arms is good.
Certainly, the pace at which the article is circulating suggests the fact that the latest generation of working women are hitting their own walls in their mid-30’s, has struck a chord out there. The author herself seems outraged.
But outrage suggests shock and surprise. But should we be shocked?
I don’t think so. We own this.
The author calls for rage and revolution. But is rage and revolution the answer?
I don’t think so.
But that’s me. All I know is what has worked for me and what I have observed. I would love to give you THE handbook. You know, a handbook that could be passed from generation to generation. And it would be great if such a book existed, but it doesn’t. It doesn’t exist because while we all share the same gender, and may face similar challenges over the course our careers, our life experiences are going to be wildly different.
In 2015, Sage Business Researcher put out an issue about women in top management. It is a very comprehensive 30-page piece, but 4-pages into it I read the following:
“Women who make it to the top come from backgrounds that are remarkably similar to those of their male counterparts and predecessors. Most were raised in families of means; their parent often were professionals or managers. Almost all graduated college, often selective universities. Most were married and about three-quarters were company insiders, having worked for their employer for a number of years.”
Let me tell you something: That is not me.
I’ve broken a few glass ceilings – and a few rules – along the way, but I don’t have all the answers, any more than Sheryl Sandberg did. But I think it’s important that we continue to share our stories with one another, because sharing our stories keeps this very important conversation about women in leadership going.
And I for one am happy to have other women to talk to, because for a very long time I was the only woman in the room.
As I pushed through one barrier after another, it was challenging, but how many things that are worthwhile come easy? There was no guide to success then, and there is none today. All we have is our own stories to share. So, I think it is important that we get personal and humanize our experience as women. We need to start moving the dial faster, and we can start one story at a time.
So if just a few of you choose to stay in the industry, to lean in rather than lean out, then my time here today will have been very well spent.
I do not view myself as a role model, I do not fit the cookie cutter mold of other top women, but I’ve had the odd break – and that’s always important. In my case, prior to getting an opportunity to trade, I was hired in sales by someone who was a great mentor, and to this day is a dear friend. His name is Marc Bajer.
When I first arrived in Chicago and moved in with the family of a friend of mine—a friend who now serves on my Board— I started cold calling. I was hired as a runner on the Board of Trade by a grain company for $600 dollars a month. The floor manager put me in the South Room which housed financial futures. The GNMA contact was failing and the bond contract was just being introduced, and the message I was given, my first day, was that he was putting me in that room because he felt financial futures would not stand the test of time and he said, literally, it was a place where I could do no harm.
I was on the floor for a few days before I recognized the futures market was tethered to a cash market, and that the guys who traded cash were the ones who were directing the futures market. Once those dots were connected, I started looking for a position off the floor, and that is how, six weeks later, I ended up working for Marc. I was 21 and Marc was 24. At 24 he was running institutional futures sales for the Midwest region for the now defunct Kidder Peabody. And he was brilliant.
Now Marc didn’t hire me for my brilliance, he hired me to be his sales assistant. In my naïve world, I thought that meant I would assist him with sales. Imagine my surprise when, in a few weeks after I started, he handed me his expense account. The wonderful thing about youth, at least my youth, was lack of fear. When Marc handed me his expense account, I told him there had been a big misunderstanding. We went into an office and spent the next several hours talking. I told him my expectations, and he said, “okay.” The next week we hired a traditional sales assistant and Marc became my mentor.
If you read my bio, it may read like a carefully orchestrated career path from Day One, because that’s what bios are for, to give an overview of career highlights. And mine reads: The first woman to run a primary dealership; the first woman to be invited to serve on the TBAC, Treasury Borrowing Advisory Committee, and now the first woman to launch a minority, woman owned trading platform. Just one victory after another, right?
No. Absolutely, unequivocally not. There may be a superwoman out there somewhere who has operated without personal challenges, and without self-doubt and fear, but it is not me. Not even close.
Since we are getting honest, I will tell you that to this day I battle self-doubt and fear.
And personal challenges that I balanced while building my career? What I can tell you is life has been very generous with the number of invitations it has given me to walk away.
So, why am I still here? What kept me going? What placed me on this side of the podium today?
Well, first and foremost, as I said, I am passionate about what I do. I love the complexities of the markets and market structure. I always have, and I do to this day. I haven’t loved every moment in every job, but I do love what I do. And somewhere within that lies the appreciation for how lucky I was to have been afforded the opportunity to do what I love, especially given my background.
I feel lucky. And I am sure many of you feel lucky. And guess what, the data backs up our feelings. While men attribute their success to themselves, women more often attribute it to other external factors, like help from others, or luck. I do this all the time.
But help IS important and one of the biggest differentiators in my career has been my mentors. And for me, that has meant the men that were willing to challenge me to be my best self. I am who I am today, because of the strong and progressive leaders who understood my commitment, and rather than coddle me, demanded more of me. They held me out to a very high bar, and I do the same for the men and women that work for me today.
And while we are dispelling myths, it may be helpful to know that we do not have the monopoly on self-doubt, I have coached many a male trader back from the brink after a particularly bad run. And I have also counseled men in their thirties frustrated with their career path. It happens to both genders, but cultural biases paint it in a much more negative light for women.
It has been more than 50-years since the United States outlawed gender discrimination at work, and nearly 40-years since pregnancy discrimination was banned. Yet the boys club is still very much alive and well. And when I hired a woman, four-months pregnant, to trade agency derivatives, the Global Head of FICC went apoplectic, despite the fact that she had personally made $75 million for the firm from which I had recruited her the year before.
Rightly or wrongly, the bottom line is that when the going gets tough, unlike our male peers, cultural norms offer women a safety net. A very reasonable and acceptable exit. Think about it, have you ever asked a man how he does it all? Of course not.
It is 2017, and while it is beginning to shift a little, we still have these very traditional models about men and women, at least within the family structure. It’s a ticket out if you want, you’ve got it. And research backs it up: According to that same Sage Research report that I referenced earlier, when two investment bankers marry and start a family, in this day and age, 99% of the time it is going to be the woman who stops working.
I am not advocating choosing a career over family. I don’t have a side. Ultimately every woman has to choose the path that is right for her. I gave birth to my only daughter when I was 32. She was the fifth of six pregnancies. I suffered from an autoimmune disorder that attacked each and every pregnancy before her and one after. My daughter, Sarah, was the only one I was able to take to term. I fought to have her, and I would do it all over again. She is what I value above anything else in my life. And yet, I always knew I would go back to work.
It is crazy that I have forgotten who it was, or rather which man it was, who gave me the advice I followed after having Sarah. It addressed the big question of whether to stay home, or go back to work. His advice was this: Go back, see how you like it. You can always quit. However, if you quit, and it doesn’t suit you, it may be difficult to come back. I think it was great advice, and to this day, when a young woman asks me my opinion, I give her the same.
I know there are women in the audience today who are struggling and are asking themselves if the sacrifices they are making are worth it, and are afraid to voice it. Let me tell you, it is natural.
I find it helpful to maintain perspective, and usually that means clinging to my sense of humor like a lifeboat, especially in the worst of times.
And I cannot emphasize enough how happy I am to have other women to talk to, because as I said for a very long time I was very much alone.
We have a room full of women. If we continue to advocate for one another and to form alliances with each other and with progressive, senior men, it is inevitable that more of us will be moving into the C-suite.
We need to become better advocates for one another and better role models for women coming behind us. And if we are to become better advocates, we need to know who we are advocating for—and I don’t mean that in the conceptual sense—I mean that in the literal sense. We need to get personal. Get to know the woman sitting next to you and learn her story. Don’t let your firm assign you a mentor or mentee, find someone you can identify with and lean on them. And if you can’t find a woman you can identify with, seek out a man.
The bottom line is we need to stick together and we need to keep telling our stories.
We’ve got this.
Let’s move the dial!