Contributed by Alana Elsner
From a student of the 1960s, to a single working mother, to Time’s “Hero for the Planet”, Joan Bavaria has certainly led an extraordinary life. “I was the generation of women who tried to do everything,” she explained. As founder and C.E.O. of Trillium Asset Management- one of the first and now oldest independent Socially Responsible Investment firms- Joan sits on numerous boards, has won various prizes, and even managed to start two non-profits- Ceres and the Social Investment Forum.
Starting her career as an investment officer, Joan admits that money to support her two sons was what brought her to finance. “Women were being deliberately added to trust fund companies because they would manage money cheaper than men,” she notes of the time.
Realizing the high cost of entry for starting a company, Joan knows not every woman can do what she has done. But she still believes that women should try to break the glass ceiling in their own corporations. “When I first started only four of the 50 managers were women… Even now there is a dropping of women in upper management,” she notes with a certain sadness in her voice.
Although a single mother of two Joan has always been dedicated to her work- something she credits her success with. Her career advice? “Get yourself in the job. You can do it. You can be just as good as the men,” she coaches, “Often women are more dedicated to their jobs and men to their positions.” If you are good at what you do you will be noticed. Abiding by her own advice, Joan’s firm promotes equality with numerous women in important positions.
She dismisses any talk of role models, instead emphasizing uniqueness- something undoubtedly essential as an entrepreneur. “I look around and if there is something there I like, I will copy it. Look around but don’t become defined by a role or niche. Never care what someone else is like or what other people think,” she advises. “They put blinders on a racehorse for a reason… so they won’t focus too much on the competition, but on the road ahead.”
Perhaps the most prevailing part of my interview with Joan was her passion for what she does. “I’m lucky about putting my heart and my work life together. I feel like I make a contribution,” she explains. As an activist, she believes that socially responsible investment has made a change on Wall Street. But we need to continue to “try to create a culture so society expects to see social cost and benefit as well as financial [costs and benefits]. Right now we are too obsessed with the individual’s decision making powers that is the ugly side of free market capitalism.
As a voice of experience, Joan’s strength as a woman, entrepreneur, and activist illuminates her success. From her beginnings, Joan Bavaria has stuck to the basic philosophy of good business: treat your customers well, be passionate about what you do, and never settle. This may very well be the key to success.