Jacki Zehner On Women, Money, and Changing the World  » Do Women on Wall Street Help Other Women?

April 03, 2013

Do Women on Wall Street Help Other Women?

255-25182Andrew Ross Sorkin wrote this article in today’s DEALBOOK that brought up a painful memory for me.  Well maybe a few painful memories.  He interviewed Irene Dorner, the chief Executive of HSBC, who says she “blames herself – and her female colleagues – for the lack of women on Wall Street.”  She says that she, and senior women, like her, did not push hard enough to change the status quo.  While I don’t believe in the whole “blame the woman” thing as it certainly does not explain the lack of progress, I did want to share a story that this article triggered.

The year must have been 2000 and I had left my trading position to take on a role in the Executive Office responsible for many areas of human capital management, focussing the Managing Director population.  I had been promoted in to this role in part because of my passion for women’s advancement, and for the culture of the firm in general.  I had organized a visit to London to meet with the high potential women there and had personally reached out to the handful of most senior to ask them to attend a cocktail party. At the cocktail party would be the leadership of the firm and it would be an opportunity to meet and mingle.

One of the most senior women was known for not participating in any of the women’s events, and by her behavior discouraged others from doing so as well. She prided herself, it seemed, for being successful “despite” being a woman.   I personally reached out to her to ensure she would attend sharing that her support of Goldman’s women’s initiatives was important as such things did provide “other” women with opportunities that were meaningful to them. She was rude on the phone and said she would come.

I arrived in London and sure enough, she did not show up at the event.  Her non presence was surely noticed and even joked about by some of the senior men.  Anything we were trying to do there was marginalized.  Here I had a job, a job, where I was to create opportunities for women to share their experiences with the senior leaders of the firm, to get exposure, and she made it all about her.

I was livid. The next day I marched down to her office and asked her why she did not attend.  She said she did not believe in such things, that they further ghettoized women, and she thought any “diversity initiatives” were a waste. I of course disagreed, shared that my job, and many other people’s jobs, were to support and promote diversity and that her actions were unacceptable as a senior leader of the firm.  We literally almost got in to a fist fight.

I went back to New York and news of the “incident” got there before I did.  I virtually went straight in to the head of the division’s office expecting to be consoled and supported and instead I got blasted.  I was truly shell-shocked.  I upset my colleague by pushing my agenda on her I was told. “My agenda?” I asked. Here the whole time I thought it was my job. Here I thought I had been given this promotion as the FIRM thought it was important and that there was no double standard in terms of what they expected of their senior leaders.   I wanted an apology from her and for her to be held accountable.  She wanted my head on a platter.

We talked in detail about the incident and my division head seemingly came around to my viewpoint.  That being that any, any senior person of the firm has an obligation to embrace and support the initiatives that the FIRM puts forward as meaningful, and to not do so would be undermining those very efforts and the people who are responsible for carrying them out.

To me this is a big reason why there has been lack of progress. There have been so many “programs” and “initiatives” that have been created that are not fully supported and worse, sabotaged, by senior leaders and sadly in this case, a senior woman leader.  Why would a more junior employee be involved if her direct manager is telling her otherwise?

So do I blame the women? Only the women, like the one above, who fail to see how much their leadership matters.  I have always believed that as women who have made it, we have an OBLIGATION to work to create more equal access and opportunity even though that may not have been our own experience.  We have to force ourselves to see bias, and if it exists, work as hard as we can to help level the playing field. Can this and does this often cost us in terms of our own career? Yes it can and does, but I for one want to be able to look myself in the mirror and know I did my best not just for myself, but for other women too.

So I left the meeting with my division head feeling supported and  he said he would speak with my colleague in London. I later learned the opposite happened.  That not only was she not reprimanded but I was labeled the troublemaker.  That incident might have been the beginning of the end for me.  The job was hard enough but to not be supported in it, forget it.  As for that woman? Yup, you guessed it. She got promoted and is now one of the most senior leaders of Goldman Sachs.

 

2 Responses to “Do Women on Wall Street Help Other Women?”

Susan BrattonApril 4th, 2013 at 2:46 pm

Jackie – Your email brought back some painful memories. All of what you say is so true. I left Wall Street, in part, because I got tired of that part of the game. Being pushed into serving on “Diversity” committees that got absolutely no support from senior management in many instances. And, yet, if one refused sitting on such a committee (or resigning as in my case) that person was not a “team player.”. It has not changed at all in 25 years…..sadly.

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