What Are Your Resolutions For 2019? Here Are My Top Two.

As published on LinkedIn Influencers on January 1st, 2019.

It’s that time of year again. Yesterday the calendar came to a close on 2018, and today the new year begins. I don’t know about you, but I tend to have a love/hate relationship with the tradition of new year’s resolutions. I love taking the time to reflect on the year in terms of goals achieved. I actually make a list in my journal every year, which is a wonderful thing to have because trust me, when you are as old as I am the years start to run together. I also love that January1st offers a clear date for a fresh start on the goals that may not have been realized. Now the hate part. When I see the same things creep back onto my list year after year, it can make me feel like, well, a bit of a loser. That being said, I do try to reflect on why certain behaviors, or lack there of, tend to repeat themselves, and all we can ever do is try to do better in the coming year.

This year my list is taking on a different tone and substance. There were a lot of changes in my life over these past 12 months, with the biggest change for me happening in September. After eight years of being All In for building Women Moving Millions, a non-profit organization whose mission is to mobilize unprecedented resources for the advancement of women and girls, I retired. Not only did I completely stop doing any of the day to day work of WMM, including member recruitment and fundraising, but I also left the board. That was hard, and weird, and I wrote way too much about it here. Now, with a few months past that landmark moment for me, I have a lot of learnings around it, but that is not what this article is about. However, I will say that my biggest take-away has been that the best way to let go is to just let go. You will never be able to land somewhere new if you are busy clinging to the old.

The other big life change for me was that my youngest child graduated from high school in June. She is currently in the middle of a gap year before going off to college in the fall of 2019, and I decided to take a gap year of sorts alongside her. I have traveled like a maniac this whole fall, with trips to places I have never visited before such as Ireland, Scotland, and Kenya. Though the travel will continue in 2019, I am also feeling a huge need to think about what is next for me professionally, and therefore many of my resolutions for this next year are oriented towards that objective. But before I jump into my list and invite you to share your top resolutions, where did this whole idea come from?

If you can believe it, setting new year’s resolutions is a tradition that dates back to Julius Caesar. In 46BC he decreed that January 1st would mark the start of a new calendar year, and he invited his subjects to use this changeover to reflect on how they could be better citizens in the year to come. Pretty cool, right? Over 2,000 years later, people all over the world still make new year’s resolutions, but research shows that only 46% of people manage to keep to their resolutions after just six months. Only 12% make it the full year. Some of the reasons behind this failure rate is a lack of planning, spur of the moment decisions made after three glasses of champagne on New Year’s Eve, and/or not setting specific achievable goals. Social scientists also recommend keeping to just one or two resolutions in order to not dilute your motivation, and to avoid repeating past resolutions that have already proved to be frustrating.

So with that in mind, I will (partially) take the wonderful advice of those who know best and share my top two resolutions. I’m making them new ones, and I invite you to do the same. Social scientists also say that you are more likely to feel accountable for a behavior change if you write it down down and share it with others, so please share!

Number One

Practice daily meditation. This may sound like a simple task, but have you ever tried to focus on one thought, idea, or mantra for a sustained period of time? It is shockingly difficult to do, especially considering that in today’s digital age our brains have become accustomed to being bombarded with stimuli every waking minute of the day. However, recent research has shown that practicing daily meditation yields enormous benefits, including increased attention spans and concentration skills, decreased stress levels, and higher capacities for empathy. Even more amazing, studies have shown that meditation can actually physically improve our brains by helping to strengthen the connection between brain cells. Scientists have observed that meditation can lead to our brains being able to process information faster and more efficiently, make better decisions, and even help decrease sensitivity to pain. A good summary of this research can be found here. It’s also pretty telling that most incredibly successful people report practicing meditation, and so in light of all this, not to mention the fact that it costs nothing monetarily, why wouldn’t you at least give it try? For years I have been saying that I will start doing this one day, and now today is the day. Join me.

Number Two

Oh this is so hard. I really have 10 more, so trying to pick just one to share here is tough. However, I’m going to go with the one that keeps creeping to the top of my mind even though it is going to seem a little hokey.

Practice kindness. As much as you can, in every situation, practice kindness. I spent some time, just know, scrolling though definitions in an attempt to be super clear about what I mean, and as a result of this I actually changed the words from “be kind” to “practice kindness”. Similar to the idea above regarding meditation, to practice something is about developing it into a habit. I really want to be a person who naturally shows up in a way that is friendly, generous, and considerate. Think about how many interactions you have with others in a given day. This can be from the person you buy coffee from on the way to work, to your co-workers and clients, your online social engagements, as well as your time with family and friends. What if our default setting was to always show up with kindness, even in the most challenging of situations where strong action was required? To act with kindness is not to say you don’t let someone go if they are not doing their job, or that you don’t ask for proper service. It just means you do so in a way that is respectful. Our world is fraught with negativity, anger, and the normalization of aggressive interpersonal behavior. Enough. This new year I invite you, as I am inviting myself, to always try to show up with consideration, with friendliness, and with generosity. Practice kindness.

Happy New Year. Wishing you and yours the very best for 2019.

Happy 150th Goldman Sachs and A Call to Collective Action

As published on LinkedIn Influencers on December 15th, 2018.

In 1988 I graduated from the University of British Columbia with a degree in Finance. I was fortunate enough to have multiple job offers waiting for me upon graduation, but I quickly narrowed it down to just two. The first was a permanent, full time position with an awesome title and a great starter pay package in my home country at the Bank of Canada. The second option was Goldman Sachs in New York City. Now, you may think my choice would be a no-brainer. Goldman. However, they were only offering me a two year position as an analyst, and for less money. Additionally, there was no guarantee of anything after the two years. I was also more than a little intimidated after the grueling rounds of interviews and a full out meet and greet with the other new graduates from schools like Harvard, MIT, Stanford, and more who would be part of the incoming analyst class. Now, I realize that this wasn’t exactly the world-is-going-to-end-if-I-make-the-wrong-choice situation, as both were highly privileged options, but at the time I was 24, just starting out in my professional life, and it was in fact a huge decision for me at the time. The safe and sensible choice was to stay home in Canada with the better title and more money, so obviously I packed my bags and moved to New York City. It ended up being the best decision I’ve ever made.

It’s been 30 years since I made that fateful decision, and let me tell you, a lot has happened in those 30 years. At Goldman, I moved from my initial analyst position into trading mortgage-backed securities, ultimately rising to become the first female trader and youngest woman to ever make partner at Goldman Sachs in 1996. I later transitioned into the executive suite in 2000, helping to manage the careers of the firm’s Managing Directors, before finally retiring from Goldman in 2002 after 14 years at the firm. Even though I’ve now spent more time away from Goldman than working for Goldman, it sometimes feels like just yesterday that I would go to work every day at 85 Broad Street, and there are a lot of great memories at that address. Goldman was where I found myself professionally. It was where I developed my passion for women’s leadership and gender equality. It was where I met some of my most dearest, lifelong friends. It was where I met my incredible husband, with whom I now have two beautiful children. And because I was a partner when the firm went public, I am now free to do full-time philanthropic work focussing on gender equity and inclusion. I have so much for which I am incredibly grateful.

This is why it was with much excitement that I RSVP’d YES to attending the annual retired partners dinner and the 150th Anniversary celebration of the firm that was held Wednesday night in New York City. As I read through the list of over 360 former partners attending, it truly was a walk down memory lane. There were many who were the leaders who supported me when I was a scrappy young trader, such as John Thain and Jon Corzine, as well as so many with whom I worked alongside. However, what gave me the most joy was reading over the names of the many individuals who I helped to hire, train, and champion for on their journey to become partner.

As professionals we interact constantly with our coworkers. Likely all day, every day. We need advice and support, as well as give it in return, and I always tried to do both at Goldman with an open, generous, and kind heart. That said, as I was reminded last night, I also, occasionally, got into my kick-ass-and-take-names mode. In a good way I was told. Today, as a much older (I mean seasoned) person, I can see so much of what I could have done differently or better, but it is a fact of life that we cannot change the past. The future, however, is something that we can shape from our reflections and learnings. I am trying to do just that.

For those of you who many not be familiar with the history of Goldman Sachs, left me share a brief summary. Goldman Sachs was founded by Marcus Goldman, a German investment banker who immigrated to the US in 1848. Originally settling in Philadelphia, Goldman moved to New York City in 1869, where in a little office in downtown Manhattan he started Marcus Goldman & Co. In 1882, Goldman’s son-in-law Samuel Sachs joined the business, and in 1885, the firm changed its name to its present day moniker, Goldman Sachs & Co. Since then, Goldman Sachs has grown into one of the most respected and prestigious financial firms on Wall Street, not to mention one of the largest with over $32 billion in revenue last year. Of course, the firm has been far from perfect, and it has found itself at the center of more than a couple of firestorms throughout its history, many of which I have written about. However, that is not for this story. This story is about an institution that has grown and evolved and adapted into a world class financial institution, and it is one that has increasingly focused on providing innovative financial solutions to some of our world’s biggest problems.

Of special interest to me is that for years Goldman has been one of the leaders in publishing research on the economic power of women. They were also one of the first to launch a major philanthropic initiative focussed on women called 10,000 Women, which has since evolved to include an amazing online education platform for women entrepreneurs. (please check it out!) There are more than a few Goldman Sachs reports that are included in my 500 Top Reports on women and girls, and a new version of this list will be coming out in 2019. Included on that updated list will be this one, Closing the Gender Gaps: Advancing Women in Corporate America, in which “the authors focus on some of the factors affecting women as they progress through their careers, offering strategies companies can use to level the playing field. These include helping women re-enter the workforce or “upshift” their careers, carefully reviewing compensation data, and adding women to companies’ boards.”

While I do praise Goldman’s research, I also invite them, as well as all other major financial institutions, to not only write about the interventions, but to make bold commitments to fully enact them.

It was almost a decade ago, when my head and heart was still super engaged around the issue of women in finance, that I co-created a report titled Women in Fund Management: A Road-Map to Critical Mass and Why It Matters. This report addressed the problem around the lack of women in leadership roles, and more importantly what could be done about it. Nearly ten years later there is no lack of strategies or female talent to solve this problem. What is lacking across the industry is the commitment to these solutions, and that starts at the very top of any organization in order to truly embrace the goals of equity and inclusion. Further, because of the potential backlash around the #MeToo Movement, as powerfully outlined by Max Abelson in his recent article titled, “Wall Street Rule for the #MeToo: Avoid Women At All Cost”, the potential cost of proceeding in a business as usual kind of way could be very high. Studies continue to suggest that not only is the representation of women in leadership roles not improving, but it may be moving backwards.

The challenges around engaging men, powerful men, around diversity initiatives have always been numerous. I know first hand. Almost 20 years ago I sat in a room with many of the partners who attended Wednesday’s dinner talking about how to improve the make-up of the firm. We had just completed a year long, very big consulting project that included surveys, employee interviews, and more. The results were presented suggesting that Goldman had a long way to go to actually create the meritocratic culture that it espoused, but as we broke out into focus groups to discuss these findings it became clear, to me, that the deep changes that needed to happen would not. Why? The reasons are long, many of which I addressed in my TED Women talk in 2012, but at the core was a belief amongst many that nothing was broken, and thus there was nothing to fix. Goldman was a meritocracy where the best and the brightest rose to the top and were rewarded, and all of “this”, “this diversity stuff”, was thus in direct contradiction to that fundamental belief. As I have learned over the past 15 years of working in the world of social change, behaviors, generally speaking, follow beliefs, and in order to have long lasting change you have to first change the belief systems that result in certain behaviors. That in turn then creates certain outcomes.

So it’s time for something new, something radically new, and I would like to offer a suggestion. An industry wide, joint commitment to creating an inclusive financial sector. It’s time, and what a dream it would be to have Goldman Sachs lead the way.

What might this look like? I know, and I don’t know. The “I know” part says adopt the many principles deeply thought out and articulated in this 2009 report, and the countless other reports that have been thoughtfully written. Again, you can find 500 of them here! But that is not a practical answer. It’s not enough to know what to do. What is needed is an act of commitment, and a structure for accountability, to make it happen. My suggestion is to adopt a Collective Impact (CI) framework. In the non-profit world CI is an organizing framework that has become well-known and broadly adopted to help solve complex social problems. It is particularly used in spaces where there is not one actor that can solve the problem. “CI brings people together, in a structured way, to create social change.” For so long the business world has sought to bring solutions to problems residing in the non-profit or social sphere, and it’s time to reverse the direction of knowledge and expertise. Businesses have problems too, big problems, and creating an inclusive work environment is one of them.

Years ago I gave a talk to some women at Goldman Sachs about my life and work post-Goldman, and one of the things that I mentioned was how the underlying strategies being employed to end female genital cutting in Senegal might be applied to Goldman’s diversity challenges. Needless to say there were more than a few questioning looks. But I was serious, and remain serious. One of my favorite, and deeply awarded organizations, is TOSTAN,because their theory of change (TOC) is one that could be applied to help solve almost any social problem, including, possibly, the diversity and inclusion challenges of the financial sector. Five years ago I traveled to Senegal with my then thirteen year old daughter Allie to spend time with Molly Melching, the founder of TOSTAN, and her then director of research Ben Cislaghi. As he described how they worked with hundreds of communities across many countries to end the harmful practice of FGC bells and whistles were going off for me. The process is too long to describe here, but the point is that it is a proven process for actually creating change and not just hoping for it.

To draw further from the social sector I would suggest employing the techniques of human-centered design to create the why, the what, and the how of the collective initiative. Take time in design. All too often interventions are created and implemented without ever consulting the people that they are designed to serve. When I think about the millions and millions and millions of dollars collectively spent on programs across the industry that are not working, not working at all, doesn’t this make huge sense? Finance people do claim to be the best and the brightest, and are certainly paid to be, so take that mentality to solving this problem.

Point is, innovate. Point is, collaborate. Point is, look for ideas and partners in places you have not looked before. Point is, try something new. Point is, be bold and just don’t talk the talk, but walk the walk. It’s time.

As I write this the sun is rising in Battery Park City, and as I look out my window towards the Statue of Liberty I am remembering all those mornings when I would get to the gym before dawn, work out, and then run along the park with Whitney Houston blaring out of my walkman before heading to 85 Broad Street, the former home of Goldman Sachs. I would often pause for a second and stare at the neoclassical structure, a symbol of independence that happened to be female, and wonder why so few women? Staring at her would help me get my game face on to approach another day in the trenches of the trading floor. Today, so much has changed in the landscape of lower New York City that I can barely recognize it. There are buildings, parks, schools, the new World Trade Center, and yet so little has changed as it relates to the make-up of who occupies the highest floors of these gorgeous new skyscrapers. Who the Wall Street power brokers are, as evidenced in 2008, can have a dramatic impact on all the rest of us. And they are pretty much the same as they were 20 years ago. I am called into reflection as to my legacy at Goldman, and I know it remains my steadfast commitment to advancing women’s leadership and inclusion. I did what I could, when I could, and although my role as a direct influencer in the sector has long since ended there remains something I can do, and that I just did, and that is to write. I feel very blessed to be etched into the 150 year history of the firm. Literally. Last night they showcased a piece that will contain the name of each of the 400+ past partners of Goldman that will be used in various ways this coming year. I’m easy to find. My last name begins with a Z.

Vulnerability, Guilt, Shame, Belonging

As published on LinkedIn Influencers on October 26th, 2018.

A few weeks ago I let it rip on my personal blog. I posted an over 9,000 word blog postabout my thoughts and feelings that showed up for me around leaving a role I have loved for almost a decade. It has been years since I have had the courage to just dump out my feelings in such a public way, and I have been uncomfortable ever since hitting “Publish”. Why? Because I exposed myself. I shared things that I have never shared publicly, and not all of it was popcorn and puppies. Now, several weeks later, I am still uncomfortable. I am worried that I may have unintentionally offended someone, or that I did not thank someone, or that I just plain shared too much. Vulnerability is scary, and yet that is exactly what the world needs right now. In fact it always has.

I have been thinking a lot about vulnerability over the past few months. Perhaps this is because I have been trying to do a lot of work on me, and by that I mean I have been working on self-awareness, especially around my own power and privilege. In that context, I have been pushing myself out of my comfort zone in terms of places I have showed up in, who I have engaged with, the questions I have asked, and what I have been willing to share. While I have been pursuing this, I just so happened to listen to an incredible interview with Brené Brown and Krista Tippett on the On Being podcast on the topic of Belonging. Holy moly. It is simply incredible, and it hit the nail on the head in terms of so many things I have been thinking about.

If you don’t know about Ms. Brown’s work, she is a research professor at the University of Houston where she holds the Huffington Endowed Chair. She has spent the past two decades studying courage, vulnerability, shame, and empathy, and is the author of five books: The Gifts of ImperfectionDaring GreatlyRising StrongBraving the Wilderness, and Dare to Lead: Brave Work. Tough Conversations. Whole Hearts. I just received the last one, which was released in 2018, and it will be my travel companion as I wonder the hills of Ireland and Scotland over the next couple of weeks.

So why did I love this podcast so much? Why did I love it enough to want to share it here, on a platform designed for professional engagement? Because, as I said above, what the worlds needs now is courage, which includes the courage to be vulnerable, and you cannot invite that in without addressing the behaviors of shaming and blaming that are absolutely everywhere in our culture. This podcast wraps these ideas so powerfully together and offers a way through the complexity. Let me make some connections.

What I know about myself is that I have a huge need to belong to and be a part of a community. Many communities in fact. This need has been a common thread through all of my major professional roles and affiliations. It is likely the main reason why transitions of most kinds are hard, and especially hard for me. When we leave a current situation, we are leaving something predictable, known, and usually comfortable. Even if we are not happy in the role, we are familiar with it, and we are known in that context. More importantly, we have a sense of belonging around it. I shared in my blog post a nugget of advice that a friend recently gave to my daughter Allie: “People come into your life (and become your friends) for a reason, a season, or a lifetime. You may not know which one someone is until much later.” Boom. When we transition from or leave a role, not only do we leave a community and a sense of belonging and identity, but we also leap into the uncertainty of knowing whether or not the people we thought we were connected to were only there for a reason. That reason being work. I am sure we all have stories to share about ‘that person’ with whom we were best, best, best friends with at work, and yet when work was no longer a common denominator the friendship ended as well. I wonder if this a gender thing? Not sure, just wondering.

More on belonging. They, Krista and Brené, say that having this need to belong is in large part what it means to be human. Furthermore, in our souls we know that what creates a sense of belonging is connection, and authentic connection can only happen in the presence of authenticity, and vulnerability is the key to authenticity. Of course, this is my interpretation of their conversation. And yet…when we do choose to be vulnerable, to open up and show our true and less than perfect, deeply flawed selves, we are so often shamed.

In this context, I love how Brené goes to lengths to differentiate guilt from shame. Guilt is how we may feel when we have done something wrong, while shame is the feeling that we are wrong. We put guilt and shame upon ourselves and upon others, especially when they are being vulnerable, whether it’s by choice or by circumstance. In fact, you cannot turn on any form of media without this pouring out and it is wrong. Shaming others is quickly becoming a new social norm in this country and we all need to stop it. I invite you to do a little exercise. When you see or hear an act of shaming, just make note of it. It could be a comment on social media, a tweet, something in a movie or on TV, or of course in person. I think you will come to see just how common it is and how normalized it has become.

This is why I’ve been thinking a lot about the difference between shaming and holding someone accountable for their behavior. The latter is completely appropriate. For the former, there are sometimes cases where there is so much evidence of bad behavior that shaming feels appropriate. But is it? Ever? I leave that as a question. What I want to bring this back to is how we engage with one another, especially at work, and especially in this #MeToo moment that we are all making our way through. There were a couple of incredible men at our Women Moving Millions summit earlier this month talking about engaging men to advance gender equality. There was talk about the concept of toxic masculinity, and for this I highly recommend the documentary film The Mask You Live In for more on this topic. There was also talk about the shaming of men. When men shame other men for not being “man enough” (whatever the F that means), it silences them, and invites them to be bystanders to bad behavior in all its forms. And of course, this is true for women shaming men and women shaming women in all forms as well. I believe that most men are good men, who believe in gender equality and want to be part of the solution, but because of the fear of making mistakes and of being shamed, they are left paralyzed. There is so much more that needs to be unpacked here if we truly are going to move towards more inclusive and respectful work places, but what I know for sure is that blaming and shaming as a strategy is not the most helpful way to move forward. Accountability yes. A big friggin YES. But shaming? Generally speaking, no.

So back to my post about leaving a position I loved. I thought I was writing a quick goodbye post, mainly to my colleagues at Women Moving Millions, but what poured out was so much more than that. Included were feelings of guilt, shame, confusion, and more that I recollected over my now many professional contexts and identities, and there was so much more I could have written. In just “letting it rip” and choosing to hit Publish, I am in so many ways liberating myself of those feelings, while at the same time opening myself up for a potential whole new set of them. In Krista and Brene’s podcast they talk a lot about paradoxes, and this indeed is yet another one.

This is beginning to feel like it is turning into another 9,000 word post, and that is not its purpose. Its purpose is to invite you to listen to the talks highlighted, as well as others by Ms. Brown highlighted below, and to think about these big concepts of belonging, vulnerability, guilt, and shame. Please feel free to add your thoughts below.

Link to the On Being Podcast to listen, and to the transcription which may be easier to give a skim through.

Link to Brené Brown’s website for more information on her, her books, and her work. I have never met her, but gosh I really would love to.

Link to Brené’s two TED talks on vulnerability and listening to shame. I have listened to both a million times.

And of course subscribe and listen to the On Being Podcast. I have the privilege of now knowing Krista Tippett, because, well, I kind of stalked her. Stalked her in the must get to know you because you are absolutely incredible type of way. Not the creepy and scary kind of way. She rocks.