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.

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