You remember Sallie Krawcheck, right? She was a perennial on those list of "most powerful women on Wall Street"—until she wasn't. Last fall she was fired from her post as the president of global wealth and investment management at Bank of America Merrill Lynch, adding to the stockpile of high-profile female executives who have gotten axed in recent years.
In an upcoming issue of Marie Claire (yes, a fashion magazine, not a business journal!), Krawcheck (pictured below) talks about being one of the few top women on Wall Street. To me, she's refreshingly frank.
First, she's not afraid to embrace her feminine sensibility. On the subject of regrets, for instance, Krawcheck says: "There are always things you would do differently. I'm a female—it's a very female characteristic to think through issues again and again." (Sadly, I can relate to that.)
And on work/life balance, she says: "Choose your husband carefully. . . . If you're caught in a meeting and walk through the door late, what you want is a spouse who says, 'Can I get you a glass of wine?' versus 'Where were you?' with an eye roll." (Practical advice. You won't get that from a dewy-eyed 20-something.)
But it's her response about the dearth of women in high finance that's bound to get some people upset:
If you look around Wall Street and corporate America, we're putting women on diversity councils; we're putting them in mentoring programs; we're giving them special leadership training, telling them how to ask for promotions—but we are not promoting them. My goodness, we're just making women busier.
Just when women thought they've finally found the elixir to success, Krawcheck is telling us we've been sold snake oil! For years now, it's been drilled into us that mentoring and leadership training are what women need to get to the next level. Indeed, a lament I often hear is how law firms are behind corporations in providing these offerings.
I'm often impressed by some of the programs that firms offer these days—there are speaker series, career coaching, and formal mentoring/sponsorship programs. Not since college have I seen such a wealth of extracurricular offerings.
At the same time, though, I've often wondered if they're just pacifiers—or to put it less cynically, time wasters. How do people who bill 2,000 hours a year also manage to participate in all those programs?
Patricia Gillette, a partner at Orrick, also has her doubts about the efficacy of these initiatives. She says that women often "let firms off the hook" when they let themselves get sucked into these "soft" projects. She adds that firms think they've fulfilled their duty to diversity "because women are in charge of the women's initiatives." Meanwhile, she says, "the leadership roles that influence firm policy continue to be filled by men."
To Gillette, women must first have genuine policy-making powers. "Then mentoring, part-time, maternity, and equal pay issues will have some chance of being solved," she says.
I like the idea of putting more emphasis on getting women to top positions—though I doubt that will be a quick fix either.
How useful are women's initiatives at your firm? Are they pushing women to the top of the pyramid? Or just keeping them busy at a Sisyphean endeavor?
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