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.

How a young girl from Canada with no connections to Wall Street grew up to be a partner at Goldman Sachs

goldmanAs published on LinkedIn on December 7th.

I was the first female trader to be named partner at Goldman Sachs. I was also, in 1996, the youngest woman, but I hope that someone has since surpassed me in that regard. I was at the time 32 years old, recently married, and a year away from giving birth to my first child. In total, I worked at Goldman Sachs for 14 years, and even though I left in 2002, in many ways it feels like yesterday. It was there that my passion for women’s inclusion and leadership was ignited, and it led me to my second first; the first President of Women Moving Millions Inc., the only community in the world of women funding women at the million plus level. However, the focus of this article will be my Goldman experience, as without that, the following would likely not have been possible.

So how did I get there? How did I come to accomplish that first? How did a young girl from small town Canada with no connections to Wall Street grow up to be a partner at Goldman Sachs? This is my story.

I grew up in Kelowna, BC, Canada, at the time a small town located a 5-6 hour drive from Vancouver. My dad ran a grocery store and I worked concession at the local hockey rink as good Canadian kids are wont to do. I didn’t know that my life would eventually lead me to New York City and Goldman Sachs, but I did what I could to open as many doors for my future as I could. I worked hard in school, graduating at the top of my class academically, and I honed my work ethic through my training as a bodybuilder, eventually becoming Miss Junior Canada at the age of 16. This was in part thanks to my boyfriend at the time, Mario, who introduced me to Mr. C’s Fitness Centre. Never underestimate the power of who you choose to date as a factor that may affect your future!

After two years of local college, I was accepted to the University of British Columbia, and worked as hard as I could to become one of the top students in my program. This in turn led me to be one of the first students to be accepted into a grounding breaking portfolio management program where students were given the opportunity to gain first hand experience in money management by managing endowment funds. I graduated with a degree in finance, and I was the first undergraduate student from UBC to be recruited by Goldman Sachs in 1988. I am convinced that being a champion body-builder had a lot to do with it. I guess the powers that be thought that if I could hold my own with all the power lifters in the gym, I could hold my own on the trading floor.

Looking back, it’s clear to me now that my path to Wall Street was paved with many firsts in my quest to open as many doors as possible. I am fully aware that a lot of my success had to do with timing and good luck. I was fortunate to be attending UBC right when they decided to start the portfolio management program, and I was fortunate to have incredible mentors, sponsors, and support throughout my career, but I do attribute most of my success to the choices I made along the way. I made the decision (on the advice of a family member) to go into finance. I made the decision to apply for the portfolio management program and was rigorous in my pursuit of acceptance. I made the decision to apply to Goldman Sachs, and when faced with the prospect of a permanent position at a firm in Canada with a much better starting pay package and a better title verses a two year one at Goldman, I still chose Goldman. This was once again thanks to the great advice of a mentor who told me, “Better to take a lower job at a better firm, then a higher job at a worse one.” Oh, and of course, I made the decision to date Mario. So in 1988, I packed my bags and headed to New York City.

Now, I think a lot about privilege and how that plays out in a person’s success, but back then, I did not see myself as a person with a particular privilege. Did I have a wonderfully supportive family? Yes I did. But neither one of my parents attended University, nor did they guide me forward in the way I am doing for my children. Money wise we were middle class, and both my parents always worked full time to provide for our family. There are many forms of privilege besides economic and social of course, and include race and gender, and we simply must acknowledge the role that all of these types of privilege play if our goal is to equalize opportunity.

What I did learn to do very early on was work very hard. I also learned that you have to do your best to create opportunities for yourself, and when they are presented to you, you have to make the most of them. For whatever reason, I have always been a YES person, and that has made a big difference on my journey to being a first.

But there are also the decisions that influence your life that have everything to do with the decisions that people make about you. Goldman could have easily hired someone else. My application to the portfolio management program could have been rejected. So could have my application to UBC for that matter. Unfortunately, our careers are often dependent on the decisions others make about you, and those can often be the hardest to overcome. This came to a head for me in 1994.

I started working at Goldman Sachs in 1988 and I made partner in 1996; a remarkable career trajectory for someone from small town Canada, but it wasn’t an uneventful journey. In 1993(ish), I almost left Goldman for another firm because I felt like my talent and skills were not being recognized or appreciated, nor was I being fairly compensated relative to my peers. That said, I was not actively doing anything about it. Maybe it was pride, or stupidity, but rather than proactively having a conversation with my direct manager, I went out and got an offer from another firm. When I went in to resign to my most senior manager at the time, an amazing man named Mike Mortara, he refused to accept it. Instead, he took me too lunch. There, finally, I said all the things I should have said months earlier. I shared my plans for building my business, my desire to take on more responsibility, my ambition to become partner one day and more. We agreed that I would stay, but I looked him in the eye and made him promise me he would be my sponsor. He even signed a napkin. Sure I had to do my part, but he was now accountable for doing his.

The few lessons embedded in that experience were the following: one, don’t expect your manager to read your mind. By doing great work you earn the right to have your aspirations heard and supported. Do your part to communicate them. Two, don’t assume people will sponsor you, ask for them to sponsor you. And three, sometimes it does take a bid away or another job offer for the company you are at to pay you what you are worth.

Being the first at anything is a huge responsibility, and it’s something that I take very seriously. You become a role model whether you like it or not, and my hope was always that many more talented people, and especially more talented women, would follow in my footsteps. While still at Goldman, I was a champion of junior talent, took on many roles within the firm’s diversity initiatives, and actively recruited and mentored female talent, particularly in trading. It was my job, as a first, and with a platform, to not only make the challenges I faced visible to management, but to shine a light on the experiences of others. Once that door gets opened, it not only has to stay open, but become a much bigger door. Can I look back and say that I did all I could at the time to help create a culture of meritocracy and inclusion, and in doing so help other women? Yes. And I challenge all firsts to ask themselves the same question. Are you doing what you can to support others that are following a similar path?

For myself, I chose to leave the field of finance in 2002, and it is not without occasional regret. I often wonder what if I stayed, perhaps not at Goldman, but somewhere else, what other firsts might I have achieved? (My most read post on the subject) There has never been a woman CEO of one of the big, US based, financial services firms. Nor has there been a female Treasury Secretary. But there have been two former Goldman partners that have served in that role, and now with the consideration of Steven Mnuchin, a potential third. Steven was in fact my direct manager for many years in his role as head of the mortgage department. But I did go on to be another first, and it was a first I could have in no way dreamed of back at the time I left Goldman Sachs. The gift that Goldman gave me turned out to not be the titles or promotions, but rather the fact that my time there helped me zero in on the issues I care most about in the world, and the financial resources to do something about them.

In 2012, I became the first President and CEO of Women Moving Millions Inc.(WMM), a global philanthropy network dedicated to moving unprecedented resources to the advancement of women and girls. To date, WMM members have collectively donated over a billion dollars towards causes that benefit women and girls; another first. WMM was founded by two incredible visionaries, Swanee and Helen LaKelly Hunt, and my work was to carry us from campaign to community. Now, we are about to undertake another first by creating a holistic philanthropic leadership curriculum, the first of its kind. Not only will this be an offering to our members, but we hope more broadly, as we believe that more fully supporting women to be their most powerful and engaged selves is a powerful strategy for making the world a better place.

So while this is an article, and a series, about firsts, I hope the main take-away from all the stories shared is the inspiration, and perhaps a few tips, that will serve you on your journey to reach your own potential. It is certainly true that neither success nor happiness is or should be measured by this criteria, but by many other factors. That said, without firsts, we may never know what is possible, and what it took to achieve something very special.

I invite you to check out the platform MAKERS, which is filled with the stories of amazing women who have achieved many different types of firsts. Just a few months ago my story was added to the collection and can be viewed here.

Finally, I would be remise if I didn’t acknowledge that being the first at something wouldn’t be possible for me personally if it wasn’t for the incredible network of support that I have in my life. I am unbelievably fortunate and grateful to have so many truly amazing people in my life helping me along this journey, and I couldn’t do the work I do without them. In your quest to be the first, I hope you find the support you need and the courage to surround yourself with positive influences. Whatever your goals in life, I encourage you to pursue your dreams, know that the path won’t be easy, but do it anyway. Go out into the world and be the first. We need trailblazers now more than ever.

Photos in order of appearance. With colleagues while at Goldman Sachs in the 1990s, my mom and dad 1970s, Women Moving Millions team, and lastly, three generations of Hoffman women.



Gender Equality in Finance? Nope. But Times Are Changing.

BloombergOriginally published on LinkedIn influencers on June 17th, 2016.

It’s been three years since I had the honour of being invited to join the LinkedIn publishing platform as an Influencer, and since then I have written nearly 80 articles on a wide range of topics, including finance, philanthropy, the film industry, and job advice. If you have been a loyal reader of mine, you know that I have written about all of these topics through the perspective of a gender lens, and more specifically shining a light on women. My purpose in life is to help our world become more gender balanced, and that work will continue until we achieve gender parity across all industries and issue areas. Ambitious, yes, but it is my passion in life and I truly love my work.

Another passion of mine is the financial services industry, and I love it when these two passions, finance and women, converge. Like many industries, women’s representation in the top levels of the world’s largest and leading financial firms leaves much to be desired, and in November of 2014, I used one of LinkedIn’s monthly topics to imagine where my life would have taken me had I not left Goldman Sachs in 2002. I let my imagination run wild, and envisioned a world where I helped to create the world’s leading financial services firm for women. I then laid out seven ways a firm could actually achieve this, and I detailed the many ways that this could become a reality as opposed to my rainbow coloured fantasy. To my surprise and delight, this article became my most read post, a position it still holds to this day by a wide margin, and I’d like to think that people working within the financial industry read my post and took its message to heart. But did it work?

Technically, no, because 18 months later, we seem no closer to having a great woman lead a global financial firm, achieving 30% female representation on corporate boards and 50% representation in senior positions, or increasing the amount of hedge fund assets under management by women to double digits at the very least. But a lot has changed in that time, namely the awareness of the issue and the growing number of tools designed specifically to address it. From the Bank of Montreal’s Women in Leadership Fund to Barclay’s Women in Leadership Index, financial firms appear to finally be taking to heart the mountain of research that proves that investing in gender equality is not just the morally right thing to do, but is in fact a good business decision for both the company and its customers.

One of the most recent of these tools to be unveiled is the new Bloomberg Financial Services Gender-Equality Index (BFGEI), which launched last month. The BFGEI operates as a measurement tool to determine how well companies treat their female employees, the policies in place to encourage a diverse set of people to succeed, and how well their products serve their female customers. This index encourages companies to be transparent with their data and workplace policies, and assigns a score based on their commitment to gender equality, with a 60 point score being the threshold to secure a positive rating on this issue. At the time of its May 3rd launch, 26 firms worldwide have achieved this rating, including JP Morgan Chase, Bank of America, BNP Paribas, Bank of Montreal, HSBC, and Credit Suisse, although it should be noted that participation in this index was voluntary, and therefore a firm’s exclusion on the list at this point should not be meant to imply they have not passed the rating. That said, if they choose not to be involved in this process, one has to wonder why?

In fact, given the fact that this index is at present a voluntary measure, its effectiveness in promoting change has been questioned, but not by me. All I see from this development is that companies are finally waking up to the idea that investors want more from their financial firms than simply profits. Impact investing, the practice of investing in a manner that promotes social good, is not just the investment fad of the week. It is a growing movement that will only grow bigger with each passing year. Investors are voting for social change with their investing dollars, and more and more they have the tools to make informed decisions about where to invest their money.

I have always advocated that our money, whether it is invested, donated, or used to buy a tank of gas; our money is one of the greatest untapped potential for enacting social change, but without the tools to know which companies are deserving of our dollars, it will remain just that. Untapped potential. But not anymore. The Buy Up Index helps shoppers reward companies that make gender equality a priority in their operations, and just this week research group Ledbetter launched a Gender Equality Index and interactive tool. With this tool you can see a company’s gender ratio on its board and leadership team. A winner is Kering Group (Gucci) with 64% women on its board and 36% on their leadership team. A loser? Coty, which has no women on its board or leadership teams. None. Additionally organizations such the Global Fund for Women and the Women’s Funding Network help donors direct their giving dollars to nonprofit organizations that directly advance women and girls. Now, tools such as the BFGEI are helping investors to do the same. With all of these amazing resources at our disposal, I’m confident that the only direction we’re heading is forward, with true gender equality not far ahead on the horizon.

Are there companies that you support because they are aligned with your values? TWEET to #shopyourvalues